The First Time I Realized that Stories Don’t Always Have Happy Endings

From a young age, I had been fascinated by stories. From sitting in front of my mother as she read me a Darkwing Duck picture book for the hundredth time, to watching movies and playing video games, I could always get lost in a narrative. When I was growing up, I was exposed to the usual things. Movies like Lion King and Aladdin dominated my childhood, and my first chapter books were Bernstein Bear Scouts books.

These stories all had one thing in common, happy endings.

I don’t think, as a child, I consciously thought that all stories needed to end on a high note. I don’t think I ever put that much thought into the whole thing. But, when I was only exposed to stories where everything tied up nicely at the end, I came to expect it. Guy gets girl, villain gets defeated, laugh at the end, rinse and repeat.

Then, I watched The Terminal, a 2004 film starring Tom Hanks. A film where the guy does NOT get the girl in the end. And I realized that not everything ends perfectly.

The Terminal is a fairly simple movie. Tom Hanks is an immigrant who for reasons I cannot remember (I haven’t seen this film since), cannot get on a flight to return home. He remains more or less trapped in the airport terminal, having no money for a hotel or food, and no way to get a return flight. Barely understanding English, the film follows Hanks’ character as he makes a life for himself in the terminal. It’s by all accounts a little sappy, a little cheesy, but to my young mind, it was a treat.

You see, Hanks’ character befriends a woman who I think was a flight attendant, or just an employee in the airport. Their friendship quickly turns romantic, and I remember being completely entranced by it. The two actors had good chemistry, the script was strong, and it was clear to my young mind that they would end up together before the credits roll.

Except they didn’t.

I don’t remember why, but I remember being shocked and angry that these two people who were clearly meant to be together didn’t end up together. I remember looking to my mom, and asking why they couldn’t stay together.

She said, “Sometimes real life doesn’t have happy endings.”

And I realized that stories didn’t need to either.

Since then, I have been exposed to more and more stories that do not end happily. I have come to find some stories that end too perfectly cheesy and unrealistic. But I will always remember the first time I realized this.

I haven’t watched The Terminal since then. Some memories do not need to be revisited.


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