My understanding of how the story in movies proceeds is that the writer builds up the expectation of the audience and then concludes it appropriately.

I did not see that in American History X. All throughout the movie, the story builds up the expectation that Edward Norton would do something about the Neo-Nazi group that he helped establish before he was sent to Chino.

However, the movie "abruptly" ends with the death of his younger brother. Although this might sound very subjective but this seemed like an improper ending to me. Of course I don't want to argue if you liked this ending or not. But I'd like to understand what this ending was supposed to tell us. Why did the movie end in such an unexpected way and how did this ending tie in with the rest of the movie's story and themes?

  • It sounds indeed subjective, but I also think this might be a very interesting question if phrased a bit more elabortately. It's indeed a very unexpected and abrupt ending, but most probably exactly for that matter.
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Jun 28, 2014 at 12:57
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    I'm not sure this can be answered without being entirely opinion based... there is no such thing as 'an improper ending': plot is crafted in reaction to the expectation of an audience, meaning any development is fair game. Whether its effective is a different question, but also opinion based. I'm not sure this can be salvaged. Jun 28, 2014 at 13:08
  • @NapoleonWilson feel free to make any changes you want
    – An SO User
    Jun 28, 2014 at 13:09
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    @JohnSmithOptional But the ending has to somehow fit to the movie in some way or another. The question (at least the new version) is not saying that this wasn't the case with this movie, but asking in which way it was.
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Jun 28, 2014 at 13:19
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    Does the accepted answer have to satisfy the OP in such a way that he no longer considers the ending "improper"? - As far as I remember the ending was pretty straight forward, there was no ambiguity. - One might consider the ending to be abrupt, but an abrupt ending is nothing bad per se. Whether one likes such an ending, or considers it to be "improper" does seem kinda opinion based.
    – Oliver_C
    Jun 28, 2014 at 14:06

2 Answers 2


The message of American History X is quite simple: violence begets violence.

The whole film is a series of escalations based on revenge; Derek and Danny lose their father and hate consumes them. They win a basketball game against the black gang (and their turf in the process) and the gang try and steal their fathers' truck as revenge, Derek kills them over it.

But then Derek's arrest interrupts this pattern, he goes off to prison and with the help of Dr. Sweeney he realises the pattern of behaviour and does what he can to prevent it from going any further. Derek has his catharsis and becomes a different person, and tries to help Danny do the same. But the problem is the same hasn't happened to those that he's wronged; there are still people out there from the black gang who have lost friends and blame them both for it, and in the end Danny pays the price.

It is much more poignant and reflective of real life in this way, after years of fighting it's not so simple to drop everything and get the happy ending Hollywood has taught us is waiting.

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    Great answer - it's also worth noting that this was a somewhat troubled production (AFAIK). Tony Kaye tried to get his name removed, for example. I consider this a case of conflict creating great art.
    – ChrisH
    Jun 30, 2014 at 22:32

Basically I believe that the ending was to show that in the end the violence that Derek and Danny had caused then turns and comes back at them in response to the pathway they chose to go down. It shows that every decision you make has consequences. I had a better way of wording this but I forgot it. It's a damn good movie definitely one of my top 50.

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