Does an ending you dislike ''necessarily'' disappoint?

---Spoilers Ahead: Do not read if you have never read or seen 1984, A Clockwork Orange or Brideshead Revisited---

Very rarely in fiction, do I take a dislike to the way something ends. I respect the fact that the writers have created their world, mapped out what they wanted to do, and finished their story in the way they thought brought about the most satisfactory conclusion.

There have been times though, when endings have really annoyed me, and caused me real anguish.

In George Orwell's 1984, the last line is that Winston Smith "... had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.". Winston has spent the whole novel, resisting, subverting, being a rebel. When I read this last line at the age of 17, I literally threw the book at the wall (no kidding, I did!). I am still angry about that ending. However, with hindsight, that was the point. We are supposed to be angry about the ending. We are supposed to think that Winston should still be rebelling, still doing what he did, because he was right and "they" were wrong. In other words, the disappointment we feel is part of the experience, here, part of it impinging on our lives, and this is why it is a 'great' book.

At the end of Anthony Burgess's Clockwork Orange, exactly the same happens, but in reverse. Alex has all his psychopathic tendencies restored by the state which originally took them away. He is back to being the murderous and violent adolescent that the society had spawned in the first place. Alex is still the rebel, he wins out in the end, but we cannot have any joy in this, because no one wins here. In the US version of this book, the ending is bleak, and nihilistic. It is the ultmate lose-lose scenario. Again, the ending disturbs us, but on reflection, the writer is asking: "What else would you have me do?" The reader is challenged to provide a solution, better than the one given, and that is the point; once society goes down this road, no-one wins.

However, there are two version of Clockwork Orange; in the UK version, Chapter 21 has Alex returning to his life of crime, only to have a moment of metanoia, where he realises that his life has been futile; he repents and decides to become a father and a husband. I never read that version, and if I had, for me Clockwork Orange would have lost much of its force. Without this chapter, I am forced to confront Alex head on; with it, the impact is softened, and everything is smoothed away. I think the Chapter 21 is a cop out which I wish Burgess had never written. Stanley Kubrick thought so too; his film (a masterpiece in my view) ends at the end of Chapter 20. He always claimed (somewhat disingenuously I thought) that he had never read the UK version.

The two books above are literary classics, and undoubtedly when the writers were creating their endings, they knew exactly what they were doing and why. They were challenging the reader, and they were not providing neat, simple answers.

In Evelyn Waugh's Bridesead Revisted, Charles Ryder is about to marry Julia but before he can, Lord Marchmain lies dying. As part of this death, Julia and Charles disagree about whether the dying lord should be given the last rites. Lord Marchmain makes a motion with his hand, but it is unclear whether he is waving the priest away, or signifying his consent. Julia decides that it is consent, and Lord Marchmain is given the last rites. Sometime afterwards, mainly as a result of this, Julia and Charles split up.

I am not disappointed by these events, but I was disappointed by the fact that Charles, as a lifelong agnostic, and having gone through all this, suddenly, in the last few pages of the book find solace in Catholicism. When I read this, I was open mouthed in disbelief. I could not reconcile this with what his and other characters had been through. Lord Marchmain left his wife partly because of her obsession to the faith; Sebastian's life was ruined because of his mother's obsessive "goodliness", and Charles lost Julia the opportunity to become master of Brideshead through this faith, so what on earth was Charles doing converting to Catholicism?

It was only later that I discovered that Waugh, the author of Brideshead, had himself converted to Catholicism, and that on re-reading the book, it then can be seen as an apologetic for the faith.

I do not actually mind endings that I do not like; I do not expect to be pleased or satisfied by the books I read, but I do expect to be challenged, and be made to think. The deathbed conversion scene of Lord Marchmain is one such: Charles is adamant that Marchmain had said throughout his life, "no priests"; Julia was equally adamant that a priest should give him the last rites. In the end, Marchmain makes the sign of the cross; it is a deathbed acceptance, the "twitch upon the thread". Food for thought for any non-believer. However, both sides were presented, and it had to happen one way or the other. On the other hand, Charles's conversion to Catholicism seemed to egregious, spurious and superfluous. In terms of the narrative it is a non-sequitur, and can only makes sense when put into context of the author's own journey, and the fact that his leanings made him twist the narrative in that manner. I was disappointed in the ending because the author allowed his personal prejudices, leanings and philosophy to hijack the ending of the book, just to satisfy his own purposes.

This is why I am very disappointed with the ending of Lost. Somehow, D & C have taken a show which has operated on a huge sweep of perspective, taking in many genres, and many avenues of human understanding: literature, philosophy, religion, science, self-referential tv drama, and melded them into a whole, replete with ideas, fantasy and character developments on a scale previously undreamed of. At the end, the Original Timeline boiled down to an unsatisfactory (and contradictory) cut & chase between a handful of characters, some magical (and still unexplained) light and water in a cave, and some vague and unspecified transfer of supernatural powers. What began with a literally explosive panoply of characters and genres, now has come down to an ending which seems to have been cobbled together from a schoolboy version of fantasy writing for beginners. What is worse, the way the show is handled this ending was full of non-sequiturs and last-minute add-on contrivances which appear to ignore or even contradict elements which have gone before.

I know full well, that when D& C took over Lost, they did so only on the condition that they could introduce a "supernatural" element to the plot. It is also well-known that they view "The Stand" as a masterpiece to be aspired to. I could confidently have predicted that the ending of lost would have a large portion of the supernatural in it. While this is not my cup of tea, and I do not relish such stuff, I can go along with it. It is not so much that I dislike such an ending for Lost, it is just that I cannot see how this could possibly be the ending to the series I have been watching. It seems like a DVD in which it is possible to view alternative endings, and this is the ending that got away, the one that should have been thrown out even before it was shot.

I think for me, the one thing that finished me off totally, was the end scene in the church. I felt like any minute a pastor was going to get up, and they were all going to start singing 'hallelujah'; they might as well have, because that was the message. Christian standing in front of the stained glass, Jack's sacrifice, even the messiah wound in his side. All this felt like Christian Mythology for beginners. However, my utter dislike, and my disdain for all this nonsense, has been surpassed by my disappointment, not because the show has sold out to 'mysticism' instead of 'science', but because the show has not lived up to its promise, to bring thought-provoking television of high quality and intellectual rigour. That promise, which has been present for five seasons, has been completely disregarded along with all the various plotlines, unsolved mysteries, apparent discrepancies in behaviour, and the contradictions, in the quest to bring the series to a close.

I mourn for Lost. I mourn for the Lost it could, and should have been. What had been created in Seasons 1-5, did not deserve this this travesty of an ending.

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