about six months ago, i wrote an article about a collective false memory that many of us had about the nora ephron movie, you have mail. A quick recap: I recently rewatched the movie and was taken aback because the cut I saw didn’t end the way I remembered it, i.e. with Meg Ryan’s character Kathleen reading a children’s book in a corner of the character’s bookstore. From Tom Hanks, Joe Fox was absolutely certain that the movie ended that way. I went online to commiserate, only to discover that many other people had a similar memory. There were theories that different editions were made for television or cable that included a scene before the credits in which Meg Ryan’s character was reading a children’s book.
After writing the article, I saw in our comments section that several people had a similar memory. here is a random sample of three comments.
Reading: You ve got mail ending
I also did a twitter survey and 35% of people remembered the exact same thing.
question (and follow up on my “you got mail” post). how do you remember the ending of ‘you have mail’? with joe and kathleen in the park? Or with kathleen reading to the kids in a fox book corner? (update below).
See also: Mark or unmark spam in gmail
Perplexed by this, I contacted you’ve got mail‘s assistant editor, shelly westerman, to see if she could provide some clarity. sadly, before shelly westerman got back to me, maria at laineygossip, who had a similar memory, brilliantly brought my own story to light and got in touch with nora ephron’s sister, delia ephron, who replied: “The movie always ended on the riverside.” park. and no one has messed with the movie since it came out.”
for the record, shelly westerman also replied and confirmed that there was no other ending. “I don’t remember any ending other than the one that exists,” she wrote. “I asked one of my co-workers and got the same answer. Joe and Kathleen were always in the park. the theatrical version was always the director’s version of nora, we didn’t do alternate or final versions. Our beloved editor, Richard Marks, passed away two years ago, but I’m sure one of us on the editorial team would have remembered something like that.”
Separately, a few months ago, I also watched some of my favorite ’80s movies with my kids back to back: karate kid, brewster’s millions, and planes , trains and cars. I mentioned this on the podjiba podcast at one point, but I couldn’t get over the fact that those movies end so abruptly. movies always used to end abruptly. when the plot ended, so did the movie. One of my favorite writers, Mike Ryan, who has also been watching a lot of old movies lately, wrote about this phenomenon last week. it’s a great piece. asked many writers who anonymously divulged to him the various reasons why movies don’t finish anymore, and it mainly has to do with the need to prepare sequels and also because test audiences like it. That everthing is fine. wrapped for them. here is a passage related to this piece:
continues, “there is a screenwriting guru person. he says that people don’t care about victories; they respond to people celebrating victories. that’s what makes the public happy. hence the medal scene at the end of star wars. that’s what gives people joy, not the explosion of the death star. I think maybe we’ve learned that lesson too much.”
Reading that, I realized exactly why so many people remembered you have email the way we did. movies have longer endings now to remove any ambiguity. In the ’80s and ’90s, however, it wasn’t movies that erased that ambiguity, it was our brains. we removed the ambiguity in our minds with our imaginations after the movie ended, and for some reason at least 35 percent of us thought kathleen reading in joe’s bookstore was the happy ending what we wanted. In fact, there were two versions of that imaginary ending that I’ve seen: one in which Joe had dedicated a children’s corner in his bookstore to Kathleen, and one in which Kathleen was reading her own children’s book in that corner.
after seeing planes, trains and cars again, I realized that I had also created a kind of false memory about the end of that movie. The movie itself has a perfect conclusion: Neal and Del (Steven Martin and John Candy, respectively) return to Neal’s house in time for Thanksgiving dinner, the family is waiting for them, and Neal introduces his wife to from before neal kissed her. . del stops and looks, which is very sweet (because he’s thinking about his late wife) and a little awkward. In my brain, however, I had also imagined another scene of the whole family eating at the Thanksgiving dinner table as the credits rolled. I don’t know why my brain needed that, but I was surprised it didn’t exist in the movie.
my brain also remembered karate kid differently. I was surprised how quickly it was over, about 10 seconds after Daniel was declared the winner. they raised their arm, the camera panned to miyagi smiling and the credits started. that was it. the end. that’s not how I remembered it. i remember miyagi kicking john kreese in the parking lot after the game. Of course, that’s the opening of karate kid ii, but the strange thing is how clearly I remember it at the end of the first movie. I’ve seen karate kid seven or eight times in my life. I’ve seen karate kid ii once. I don’t remember any other scene in the sequel except the opening, which my brain transferred to the end of karate kid.
The point is this: it’s true that our brains crave to have all those ambiguities resolved, and we like to see celebrations, but studios don’t need to spend an extra 10-15 minutes resolving all the ambiguities or providing the celebrations we want to see. our minds will do it for us, and they will do it better than any writer, especially since a writer can only give us their ending. our brains, however, can give us any ending we want. some of us are cool with kathleen and joe making out in the park. Some of us, however, want to see Kathleen co-opt a corner of Joe’s store for herself, while others prefer to see Kathleen as a successful children’s book author. those short endings allow us to choose our own ending, and the power of our imagination allows those endings to stick.
(hat tip: mike ryan)
dustin is the founder and co-owner of pajiba. You can email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, podjiba.
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