Created By: Grignr on October 16, 2012 Last Edited By: Arivne on July 17, 2016

Rosebud Ending

A Sudden Downer Ending when someone suddenly realizes he\'s misunderstood everything that happened.

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"Far ahead on the road Elisa saw a dark speck. She knew."
John Steinbeck, "The Chrysanthemums"

A Rosebud Ending is a Twist Ending and a Sudden Downer Ending in which a sometimes-trivial discovery makes the main character and/or the viewer/reader realize that everything that happened previously meant something different than they had thought it did. They must re-interpret the entire story, which they now realize was tragic.

Usually found in movies or short fiction, due to the difficulty of writing longer works which have two parallel interpretations throughout. Sometimes inverted in conjunction with Back to Front.

A twist which merely reveals new information about previous events, without changing the tone of the story dramatically, is not an instance of this trope. Contrast with The Ending Changes Everything, which many instances of this trope have been filed under. The Ending Changes Everything "calls into question exactly how much of what you've seen was actually real", whereas in this trope, the discovery at the end does not change anyone's beliefs about what objective physical events took place during the story.

This is an ending trope; every entry is a spoiler.


Anime and Manga
  • In Magic Knight Rayearth, three girls are summoned from Earth to become the Magic Knights (Magical Girls) and save the world of Cefiro. Princess Emeraude, who sustains the peace in Cefiro, appears to have been imprisoned by Zagato. After they kill Final Boss Zagato and free Emeraude, the Magic Knights discover that Emeraude had fallen in love with Zagato, and imprisoned herself to try to overcome this love. Not only did they kill a virtuous man, but Zagato's death enrages Emeraude and drives her to try to destroy the world of Cefiro, and the Magic Knights must slay her as well.

  • In the opening of Citizen Kane, Kane utters the Last Word "Rosebud" before dying. At the end of the movie, we discover Rosebud was the name of his boyhood sled - indicating that Kane's life of power and fame as a newspaper publisher, which took up most of the movie, never made him happy.
  • Leonard, the protagonist of Memento, has anterograde amnesia, meaning he can form no new long-term memories. The film chronicles Leonard's efforts to have vengeance on his wife's killer, but its scenes are presented Back to Front, in reverse chronological order. In the last scene shown, which happened first, we learn that the man Leonard killed, who we earlier thought had killed Leonard's wife, was in fact an undercover officer who had already helped Leonard track down and kill his wife's killer.

  • In "The Chrysanthemums", by John Steinbeck, Elisa pays a traveling tinker to mend her pots after he admires her chrysanthemums and asks for a planting. At the end, she sees he dumped them by the side of the road, and realizes he only feigned interest to make a sale.
  • "Miss Brill", by Katherine Mansfield, is a short story told from the viewpoint of an old woman attending a band performance in the park. Her regular attendance makes her feel like an essential part of the show and the community. At the very end, she overhears a young couple talking about her and sees how pathetic she looks from others' eyes.
  • "Everything That Rises Must Converge," by Flannery O'Connor: Julian must accompany his mother on the bus, and spends the trip thinking of all the ways he despises and feels superior to her. She offends a black woman by offering her child a penny, and the woman assaults her. Julian is gleeful about her comeuppance until he discovers she's been fatally injured, and he suddenly realizes that he loves her.
  • "In a Good Cause" by Isaac Asimov. A man spends his entire life trying to achieve peace and unity among humanity. He is constantly opposed by his childhood friend. In the end, the friend reveals that he was trying to achieve the same, but using methods that actually worked, instead of the other's blind idealism. As a twist, the friend then uses the idealist as a figurehead, aware that his own efficient but violent methods will not be understood by future generations, while his friend's idealism will be.
  • Inverted in "Happy Ending" by Henry Kuttner, a Back to Front science-fiction short story. The beginning changes the meaning of everything chronologically after it, and discloses that the protagonist had had his memory wiped at the beginning of the story, and been fooled by the robot he was trying to take into custody into killing his own android.

Community Feedback Replies: 19
  • October 17, 2012
    Helpful tip in the future: when linking to tropes, you don't have to put in the "" part of the URL in.
  • October 17, 2012
    "In a Good Cause" by Isaac Asimov. A man spends his entire life trying to achieve peace and unity among humanity. He is constantly opposed by his childhood friend. In the end, the friend comes to him and reveals that he was trying to achieve the same, except he was using methods that actually worked, instead of the other's blind idealism. As a twist, the friend then puts the idealist as a figurehead in his efforts, being aware that his efficient, but violent methods will not be understood by the future generations, while idealism will be.
  • October 18, 2012
    • The ending of Twelve Monkeys shows that the protagonist has spent his entire life wondering about a scene at an airport he saw as a child just before the apocalypse, and the end of the movie is him realizing he saw himself failing to prevent the apocalypse, and dying.
  • October 29, 2012
    I don't think the Twelve Monkeys example is the same thing, because it doesn't change your understanding of what happened before it. (Or does it? Been a long time since I saw it.)
  • October 29, 2012
    Somebody, please help me link to Memento. Neither Film/Memento, [[Film/Memento Memento]], [[Main/Memento Memento]], nor [[Memento Memento]] works.

    Also, if you don't think this is ready to publish, could you explain why? I can't put it in exactly the form that it should have on tvtropes, because some of the functions, like folders, don't work here.
  • October 29, 2012
    It's Film/Memento, with "Memento" in double brackets ({{ }}); any title that consists of one word requires double brackets.
  • October 29, 2012
    This is also related to The Ending Changes Everything (and all things considered, the former Trope Namer might also be an example).

    EDIT: With that in mind, perhaps The Ending Changes The Tone would be a more appropriate title?
  • October 29, 2012
    Moving "Buffy" example into "The Ending Changes Everything".
  • October 29, 2012
    Many examples of this trope are filed under "The Ending Changes Everything", which is defined in two contradictory ways. It has only two sentences of definition. The first says that the ending "calls into question exactly how much of what you've seen was actually real". The second sentence refers to "Once More With Clarity", which applies only to cases where the twist ending changes the interpretation of events, rather than changing the events themselves.

    I think that "The Ending Changes Everything" needs to be split into two tropes, this one (where the interpretation, causes, or consequences of events changes), and one that fits the bulk of examples in "The Ending Changes Everything", in which what physical events took place is reversed or cast in doubt. How can we do that?
  • October 29, 2012
    Take it to TRS (once the cap clears up).

    Not comfortable with the title, even when it's the Trope Namer for It Was His Sled, especially when the laconic initially made me think the Trope Namer wasn't an example.
  • October 30, 2012
    • Primal Fear. Aaron Stamper (who has Multiple Personality Disorder) is tried on a charge of murdering an archbishop (who was a pedophile priest). Attorney Martin Vail manages to get him found not guilty by reason of insanity. At the end of the movie, just when the audience is cheering his victory, Vail finds out that Aaron was just pretending to be crazy and did deliberately murder the victim. Oops.
  • June 29, 2015
    So this is like Tomato Surprise only that the protagonist is surprised as well?
  • June 30, 2015
    • Examples section
      • Deleted unnecessary Pot Holing of work names in multiple examples.
      • Namespaced and italicized work names.
      • Namespaced Creator names.
      • Changed Manga to Anime and Manga.
      • Alphabetized media sections.
  • June 30, 2015
    EDIT: sorry, I wrote up The Usual Suspects but it doesn't fit, as it changes your perspective of what objectively happened.
  • July 1, 2015
    The title Rosebud Ending is a Bad Trope Namer because it's unlikely that a reader will realize what this trope is about from it. A trope's name shouldn't assume that the reader has seen and is familiar with a specific work like Citizen Kane.
  • July 1, 2015
    ^ Not to mention in can easily be confused with It Was His Sled.
  • July 16, 2016
    So, anyone have any better names?
  • July 16, 2016
    The Ending Changes Everything "calls into question exactly how much of what you've seen was actually real",

    Lol that's so wrong. You know it's titled "Everything", right?

    Discard, we have this.
  • July 17, 2016
    We also have a Cruel Twist Ending.