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15 Movies from The 21st Century That Have The Most Complicated Endings

21 January 2017 | Features, Film Lists | by Mariam Kasradze


There are a lot of movies with really impressing endings in the history of cinema. The ending must be shocking, unexpected, and breathtaking. It’s one of the criterion movie fans choose their favorite movies. And in actuality, the ending makes us remember and think about the film. “There’s a monster at the end of the books and movies. It’s when the story ends and you’re left alone with yourself and your thoughts.”

Here is a list of 15 movies that have the most complicated endings, and were filmed in the 21st century. There are a lot of discussions about the end of each film and maybe that’s the most amazing moment – when each person has a different view about it, and each of those views is a possible theory.


1. Black Swan (2010)

Black Swan (2010)

“Black Swan” is one of the best psychological thriller films of the 21st century, which is directed by Darren Aronofsky and has a quite remarkable cast (Natalie Portman, Vincent Cassel, Mila Kunis, Winona Ryder). The film revolves around the “Swan Lake” ballet by Tchaikovsky.

Nina (Portman) is a fascinating and hard-working ballerina, who is chosen as the lead in the upcoming production of “Swan Lake”, as the white swan as well as the black swan, by ballet director Thomas (Cassel). She is best for the role of the white swan, but not the perfect choice for the black swan, so she starts working hard on the role and fighting with herself.

In the beginning, Nina has a childish soul and she is a dutiful daughter, but for the role of the black swan, she needs to kill the “white swan” in herself. Here we meet the problem of maturity as well; Nina decides not to be a child anymore and chooses another dancer Lily (Kunis) to prove that.

Gradually, Nina starts to see strange things and she cannot understand whether it’s reality or just her imagination.

The end of the film is a bit confusing, because we see how effectively Nina kills Lily in jealousy and hides her body, but she actually cut herself and it reverberates that she needed to kill her dark side to be a “white swan” again, hence why she is bleeding and dies at the end of the film.

Nina’s death metaphorically appoints an artist who has already reached perfection. If a performer reaches perfection, they start dying as an artist. In the end, she whispers: “Perfect. It was perfect.”


2. Enemy (2013)

“Enemy” is directed by Denis Villeneuve and is based on Jose Saramago’s novel “The Double”. There are also similarities between the film and Dostoevsky’s novel “The Double”.

Jake Gyllenhaal plays two roles at the same time. Adam is a history professor, who has a passionate relationship with Mary. Anthony is an actor who has a pregnant wife, Helen, and miraculously looks like Adam. During a meeting at a hotel room, Adam realizes that Anthony is his doppelganger.

The film appears challenging and sometimes confusing, but we can sort it out if we watch every detail very carefully. Sometimes it’s very difficult to find out which one is Adam and which one is Anthony; however, Anthony wears a wedding ring and dresses a bit differently.

We start having doubts that they are the different sides of the same person when Adam’s mother tells him to give up imagining himself as an actor and advises him to continue his career as a professor. Confusion climaxes when Helen asks Anthony about the lessons at school. So which one is real: Adam or Anthony?

Symbolism plays an important role in the plot development. Adam teaches the students what it’s like to live under a totalitarian state without knowing it, but he cannot see the web that has overtaken the sky of the city and he has already gotten stuck in it. Spiders and their webs symbolically signalize Adam’s temptations; they appear when he does wrong things. That’s the reason why we see the giant tarantula after he has seen the key of the underground club with naked women.

Adam tries to solve all of the webs in his life like all of us do, and tries not to make the same mistakes, but sometimes “you can’t control coming from the subconscious … they are the dictator inside ourselves.”


3. Pieta (2012)


Pieta is a South Korean film written and directed by Kim Ki-duk. It may be one of the most breathtaking and mesmerizing films from this director.

The film’s title refers to the depiction of the Virgin Mary with the corpse of Jesus. The film is actually about a miserable mother who wants revenge for the death of her son, and chooses a very strange way to make that happen.

Kang-do is a heartless man whose job is to brutally injure debtors to prevent claiming. His job makes people kill themselves. Kang-do has no family and his life changes when middle-aged woman appears and persuades him that she is his long-lost mom. Little by little, Kang-do feels a motherly love and starts taking care of her as well.

The end of the film is absolutely shocking; we clearly see that the woman is the mother of Kang-do’s victim who committed suicide when we see them laying on the grave. After the death of his beloved “mother”, Kang-do becomes one of the best examples of redemption and catharsis.

It seems that the feeling you’re being loved by someone, and then realizing you are left without that, was the best punishment for his unmerciful character. Kim Ki-duk shows us the nature of the mother and her sacrifice in the best way.


4. Oldboy (2003)

oldboy ending

“Oldboy” is one of the best examples what it means to watch a great movie. It’s a South Korean mystery-thriller film directed by Park Chan-wook. The film won the Grand Prix award at the 2004 Cannes Festival, and in 2008, voters on CNN named it one of the best Asian films ever made.

The film is about Dae-su, who was imprisoned in a hotel room for 15 years. He doesn’t know who did this to him, or why. While he is free, Dae-su tries to investigate it and discovers the reason for his imprisonment. He also meets a beautiful woman and falls in love with her. The best moment of culmination appears when Dae-su solves the secret and finds out what has happened.

The woman he has fallen in love with is revealed to be his daughter, and both of them were hypnotized to punish Dae-su for the rumors he spread in his childhood about the sister of the man behind his imprisonment. He goes mad and here we see a spectacular and breathtaking acting from Choi Min-sik (Dae-su).

The ending of the film makes everyone burst into tears, when Dae-su asks woman who has already hypnotized him to make him forget about his daughter, and symbolically, another Dae-su disappears in the darkness. “Smile and the world smiles with you, cry and you cry alone.”

“Oldboy” sends us overwhelming feelings. It’s a film about personal and moral problems existing in human nature, and the methods used to solve them by different personalities.


5. Birdman (2014)


“Birdman” is an American satirical comedy-drama film directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu. The film perfectly shows us an artist who is trying and working to reach perfection and to be a great artist again.

Riggan (Michael Keaton) was a beloved actor for his superhero role, Birdman. Now he is a faded star and hopes to return to his old career by working hard on his new play. Riggan often sees Birdman in himself again and imagines having telekinetic powers.

The preparation period for his work was full of anxieties for Riggan, especially after the final preview, where a nervous Riggan meets an influential critic who tells him that she hates actors like him and promises to kill his play. He gets drunk, and his desire to make a new “Birdman” film leaves him imagining himself flying over the streets of Manhattan.

There is also a very symbolical moment regarding a jellyfish, which represents his ordinary will to continue living. In his confession, Riggan talks about his attempt to commit suicide by drowning, but the jellyfish drove him out of the water. Lately, the jellyfish lies dead on the beach, representing him losing his desire to live.

Although it’s not difficult to understand every moment in the film, the ending is still a little bit confusing for viewers. After shooting himself in the head on stage, we see Riggan in a hospital. His daughter is there as well, and while she is absent for a moment, he sees birds in the sky, climbs onto the window, and disappears.

We see his daughter watching the sky and bursting into tears. The main question is: Did Riggan die on the stage, or did he survive the shot and die in the hospital? It’s up to viewers and that is one of the most amazing features of the film.

“Birdman” is one of the most memorable and astonishing surreal movies of our time. It has themes and motives from real life, which are carried out in surreal and fantastic actions, which make the film unbelievably impressing.


6. Donnie Darko (2001)


“Donnie Darko” is one of the most twisted and mind-blowing films of all time, directed by Richard Kelly. It’s a science-fiction psychological horror drama film with a great cast.

Donnie Darko is a teenager from Virginia. One day, he is awakened and led out of the house by a figure of monster rabbit, which he calls Frank. Frank tells him the date of the end of the world, then he hears that a jet engine has crashed into his room. Frank has an influence on him and makes Darko do cruel things, and a lot of strange and unbelievable things start to happen to him. He’s a teenager who suffers from schizophrenia and takes hypnotherapy sessions, but they are not very helpful.

This movie is very complicated and twisted. There are two timelines and viewers should watch each detail very carefully to understand the main motive of the film.

In the end, Darko reveals himself to be a hero and rescues the world. After his death, people who knew him meet each other, some of them wake up, and we can see that everything that happened in the parallel world, which they remember as a dream. This is a fascinating and incomparable moment of the film, which makes us think about our lives and the priorities we choose.

“Donnie Darko” is one of the best science-fiction films ever made, which makes us think about time we have have left, other dimensions, and the people in our world who really care about us.


7. American Psycho (2000)

Christian Bale in American Psycho

“American Psycho” is a film that perfectly shows us what it means to say everything you feel or think about the people around us; it demonstrates that if we do whatever we want, how can we put up with the inner pain from which we suffer? It is a black comedy-horror film with a great cast (Christian Bale, Willem Dafoe, Jared Leto and others) and it’s directed by Mary Harron.

Patrick Bateman (Bale) is an investment banker who lives in a luxurious apartment, wears expensive clothes, and hates the wealthy and shallow associates around him. Suddenly he starts behaving strangely, and this is where starts his psychotic and violent life. One of his victims appear, a freaked out woman in the street who is killed by Bateman. He violently kills several people after having sexual relationships with them, and at last kills his co-worker Paul Allen.

The ending of the film is very complicated and suspicious. We clearly see how Bateman calls his lawyer, makes a confession, and admits to killing the people, but the next day Bateman is told that someone has seen Paul Allen in London some days earlier. His lawyer mistakes him for another man and laughs about the confession. Bateman’s secretary also finds his journal filled with the details of each murder.

This is why we can’t say confidently whether Bateman is a serial killer or if everything was just in his imagination. Circumstances made him unknown even for himself, and Bateman doesn’t have an exact answer regarding whether everything was real. The decision is up to viewers and it’s one of the best things about the film.



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  • sadburbia

    I like to believe Birdman lapses into complete magical realism in the end, with Riggan actually flying. Maybe I’m too much of an optimist.

    • Кирил Тодоров

      No, you’re not. I think this can be kinda another interpretation of the movie, if we put a condition on the magical realism part – this is indeed happening, yet it happens in the world as Birdman sees it, and his daughter just believes in his world as well. So it’s a reality for those who share this world…

  • D Train

    These are mostly just films where the endings were open for interpretation OR the viewer had to pay attention, and not “complicated” per se. A film like The Sting or Primer has a complicated finish where junk like Inception is just a “it was all a dream or was it”-style cop.

    • ttt

      everytime i see your post you’re complaining about Nolan. give it a break, we get it

      • D Train

        And you’re always defending Nolan. Give it a break. We get it.

        • ttt

          you confused me with someone else, i never defended him 🙂

          • This douche is always jumping in being a negative troll. He’s the first person I’ve ever blocked on Disqus

    • ttt

      just for the record i a gree with the rest of your post and im adding Synecdoche, New York to the list

  • Mortimer

    “Undoubtedly, “Shutter Island” is one of the most mesmerizing and complicated films of the 21st century.”
    This is a joke right ? When will ToC stop placing “Shutter Island” on a pedestal just because Scorsese’s name is behind. Movie is a pulpy fun, nothing deep about it.
    Why ‘The Master” isn’t on the list ? It has much more enigmatic and meaningful finale than ‘Shutter Island”. Not even close.

  • FAS

    “The Wailing” (2016), another South Korean film with a complicated ending.

    • Hernan Paz

      My god, yes.

  • Nelsonoca Galvis

    I put films like:

    Mulholland Dr.
    Loong Boonmee raleuk chat
    Ta’m e guilass

  • indianscotsman

    Eternal sunshine doesn’t have the most complicated endings. It can be understood in the second watching itself. Whereas PRIMER is definitely the most confusing film with complicated ending.

  • skainstein

    I agree with most of this list, or at least the movies i’ve seen. In ‘Enemy’ what the hell is that ending?? It feels like we can understand the movie, which goes in a logical direction… but then in the end… WTF??
    Also think ‘Holy Motors’ should be on the list