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Screenwriting Help E-Mail (Previous)

Updated every Monday, one selected e-mail will be posted and answered here each week. With many years of experience in the film and television business, I look forward to providing answers to your questions about screenwriting or the entertainment industry in general.  Please send your e-mailed questions to: Script Advisor.  You may also wish to visit our Screenwriting Help E-Mails - The Archives.

This week's question: 

DcH, I just saw Memoirs of a Geisha.  I enjoyed it, but -- and I don't want to be a stickler or anything, but, as a screenwriter I just felt there was something wrong with the ending.  Do you agree?

Safia R.

This week's Answer: 

They Lived Unhappily Ever After

Safia, it's interesting that you should write me about this very subject.  I found Memoirs of a Geisha a wonderfully lush, mysterious, and provocative Cinderella story.  But I must also say that the last few minutes of the story disappointed me, even though, initially, I wasn't sure why.  But now... (cue the John Williams' dramatic score with Chinese flutes and percussion)... (I bow diffidently)... I do.  Even though the final beat of the film, which is about the protagonist finally uniting with the man she has loved for so many years and being told that he has always loved her, is an uplifting one, a "they lived happily ever" one, if you will, just like the Cinderella fairytale, it does not fit with the rest of the story, which is basically a tragedy.  A tragedy that is rescued in the last minutes, turning it magically into only a romantic drama just as when the fairy godmother waves her wand and instantly transforms pumpkins into coaches and mice into horses.  In a sense, just before the final credits run, the film takes an easy path instead of a much more difficult one, which is the true extension of its "story core."  And what is that core?  You recognize the tragic tone from the very beginning; we're clearly shown throughout the film (except for the last moments) that the lot of a geisha in 1930's Japan was an arduous one, one that held much suffering and sacrifice for her.  Much truer to the story would be a different ending, albeit a profound and disturbing one, and that ending would be that, though we would discover that the man whom the protagonist loves always loved her, but nobly sacrificed his love for her for his friend (as we are shown in the actual ending), he never tells her and she never finds this out.  Tragically, she never has a chance to be in a loving relationship with the man  she has loved ever since she met him as a little girl.

Please don't throw popcorn at me.  I know it's not a "fun finish" like so many Hollywood-type films reach.  But it would be truer.

And I'm not saying that fairy godmothers don't have a place in this world.  We screenwriters could use their assistance once in a while turning an overlooked or merely optioned script into a six-figure gold mine.

DcH                                                                   related cartoon


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