Pointless endings thread

I’ve been thinking about pointless endings. Basically, it can be defined like so: “The protagonist does stuff, dies, and no one cares.”

I’m not talking about about movies or stories where the journey is inherently important, where, even if the character fails, he or she learned something and emerged different. Nor does the ending have to be sad, particularly.

Take a Stephen King story Battleground, where An assassin is killed by toy soldiers. He kills somebody for money, the toys show up. He goes all out fighting the soldiers, even spurning their offer to let him surrender. And… he kills them all but get’s blown up. No one knows about it, or cares, and nothing comes of it. Sure, no one cares that he died, but where does it leave us? Why do we even care about these events? BFD*

*Big Furry Deal.

Ultimately, I dislike this kind of story, because it’s essentially a form of author cheating. “Ha! Fooled you! You though there was an ending!”

The story might be interesting, but it leads nowhere. At the end, I feel like whatever I invested in the story was betrayed. Now, some stories (like Umney’s Last Case, also from the Nightmares and Dreamscapes, are open to interpretation, and even leave the viewer with the impression that the story isn’t over. Yet at the same time, it goes somewhere. Even if you’re not rooting for one character, there’s a reason to be involved in the story.

To be fair that story wasn’t supposed to have an ending, it had a punchline. IIRC there was a scrap of paper at the end that said something like “now containing a mini A-bomb!” Short stories can’t be held to the same standard as movies or a novel with respect to plot or content. Sometimes they are a set up for a punchline. Sometimes it is just to illustrate an idea without fully forming the world the story fits into.

Well, you’re going to find that happening a lot with Stephen King stories. There are a few exceptions, but generally he can’t write a good ending to save his life. I’m trying to think of a good example to add to the OP, but right now, I got nothing.

Since I replied I should throw in my own example. I think *The Ninth Gate * falls into this category. It just ended.

What you describe is what George Scithers used to call “futility”: the story only exists to show life sucks and we all die in the end. It was grounds for rejection.

Many beginning writers don’t know the difference between tragedy and futility (in tragedy, the character dies because of a mistake or character flaw, something that could have been avoided if the character did have his own issues). But I don’t know of many stories that deal with futility, mostly because the issues in the OP keep them unpublished.

What you seem to be describing in your example is “the biter bit” story, where someone has the tables turned on him. Those are based on irony (the old EC comics were filled with these) and can be quite good.

Blade Runner, maybe?

They brought Deckard in to kill all the replicants, so he did, but the greater issue was whether or not they’d go wacky and kill everybody even if they had implanted memories, so they implanted some in Rachel, and the movie ended with Deckard and Rachel flying off to San Francisco to live happily ever after. Or not. Maybe. Who knows what the future holds?

When I saw the title, I thought more of those artsy dramas that just kind of end. You’ll be watching, usually observing the characters making bad decisions and leading sucky lives, and a scene ends . . . and the credits roll. No real exposition-conflict-climax-resolution arc, no catharsis.

The only example I can think of right now is Trees Lounge. I have a vague notion that *Welcome to the Dollhouse * qualifies, but I could be wrong. *The Station Agent * comes close, but I do think it has a conflict and resolution.

Much more annoying are the “it was all a dream” stories. Recently I was watching a movie, and I just disengaged when I realized all the crazy stuff happening was probably never going to have a coherent explanation, as it was just going to be someone’s death dream. Sometimes this can be done well - “Occurence at Owl Creek Bridge” is a classic, of course. And sometimes it is howlingly-bad, as in Dallas.

BTW, the movie was Stayand the reason I twigged was that it really reminded me of Vanilla Sky
Personally, I don’t think “Battleground” qualified under any definition of “pointless,” because it’s all about the irony and just desserts. The main character is this insouciant, smooth, deadly dangerous guy, and just look what happens to him. Not only is he defeated, he’s made ridiculous.

Kafka’s The Trial. For that matter, 90% of everything Kafka wrote.

I nominate the anime movie Fist of the North Star.

The protagonist meets up with the Fist of the Southern Cross to do battle. They fight, fight some more, and then fight even more. The bad guy is about to kill our hero, until a little girl pops out of nowhere. “Please don’t kill him!” she cries. The bad guy decides she’s onto something and walks away, leaving him for dead. The end.

If the rest of the movie wasn’t so badass, I’d hate it.

Seems like the ending of “The Princess Bride” novel fits this one perfectly.


I thought Battleground was funny because of the reaction of the assassin. First he’s ultra careful in opening the crate, just in case it’s a bomb, then it starts moving on its own, prompting him to prudently withdraw to a safe distance, then all these little soldiers come out and he’s like what the fuck? then they start shooting and then it’s what the FUCK?! and he hides in the bathroom and they shove a note under the door demanding his surrender and he writes back “NUTS” and makes a break for it and kaboom.

It’s the Battle of the Bulge, writ very very small.

Dr. Hibbert voiceover: And so the children learned to live peacefully on the island, until the day they were rescued by…oh, let’s say…Moe.

I nominate Monty Python and the Holy Grail

I mean, it just… ends. What was the point of that?!

Not saying it wasn’t funny, but it was pointless. Same deal with Blazing Saddles.

Actually, the voice-over was by special guest James Earl Jones.


The big revelation is that everything exists inside some crazy guy’s head, which effectively invalidates the entire story. Yay.

The Machinist:

The big revelation is that everything exists inside some crazy guy’s head, which effectively invalidates the entire story. Yay.


The big revelation is that everything exists inside some crazy guy’s head, which effectively invalidates the entire story. Yay.

(Apologies to Carnick)

Okay, maybe it’s a bit more ambiguous, but not much.

Not really.

It was a battle for which personality got to stay in the head. It was all a big metaphor, but that doesn’t invalidate the entire story.


Virtually anything written by Neal Stephenson.


After a huge sequence of events involving three generations and the best code-crackers of World War Two, our heros risking life and limb and military coup to set up an offshore data haven…only to end with the protagonist discovering stolen WWII Japanese gold in the Philipines, more or less out of left field.

The Diamond Age:

As backdrops to the long and complex story of Hackworth, a futuristic engineer: the neo-Victorians’ world is going to pot, several family lineages are described in lurid detail, one army is destroyed and another created, all on the sidelines… then a little girl who reads Hackworth’s book gets into trouble halfway around the world and is rescued by someone we meet 75 pages before the end of the book.


Actually you need a story before you can have an ending, so I suppose I have no complaint with this book’s ending.

How about Das Boot ? The whole movie is about saving this submarine, and its human contents, through one scrape after another. They finally make it back to homke port, only to be blown to bits by enemy aircraft.

[spoiler]The point was the absurdist humor. Monty Python was about pushing the boundaries not so much of humorous content, but of the structure of humor. You’re expecting there to be a great battle between the few knights and the huge medieval army, and instead the few knights are arrested. The idea is essentially to be random.

Blazing Saddles had (mostly) a real end. It was satire, and the movie theater bit was confusing, but I personally loved it.[/spoiler]