The Imagilliam of Dr Pending

One day Terry Gilliam was sitting at an edit desk. Who knows how long he’s been sat there. His new masterpiece is almost ready. After hours and hours of crafting and re-crafting this magnificent fairytale to perfection, it’s almost ready.  The editor sat next to him rubs his eyes and takes a look to see if he can find one last drop of coffee in his trusty Toby Jug. Nope. Nevermind. He turns to Gilliam and says, “Okay. So Terry, how are we going to end this?”

Terry looks back at him with a kind of suprise. You don’t know? He shrugs his shoulders, and lets out a gust of air from his lungs. “Mmm….I dunno. Just stop it there.”

The editor pauses for a moment, a little confused. “What… you mean…”

“Just stop it there,” reprises the director, “it’s fine.”

“You mean … here? You want to end with this scene?”

“No, just right there. Just stop it there. That’ll do.”

The editor stops. He hesitates, then finds the words; “Erm … Terry, that’s … not really an ending.” He waits as though anticipating an answer to a question. “It’s not an ending, it’s just … well … stopped.”

“Yes. That’s fine.”

*     *     *

I love Terry Gilliam’s films. He is one of those unique visionaries that have this great ability to imagine strange and wonderful new worlds and put them on the screen. Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Time Bandits remain among my personal favourites of all time. But there is one other thing that seems to be common in all his films, it is the non-ending. Critic Robert McKee calls it the non-plot, or as most I would say, the absence of a closed ending.

That said, we cannot assume that this necessarily a mistake, rather than a choice. Indeed, the final dialogue of the movie reads as follows:

Boy: “Will there be a happy ending?”

Percy: “We cannot guarantee that.”