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The Universal Desire for a Happy Ending

In their recent book, The God Conversation, Moreland and Muehlhoff illustrate the universal desire for a story to have a happy ending:

"And they lived happily ever after" is a constant refrain in fairy tales, movies, and love songs. Our well-meaning friends tell us, "It's going to be all right!" And we have proverbs that assure that behind every cloud is a silver lining. This desire for a happy ending seems deeply embedded within us.
This desire is so strong that some artists and directors are forced to compromise in order to provide us with the ending we want. In the 2013 film August: Osage County, actress Meryl Streep plays the harsh matriarch of a dysfunctional family. The film unrelentingly shows the family ripping itself apart. Scene after scene is void of warmth, humor, or hope. The film fittingly ends with Streep weeping in the arms of the housekeeper as each of her daughters abandons her.
As the credits roll, audiences are presented with the scene of the eldest daughter, Julia Roberts, standing in a field, smiling as she watches horses playfully run together as the sun goes down, casting everything in golden hues. In the background, a pop group sings an upbeat song: "Things are always better when we're all together."
How was such an ending added to the troubling film? John Wells, who adapted the play, sheepishly admitted he was pressured into it. When the movie had been shown to test audiences, they had rebelled and demanded that producers provide a more hopeful ending. Thus, the movie ends with a classic Julia Roberts smile and a pop anthem playing during a glorious Sunset. Audiences got their happy ending, however forced.

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