This is the Spoiler Space for today’s examination of 3 films made better if they take place in the minds of the protagonists. If you’ve come here first, you might want to read the original discussion first.
And, as should be painfully obvious at this point, these addenda will give away the endings of the films.
The Grey – Even though I loved the ambiguous nature of the ending, the moment leading up to it is pretty silly. These wolves, we are told, have a 300-square mile “turf,” and literally minutes after the last remaining colleague of Neeson is killed he wanders in to their den? Their den?? What would be the odds of that? But if this entire thing, including the other characters (all of whom, in some way, make a decision to embrace either life or death, and reflect Neeson’s mental progress), reflect Neeson’s trudge toward mental salvation – toward embracing life, no matter what it brings – then everything in the story had to lead him inexorably toward the den, and toward his ultimate decision about whether to give up on life, or embrace it. Consider the conversation he has with God just before he finds the den in which he concludes, “Fine. I’ll do it myself.”
Panic Room – The ending of the film is, well, kind of dumb. On a literal level it feels like all the energy was spent on structuring the physical plausibility of the break-in itself; the ending is sort of, “And, uh, then it was over. And Forrest Whitaker got arrested.” Psychologically, though, it works better, because the push to the “treasure” becomes desperate and self-damaging. Ultimately it becomes about the price of getting out of that room, what must be protected and what must be sacrificed.
The Descent – Okay, this one’s arguably a bit of a cheat, because the director’s original intention of this British film was to reveal that the whole thing was in her mind – the film closes with her surrounded by subterranean creatures, about to die, and then we see she’s insane in a mental hospital. A happier ending was created and added for American audiences. Your initial snobby, iconoclastic response – like mine – might be, “Lame! Sanitized, American happy endings! Bleah!” But hold on to your black turtlenecks and hipster glasses, because the American ending? Is better. For starters, it lets us, the audience, engage with the story and decide the film is in her mind instead of giving us the obvious “Eh? Eh? Get it?” ending. Also, if a film starts with someone’s family dying and things get worse from there? Dramatically speaking, that person needs to “come through” in the end and find a way out of that damned cave. Otherwise it’s just torture porn.