How important is a movie's ending? Check out this week's Ask the Critic question, then post your own

By Owen Gleiberman
Updated September 28, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT

How important is a movie’s ending?

How important is a movie’s ending? — Thomas

Even when a film is great, the end, if done right, can be more than icing on the cake; it can redefine the entire dessert. The greatest example is, of course, the revelation of Rosebud in the closing moments of Citizen Kane. Like all great endings, that one is really a beginning — an invitation to meditate on the hidden meaning of what we’ve just seen. Here are a few more: the last line of Some Like It Hot, in which Jack Lemmon, revealing himself to be a man, inspires a sublime shrug of a response (”Nobody’s perfect!”) that in just two words presaged a revolutionary new era of sexual tolerance; Michael Corleone closing the door — on his wife, on the audience, on his heart — in the final shot of The Godfather; and Jake La Motta, now a shadowboxer of a man, punching the air opposite a nightclub mirror at the end of Raging Bull, his ghostly pantomime culminating in a shocking cut to black — a moment so indelible it single-handedly replaced the fade-out with the dramatic slash-cut.

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