Put most simply, 2001 tracks humanity’s evolution. It starts with primitive peoples who resemble apes creating tools and ends with Bowman transforming into a super being and being sent back to Earth.
Director Stanley Kubrick explained the ending of the film with more finesse, stating that Bowman was studied by a team of super-beings and sent back to Earth after he made his final evolution. As for what happens when he returns to Earth with his new powers, viewers can only guess.
Life of Pi
Life of Pi follows a boy stranded on a boat with a tiger. In the end, he manages to make it to shore, where he recounts his story to a fictional Yann Martel.
Although he first tells Martel the story we saw in the film, he then recounts a bloodier tale where he had to kill and eat the ship’s cook to stay alive. When asked which story is real, the young man only gives a vague answer. But the ending itself is about forcing you to question your own reality rather than worrying about the trials of the characters.
The Dark Knight Rises
The controversial ending scene in The Dark Knight Rises features Albert seeing Bruce Wayne across a crowded cafe in Florence. However, Bruce supposedly died when he flew a nuclear bomb out of Gotham City. Because of that, fans started to speculate that the Bruce in the ending is simply a figment of Albert’s imagination.
You have to notice, however, that Lucius Fox learns in the ending scenes that Bruce Wayne fixed the autopilot in the Bat-plane. Knowing that it’s safe to assume that Bruce exited the aircraft and went on to live a quiet life with Selina (aka Catwoman).
A Clockwork Orange
In typical Stanley Kubrick fashion, A Clockwork Orange takes a much darker turn than the book it’s based on. In the story, Alex undergoes conditioning and brainwashing after his suicide attempt in an effort to rid him of his violent ways.
In the movie, however, Alex seemingly makes a return to his aggressive behavior by the end of the film. The book, however, takes a happier approach. It shows that Alex does clean up his life and moves forward after realizing the toll his behavior has taken on those around him.
While Darren Aronofsky has appeared on this list more than once, his directorial debut proves that he’s always been a fan of confusing endings. In Pi , Max Cohen believes that everything can be solved by numbers, though he can’t fix his own medical problems.
While Cohen spends his life making stock predictions, he can’t overcome the headaches and hallucinations that plague him every day. Eventually, he is driven to total madness and performs a lobotomy on himself to end the pain forever. While it’s a dark ending, it’s the only way Cohen believed he could save himself.