Not all stories wrap up cleanly and not all worlds can be fully fleshed out. Often you can come out of a movie with a few lingering questions on your mind.
They’re not necessarily plot holes. They don’t ruin the story or wreck your suspension of disbelief. They’re just little moments of ambiguity that stick in your brain. Sometimes a sequel or a prequel or even an interview with a director can come along and clear things up. Sometimes though, those questions never get answered.
Let’s take a look at 10 of the most enduring questions in the history of cinema. Stick around for some unrecognized heroes, madmen that might not be as mad as you think, and more mysteries that have haunted film fans for years.
10. When Is It Safe to Feed A Mogwai?
Keep it away from bright lights, don’t get it wet, and don’t feed it after midnight. These are the three simple rules of mogwai ownership we learn in 1984’s Gremlins. The first two are rather straightforward. The third one is the problem. I’m not sure if you noticed, but the day starts a midnight. That’s 0001 in military time. It’s always after midnight.
So when should you feed the thing? The film and its sequel do not go out of their way to make that clear. I’d say your best bet is to turn down any mogwais you’re offered and get a hamster or something.
9. What Caused The Apocalypse In The Road?
The Road is set in a blighted, ruined world, but is tightly focused on the grim life or death struggles of a father and son. The scale of destruction is immense, but it’s all backdrop. The Road is utterly unconcerned with mythology or worldbuilding and never reveals just what destroyed its world. The Road is a movie about the aftermath and that’s it. In a way, it lets you project your own fears onto the setting. The culprit can be whatever apocalyptic anxiety you’re currently dealing with.
8. What Is The Man With No Name’s Name?
The Dollars Trilogy (A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly) are arguably the greatest westerns of all time. Their star is arguably the most iconic western hero in cinema history, but we don’t really know much about him. In fact, his defining feature is that he has no name. Neither director, Sergio Leone, nor actor, Clint Eastwood, have never spilled the beans on the identity of The Man and many sincerely hope they never do.
If you want to see another character that thrives on a sense of mystery, check out #4.
7. What Did Bob Whisper?
Lost in Translation provides a sort of choose-your-own-adventure ending. The last words of the film are intentionally obscured from the audience. We see Bill Murray’s Bob track down Scarlett Johansson’s Charlotte and whisper something to her but we never learn what. It allows the audience to essentially write their own ending to the film by putting whatever words they want into Bob’s mouth. Apparently, Murray improvised the line and even Sofia Coppola, the director, doesn’t know what he actually said.
6. Why Doesn’t Chewbacca Get A Medal?
Nerds have pondered why beloved Wookie co-pilot Chewbacca was not awarded a medal at the end of Episode IV: A New Hope for decades. Did they not have any in his size? Did they run out of medals all together? Did he turn it down? If so why? Does the Rebel Alliance hold some unspoken prejudice against Wookies? Why would a guy that would tear your arms off over a game of holographic chess put up with having his accomplishments swept under the rug? Maybe he’s just the Leonardo DiCaprio of the Star Wars universe. Maybe Episode VIII will be his Revenant.
5. What Caused The Infertility In Children Of Men?
The grumpier among you might view a world without children as a utopia, but Children of Men presents an incredibly grim take on the concept. It shows us a vision of what appears to be humanity’s last act, a winding down of human history. Children of Men does a lot to add texture to its world, to make it feel real and lived in. So it’s especially interesting that we gain no real insight into its central conceit. We never learn why humanity has been rendered infertile. Instead, we just see the effect this infertility has had on the world.
4. How Did The Joker Get His Scars?
Unlike a lot of entries of this list, The Dark Knight dangles the question it’s refusing to answer right in front of your face. In fact, we hear the Joker ask “You wanna know how I got these scars?” multiple times throughout the movie. Each time he provides a new answer that contradicts the one that came before it.
The Joker works best as an avatar of chaos. Any concrete details about his past just detract from his appeal. The fact that he seems to know this and taunts, not just the characters in the film but the audience, makes it all the better.
3. Did Patrick Bateman Actually Kill Anybody?
While American Pyscho‘s Patrick Bateman definitely loves Huey Lewis, the jury might still be out on his love of wanton, gory murder. American Pyscho takes a turn for the ambiguous when corpses disappear from Bateman’s apartment. The film continues to layer on hints that Bateman’s killing spree might just be an elaborate fantasy or delusion. Director Mary Harron has gone on record saying that she wanted to keep the film ambiguous. Check out #1 for another character who might not be as crazy as you think.
2. What Is The Cloverfield Monster And Where Did It Come from?
If you weren’t plugged into the pulse of pop culture at the time of its release, you might not grasp just how big a deal Cloverfield was. There was an incredible amount of hype around the film and most of that hype centered around a complex ARG or Alternate Reality Game. People poured through corporate websites, MySpace pages and every single frame of the trailer all in the pursuit of unraveling the mystery of the film’s starring monster. When the film finally hit theaters though, the answers to the questions plaguing those digital sleuths were nowhere to be seen.
1. Is Jack Torrance Insane?
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, but does it also make him lose his mind? The Shining plays out a lot closer to a nightmare than it does a straightforward, conventional story. Its dreamlike qualities make it hard to pin down exactly what is happening in the Overlook Hotel. The movie drops hints that Jack might be possessed by angry, restless spirits, but it’s just as likely that his alcoholism and isolation have pushed him over the edge.
That’s just a taste of some of the questions movies have left dangling. There are countless others. Some would say that every film leaves at least one unanswered question in its wake. It would be pretty much impossible to create a totally clear and unambiguous film. Even if you could, it would no doubt be too long and unwieldy for anybody to actually watch and enjoy. Art requires a certain level of mystery to work. That’s why its an art and not a science.
What cinematic questions have stuck with you? Let us know in the comments. Maybe we can figure these ones out together.