I watched Martin Scorsese's famous 'Taxi Driver' last night. It was riveting. The taxi driver, played by Robert de Niro, is a guy with insomnia, a sense of goodness and justice, he is nice to people and he watches the worst sort of porn in the theatre every day. He even takes a high-class woman he is trying to date to one of these movies and is bewildered when walks out of the theatre and refuses to see him again. He genuinely did not mean to be suggestive to her, he is just so used to those movies he doesn't realise it may look any other way to someone else. He works hard as a driver, he doesn't fuss about any sort of customer. He's a decent guy, you'd say if you met him, even a cute one (after all, he's Robert de Niro) but when you look at his red eyes and the zoned out look, you want to hurry away.
You must admit he's a compelling character.
I can draw a parallel with Remember Me, which I also watched recently, starring Robert Pattinson. Tyler (Pattinson) is a young guy who is shackled to the memory of the brother he loved and lost to suicide. His father (Pierce Brosnan) is deeply affected by that loss and loses himself in his work to forget, as a result of which he distances himself from his existing children, Tyler and Caroline. Tyler is a sweet brother to Caroline, an artistic kid who is a misfit in her class and the brunt of many little-girl jokes and cruelties. Tyler lives with a nutty roommate in an apartment, he is quite a bit lost himself but he is still young enough to be earnest. He gets involved with a girl who has witness her mother being shot dead in a subway when she herself was just 11. So both these people have difficult pasts and now have to deal with each other, themselves and their present.
Compelling again? Yes.
What's common to both these movies, however, is not only that they were strongly character-driven but also that both movies were unable to sustain the story to a good ending. Remember Me ends with the 9/11 incident and Taxi Driver turns weird and gory at the end. Both films manage to hobble and stand up again for certain reasons (that I won't give away here) in retrospect, but they are not satisfactory viewing as far as the story is concerned.
Now, pay attention. What makes the two stories compelling in the first place? Think about it.
Yes, the characters are interesting because they're not flat, they have good and bad, strange and normal. But you plan to watch the movies because you want to know what happens to these people and how it all ends.
A story is successful and good only when its ending is as good as its beginning and middle, as good and riveting as its characters. It's all too easy to put together a situation that reflects real life closely in its chaos and lack of sense. Fiction has to make sense. This is the basis of a story. All too often today we see editors publishing stories that are realistic but fall flat at the end. They are so taken with the realism, the non-sense of it, that they forgive the ending. They adjust the title a bit, link it here and there to the story and let it be. The reader or viewer is left to figure out what the hell he experienced in the story and if he thinks about it long enough, he will see some kind of sense. Probably as much sense as he sees in his own life (a little but not much).
Another film that had me thinking the same way was My Own Private Idaho. River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves play lead roles and do so beautifully, especially Phoenix. Read the review on Amazon.com. It's a strange set of people to hang around with but it's a film worth watching. Except the ending, as I've been saying.
Still, overall, all three films are very watchable, mainly thanks to the excellent actors and directors. You just need to put yourself in a generous mood to forgive the endings. And try not to ask 'So... what was that all about?'