I liked the ending of “Say Anything.” Do you remember that? What happened (obvious spoiler alert) is that the John Cusack and Ione Skye were sitting on a plane, and she was frightened, and he told her that almost all plane accidents happen in the early part of the flight, before the pilot alerts everyone with a bell that they are above 10,000 feet. We then watch the two characters wait for the bell, and wait for it, and wait for it, and he says something like, “If the bell rings, we’ll be all right.” And finally, the bell rings, the screen goes to black, the movie ends.
The ending is jolting the first time you see it, no question, because it’s so abrupt, so sudden, that my first reaction was to feel just a bit cheated. Wait, that’s it? There’s no conclusion? What happened to them? How did their lives go? Did they stay together? Did Skye live up to her potential? Did Frazier’s father get out of prison? Did Cusack ever convince baseball that he was not a part of the Black Sox conspiracy?
But then, I came to really like it. The rest is left to the imagination.
So few movies do that any more. Some of the great old movies — Casablanca as the obvious example, but there are many — left us with an open end. But we live in a time, I think, where we want our endings neat, with nothing left behind and no confusion heading forward. And if there is a bit of wonderful confusion, we are slammed with endless sequels. That’s a shame. As the three Star Wars prequels proved conclusively, so many things are better in the imagination.
This has become more and more true of sports too. Sure, one of the great things about sports is that you have a winner and loser — it’s black and white, up and down, joy and despondency, trophies and tears. But to me at least part of sports wonder are those questions without answers. What is, BY FAR, the most exciting boxing match-up in the world today? No question: It’s Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao. Why? Because they haven’t fought. They might never fight. The anticipation is the thing. The frustration is the thing. The suspense is the thing.
Suspense: Albert Hitchcock talked about how suspense is a ticking bomb under the table with unaware people sitting there talking about baseball. The second the bomb goes off, the suspense is done. That’s the thing to remember: The suspense is in the expectation. Perhaps the explosion is so dramatic and exciting that it lives up to the expectation. Sometimes that happens. Much of the time, no, it doesn’t.
Today, they will play the Big 12 Men’s Championship in Kansas City … and it will not feature a third match-up this season between Kansas and Missouri. Baylor took out Kansas on Friday to derail the match. This obviously disappointed many, many people in Kansas City … and I get that. Missouri won the first game in stunning fashion in Columbia. Kansas won the second game in stunning fashion in Lawrence. And, after this season, Missouri is leaving the conference and the two great rivals won’t play again for at least a while, and perhaps never again. So a Big 12 Championship game — in the passionate big city between the two schools, no less — seemed an ideal place to have the two school play the rubber match, the decisive final game, the thrilling conclusion that would give us an answer once and for all …
Only … I don’t think so. I know I’m in a minority here: I’m happy that Kansas and Missouri will not play in this game. I love that this spectacular rivalry — I honestly believe it’s the most intense and magnificent rivalry in college basketball, even though Kansas has won the lion’s share of games — will end abruptly, with so much left to the imagination. It feels perfect to me. The games in Columbia and Lawrence were passionate little masterpieces filled with controversy and heroics and mistakes and sound and fury. The game in Kansas City almost certainly would have been an anticlimax — there’s really nothing on the line, neither team wants to get too burned out before the tournament, plus how could they top those two games in Columbia and Lawrence? You could say: I would have liked to find out … but isn’t that only true if the game turned out to be great (or your favorite team won)?
Besides: Who cares? These big conference tournaments are nice events, and there are some bragging rights involved, but in the long run they barely mean a thing. Several big-time coaches have told me that they would not exactly mind losing early in their conference tournament so their players can get some rest — rest being more important than the slight push they might get in the seedings.
The small conference tournaments, where an NCAA bid is on the line, are awesome. But these big tournaments, they feel like bad movie endings — explosions for the sake of explosions.
No, I prefer to have Missouri-Kansas end as it ended — one victory each, anger and pride on both sides, the question always lingering which team was better, the argument alive and bubbling.
Of course, if they play again in the Final Four, that’s a whole other story.