I’ve always been a big fan of the unhappy ending, in books, in movies, in theater. I used to think I was an outlier in this but have since discovered a huge cohort of fellow lovers of a good tearjerker.
I can’t speak for anyone else, but there are a few ways in which I can explain my preference for a non-fairytale ending.
First of all, real life is rarely about fairytale endings – they tend to be far more ambiguous, if there’s even any closure at all. Sad endings feel like a truer reaction to actual life, and that makes it more resonant for me.
Second, when experiencing a character’s loneliness or loss, it feels like a kinship – that it’s a reflection of what I sometimes feel myself. Knowing that those emotions are shared, that they are universal, is deeply comforting.
Finally, a sad ending is often the catalyst of a good cathartic cry.
Opera, of course, is the epitome of sad endings, and one of my favorites is La Bohème (I freely admit my bias – it’s one of the half dozen or so operas I’ve conducted in their entirety, so I know it inside and out). No matter how many times I’ve seen it (or conducted it, for that matter), the closing scene really gets to me. By the time Rodolfo has gotten to “Quel guardarmi cosi?…” the tears are already springing to my eyes. And those big chords in the brass and the sobbing strident strings and…it’s just beautifully, gloriously, sublimely sad.
I happened upon this production of Bohème when I was doing a YouTube search for something else. It’s an unusual and fascinating idea – staging an opera in the middle of an actual city square, with passers-by gawking at the spectacle. But what really struck me was the staging at the very end, of Mimi’s death – incredibly visceral and totally unexpected. It was a really good cry for me. Hope it is for you as well.