Misremembering the ending

Posted by @ 9:22 pm on January 3rd, 2011

A childhood trauma:

I am five or six and I am watching the animated version of Russell Hoban’s The Mouse and His Child. At the end of this film, the mouse—a windup toy—and his child—same—find themselves at the bottom of a lake, and find themselves staring at a can of dog food. On the can of dog food is a recursive image: a dog standing next to a can of dog food with a label that features that dog standing next to a can of dog food with a label that features…

The toy mice are stuck at the bottom of the lake, peering into the label, the child tasked with counting the number of dogs. And so the child does forever and ever and ever, and the film ends, and I am sent to bed, and I spend the subsequent decades sometimes pondering the concept of eternity until I am filled with anxiety and my neck begins to sweat. One dog, two dogs, three dogs, four…

After the cut is the animated version of The Mouse and His Child. Skip ahead 50 or so minutes to watch the scene in question.

And now note that another half an hour or so remains in the movie. In my memory, though, it stopped there. At the bottom of the lake. Trapped in a loop.

Was my young mind trapped in the concept of the Droste effect, unable to get out, even as the story itself managed to get back on the narrative tracks? Did the concept just overpower the familiar happy ending, even for a person with only a couple of year’s experience with happy endings?

What about you, readers? Do you have any vivid, misremembered endings? And, as a question of craft, how dangerous is it to drop a huge concept, a particularly vivid scene, a “gravity well”:

into a story? And if you intend to do so, how the heck do you intend to get a reader out once they are tumbling into it?

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