: The book ends on an ambiguous note. We don't know—do you think [the young lovers] get back together in six months like they promised each other? Jesse
: I think how you answer that is a good test if you're a romantic or a cynic. You think they get back together; you don't, for sure; and you hope they do, but you're not sure.
Sometimes the resolution isn't clear-cut. There's a lot left unexplained and the audience is still asking questions.
Contrast Happy Ending
and Downer Ending
, where the conclusion is obvious.
Since this is an Ending Trope, beware of spoilers.
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- Most infamously, the televised ending to Neon Genesis Evangelion. There's mentions of humanity being merged into a collective consciousness and bits and pieces of story here and there, as well as scenes showing certain characters dead, but none of the lingering questions concerning the plot are answered. Instead, the last two episodes do nothing more than show the main characters facing their inner traumas and insecurities, ultimately culminating with Shinji overcoming his own and accepting himself, leading you to believe that it's a Happy Ending, at least for Shinji. The movie End of Evangelion, which finally concludes the anime's plot, shows that it's a Downer Ending.
- The result of the duel between Yugi and Jonouchi in the final episode of the Battle City arc of Yu-Gi-Oh! is never shown. Many fans actually beleive that Jonouchi won, seeing as it's the most likely reason why he got his Red Eyes B. Dragon card back (which he told Yugi to keep in an early episode of the arc, but which he has in the next arc; since Yugi and Jonouchi were still playing by Battle City rules, the ante rule presumably still stood). In fact, that was the biggest reason why he told Yugi to hold onto it; he didn't think he deserved to use it until he was a strong enough duelist to prove it.
Films — Live-Action
- Inception ends with Cobb returning home to his children after a successful heist. Just to be sure, he spins his totem top one more time (certain objects could act as reality checks to help the owner tell if he was dreaming or not; for Cobb, if the top eventually falls over, he's in real life), but runs off to see his kids before it stops. The screen cuts to black before the audience knows as well, leaving it up in the air if Cobb is still dreaming or not.
- Before Sunrise: The film ends with Jesse and Celine promising to meet again in six months, with no way of getting in contact before then. Not until the sequel (nine years later) do viewers find out what happened next: they never made the meet.
- The end of 2011 British horror The Awakening leaves the veiwer uncertain of whether the heroine (Florence Cath Cart) survived the poisoning attempt and is alive or whether she's a ghost who's haunting Robert. On one hand, many assumed she was dead because she walked past people without them even seeing her (even when she was very, very close) and in the background you can hear the headmaster talking about her as though dead ("Yes, she always was a bit strange, that Cath Cart girl"). On the other hand, some thought her alive because she tells Robert she's working on a manuscript for a new book and asks him to get her a taxi back to London, which isn't a activity most ghosts endevour in. The film's ending is purposefully contradictory to add suspence and disettlement.
- K-PAX: Throughout the film the viewer is challenged to decide if prot is an alien or a mentally ill human being. The ending gives the answer as a "definitely maybe".
- Dogtooth ends on a shot of the father's car outside the factory, with the eldest daughter in it. What happens afterwards is up in the air.
- A Serious Man—After having played the part of The Woobie for most of the film, things finally begin to look up for progatonist Larry Gopnick. After having been concerned about his job security throughout much of the film, Larry is informed he'll indeed make tenure. And while it's never specifically stated that Larry is reunited with his wife Judith (who had sought to divorce Larry and marry an older man until he died in a car crash), the two are seen smiling and holding hands at their son Danny's bar mitzvah, implying as much. Danny even manages to get his transitor radio back after having it taken away during Hebrew School. However just as the movie seems to take an upbeat turn, Larry recieves a phone call from his doctor, telling him that the results from his physical are in and that he needs to see him in his office; while we are not told what the problem is, we can imply it is most likely a serious medical condition. The movie ends with Danny at Hebrew School when it's announced there is a tornado and the students must be evacuated for shelter. The last shot is Danny staring at the rapidly approaching tornado as the teacher struggles to open the door of the shelter.
- the thing ends with childs and Mac in a destroyed arctic camp, with no hope of rescue. it's also left ambiguous as to whether Nauls died (although it is strongly implied he did) or even if Childs himself is a thing.
- The Shining. Before the credits, the very last scene of the film is a zoom in close-up of a photograph in the Overlook Hotel...showing Jack Torrance, seemingly in his 20s or 30s in the photo, at the front of a ball room crowd smiling with the caption saying in cursive, "OVERLOOK HOTEL, JULY 4TH, 1921". The film takes place 60 years after the photograph was taken. No proper explanation has ever been given as to what the ending means.
- The short story The Lady or the Tiger, written in 1882 by Frank R. Stockton, has an ending that is purposely left ambiguous, with the author saying that he is in no position to reveal how it ended, letting the reader make his own opinion, based on what he believed one of the characters - the princess - would do. The plot of the story is a no-win situation where someone faces a Sadistic Choice, and it is up to the reader to decide just which choice she made.
- Rather sadistically, Stockton responded to the constant requests for a clearer resolution by writing a story where a bunch of people ask someone for the ending, and he responds by telling them a story with an even MORE annoying ambiguous ending.
- Somewhat subverted with The Princess Bride. It has a Bolivian Army Ending which leaves it questionable whether the heroes where able to escape and survive. However, William Goldman commented that they did make it, and seeing as he's the author, you can probably take his word on that.
- Being Human ends its final season this way. Did Tom, Hal and Alex really become human again and have their happy ending? Or are they still stuck in one of the Devil's dream worlds?
- The Sopranos arguably has the king of all ambigious endings in its series finale. After disposing of his arch-nemesis Phil Leotardo, Tony is seen taking his wife Carmela and son AJ to a diner, later to be joined by their daughter Meadow. It's seemingly an upbeat scene, with the exception of Tony discussing potential legal troubles on the horizon. Journey's "Don't Stop Believing" starts playing in the background, and you begin to see curious shots of seemingly random persons in the diner mixed in with shots of Tony and his family happily chomping down on onion rings. Arguably the most curious is a man wearing a Members Only jacket seen walking towards the bathroom. The music swells, and suddenly—cut to black, series over. To this day, fans continue to argue whether this implied that Tony was suddenly shot as the screen cut to black (perhaps by the man in the Member's Only jacket?), or that it meant nothing at all—Tony and family continued to enjoy their food without interruption.
- Final Fantasy VII famously ended with a sequence so ambiguous that for years it was a subject of much speculation whether or not humanity was wiped out by Holy. The sequels eventually cleared up the ambiguity.
- You gotta admit, MOTHER 3 has such a strange one that you can make up whether it is either a Happy Ending, Bittersweet Ending or just a downright Downer Ending. The worst part about it is that you never really find out the fate of everyone. It is to sure haunt players for years to come.
- Yume Nikki ends with Madotsuki jumping off the balcony of her apartment. However, some players have interpreted this as a happy ending, assuming that everything in the game is all part of a dream, and that her "reality" is in itself a series of false awakenings.
- Bioshock Infinite: The ending explains a great many things, but the final fate of Booker, Elizabeth and Anna are left unanswered.
- Dark Souls: Both endings only show what happens immediately after the player makes his or her decision, leaving the long-term consequences completely undefined. Linking the Fire has the player sacrifice him/herself and burn forever. The Age of Fire and the Lords' rule will continue... but the Lords were ambiguous at best and most of them are now dead. The Dark Lord ending has the player refuse to burn and instead become the Dark Lord of the new Age of Dark. This may be the Death of the Old Gods and a golden age for man... or The End of the World as We Know It for gods and men alike.
- Last episode of Cybersix ends ambiguously. Cybersix was so close to the exit, did she make it? The Big Bad is dead but Jose is shown to have survived and the very last shot is of Lucas wondering the streets, looking up and seeing light in Adrian/Cybersix's window. Since the show was cancelled so we will likely never know what happened.