McGinnis: Goodbye, Farewell and AmenWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
“Goodbye to me and you,
Goodbye to the life we knew,
One last long embrace,
Let go and walk on through.”
-Bouncing Souls, “Night Train”
Nothing is more crucial than the ending.
A storyteller can make mistakes in the build-up. Sure, too many and you will lose your audience, but on the whole, if the overall thrust of your narrative is on the right track, people will forgive. But the ending has to be spot-on.
Look at the “Matrix” series. People can complain about the execution of the last two chapters as much as they want, but I was there the night the second film debuted, and no one in that theater was complaining. They were cheering, they were involved, they were on the edge of their seats. People were still with the story. It was when the third film’s resolution didn’t live up to their expectations that the judgment of pop culture turned against the trilogy.
I often wonder what would have happened if the Wachowski brothers had tried a different tactic with the last 20 minutes of “Revolutions.” If that third film had given the public a more easily digestible conclusion, would people’s memories of it be fonder? When you really look at the content of the sequels, they contain stellar action sequences, incredibly impressive effects, a lot of genuine imagination. But your average fan only remembers that ending.
If you give fans a great resolution or dramatic climax, they will forgive a lot. Two forms of entertainment that couldn’t be more different demonstrated this to fans around the world this weekend.
“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2″ just had the biggest opening weekend gross ever. Current estimates have the film’s domestic gross at over $168 million in just three days, over $40 million for midnight shows on Thursday alone. Across Toledo, fans turned out by the thousands to experience the final act of a decade of storytelling. And their response to it was just as crucial: Many of them would return again to experience it all over again before the weekend was out.
It was the same kind of passion that was seen when the franchise came to a close in print in 2007. This is not to say that the final installment of the series did not have its flaws. But as long as the trip is entertaining and the climax brings genuine closure to an enterprise fans had invested so much passion in, folks will forgive a lot. And damn, does “Harry Potter” have a satisfying conclusion.
Then there was the WWE pay-per-view in Chicago. As a performer named CM Punk took to the stage in his hometown, he was the most talked-about figure in wrestling. The show’s main event was the culmination of a month-long storyline which weaved fact and fiction into the most compelling tale the company had concocted in years. Punk had convinced the world this would be his last night with the company. He promised he would win the title in his hometown, then leave, taking the biggest prize in the business with him.
For years, fans the world over — myself included — have become massively disillusioned with WWE storytelling. The company had lost all daring. Whenever a slight step forward occurred, the result would immediately be rendered moot and the status quo restored. Thus, even as Punk had become the hottest figure in the game, fans had little reason to hope that things would change. His opponent, John Cena — the ultimate company man — would beat him and things would get back to normal.
That was believed until Sunday, when Punk beat Cena and left the building, WWE’s title in hand. The company, and Punk in particular, played with the fans’ expectations, built them up based on the conclusion everyone “knew” was coming — and then stunned the world, which will draw even more eyeballs to the product.
Punk isn’t really leaving, of course — at least not immediately. He and WWE storytellers just knew how to use the fans’ jaded assumptions to perfection. And now, instead of the half-hearted conclusion that was expected, there was a stunning turn which will make people all the more interested when the genuine resolution comes. (Punk has played these cards before in a similar storyline when he left Ring of Honor Wrestling in 2005.)
This may not have been the end of Punk’s story. But by convincing folks that it was, then flipping the scenario on its head, he has successfully revived a product that was dead to many. The “end” may be the new beginning WWE has so desperately needed.