Copryright 2010 by Gary L. Pullman
This is the end, my friend,In “The Philosophy of Composition,” Edgar Allan Poe argues that the end of a story so important that it should be imagined before any of the story is actually written and that all incidents of the plot and other narrative details should drive inexorably toward this predetermined ending (without it being obvious, of course, to the reader).
Of all our elaborate plans, the end
Of everything that stands, the end
I’ll never look into your eyes again, the end. . . .
-- The Doors
Hollywood directors apparently believe that the means must justify the ends, too, as it were, and, to this end, more than a few have devised alternate endings to the same story. Wild, wooly Wikipedia, which seems to have an article on virtually everything, although some articles are more reliable than others, and some are fairly unreliable altogether, features an essay concerning these endings, including a list of many of the films that include them.
According to Wikipedia, an alternate ending is one “that was planned or debated but ultimately unused in favor of the actual ending.”
Some of the examples of these endings, courtesy of the same source, are:
1408: . . . Mike Enslin dies in the fire he causes. At his burial, his wife is approached by the hotel manager, offering his personal belongings. She refuses, and he lets her know that her husband did not die in vain. Back in his vehicle he listens to the tape recorder, and screams in fear as he sees Enslin’s burned deformed body in his back seat for only a moment. The film closes with an apparition of Mike Enslin still in 1408, muttering to himself, and finally exiting the room, hearing his daughter's voice. . . .
The Astronaut's Wife: When Spencer is killed, Jillian is not possessed by the alien. Instead, she moves out to the country. Sitting beneath a tree, looking up at the stars, she tunes her radio to the same signals Spencer was receiving while possessed by the alien--her twin babies controlling her movements from inside the womb, listening--and waiting. . . .
The Butterfly Effect: Evan watches a home video of his mother pregnant with him and returns to the memory of himself as a fetus. Convinced that his very existence has ruined the lives of those around him, he strangles himself with his umbilical cord and dies, stillborn. This “Director’s Cut” ending is much darker than the theatrical ending, where he simply stops himself from becoming friends with Kayleigh.
I could go on (and on), but it’s not my purpose, really, to discuss alternate endings per se or to give an exhaustive list of examples of them. My purpose is to discuss such endings as a means of devising plots that are not predictable.
For an alternate ending to serve the purpose I suggest, though, it would have to be more of a departure than the ones exemplified in Wikipedia.