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What Happens Next

June 26, 2012

“All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you: the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was….” – Ernest Hemingway

I hate it when a movie ends.

I hate it when a book ends.

When the credits start rolling, I find myself pressed up against the screen, my eyes sporadically moving back and forth, thinking, “It’s over? What happens next? What happens next?!”.

You know those movies with that typical romantic ending where there’s no actually wedding scene, but there is a suggestion that the two main characters will marry somewhere down the line? Well, do they actually marry somewhere down the line? This we will never know because the movie just ends with the two smiling at each other! I hate being left to wonder about the couple’s future. This, my friends, is what the ending of a movie does to me.

I think the only kind of movie that would satisfy me is the kind that tells the story from beginning to end. Not beginning to marriage, or mid-thirties to “the happy ending” after a mid-life crisis. No! I want a story from birth to death!

When a good movie ends, I usually spend the next week replaying some of the scenes in my head. I smile when I’m walking on the street because I am imagining what it would be like for a boy to love me the way Paul Varjak loves Holly Golightly. I sit at my window, full of contentment, as I think how wonderful it would be for a boy to push me on a swing, somewhere in the country side, just like the way Ike Graham pushed Maggie Carpenter, all the while reading his book.

So you can only imagine my disappointment when a good romantic movie ends. All during the movie, my high is building up. I watch the beginning eagerly, never missing a moment. I squirm in my seat when he confesses his love to her; I throw my hands up in surrender as she turns him down; I hold my breath as I wait for that moment when she realizes that she loves him too; and I giggle with my hands over my mouth as they finally kiss. But when the movie ends, my high dissipates and all I can do is let out a long sigh.

I am so that guy with that entertained look on his face.

It’s the same with a good read. I recently just finished a biography, written by Slyvia Nasar, of John Forbes Nash Jr., the winner of the Nobel in Economics 1994. Now Mr. Nash is not your average Nobel winner. No, he is not! What sets him apart from the other Nobel winners is the fact that he has had his fair share of problems. Now I’m not talking about research problems or anything scholarly related. I’m talking about health problems; Mr. Nash suffered from Schizophrenia for many decades of his life.

The book was such a terrific read – partly because of the superb writing, partly because of this genius of a man, and partly because I knew that this was a true story. His story was so extraordinary, it made me realize how minuscule my problems are in comparison. I enjoyed the story very much, right from the beginning to the end. But even though the ending was quite good, I still found myself pressed up against the pages of the book, my eyes sporadically moving back and forth, thinking, “It’s over? What happens next? What happens next?!”.

But I guess mystery is supposed to be good. We’re not meant to know what happens from beginning to end because lack of knowledge feeds the imagination. This is clearly evidenced in the last paragraph of this book:

“As we leave him now he is perhaps just hurrying under the Eisenhart gate on his way to Fine Hall… or sitting next to Alicia on the living-room sofa watching Dr. Who on the big television… or losing a game of chess to Johnny… or spending 105 minutes on the telephone comforting Lloyd Shapley after his wife’s death… or giving Harold Kuhn a look like a naughty boy’s when Harold asks whether the lecture notes for Pisa are ready… or sitting at the institute math table with his lunch tray, nodding while Enrico Bombieri, who has just read the love letters of Carrington, bemoans the lost art of letter writing… or, after listening to an astronomy lecture, gazing through a telescope at some distant star glimmering in the night sky….”

This last bit proves exactly my point! Mr. Nash could be doing this or that… or that! The point is, we will never know (unless you were there in the room with him). But by golly, I want to know! I want to know the story from beginning to end, and that means to the very end!

Doesn’t it seem as though the characters we encounter in movies and books live in some other alternate universe? Perhaps as I’m typing this, Harry and Sally are sitting by the fireplace, chatting the night away. But this too, I can only  imagine.

I know these characters will forever stay with me in my imagination. My memory will fade – there’s no doubt about that. But when that does happen, I can pull that book off the shelf, or pop that VHS that I bought (at the surprise of many people) for 1.99 + tax at the second hand store , right into the VCR.

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