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'You've Got Mail,' The Mandela Effect, and Collective False Memories

By Dustin Rowles | Film | February 22, 2021 |

By Dustin Rowles | Film | February 22, 2021 |


My wife’s all-time favorite movie is Harold and Maude, but she’s always had this really sweet soft spot for You’ve Got Mail with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. I’ve always found that very endearing about her, and her love of the film has subsequently rubbed off on me.

Meanwhile, one of the things about having 9-year-olds is that there are not a lot of appropriate movies for them that adults also like beyond the same 25 or 50 movies that are in every The 50 Best Movies for Families! list — Pixar movies, Iron Giant, Mary Poppins, etc. etc. (I’m currently curating my own list of the other 20 films for families that no one ever cites for parents who have exhausted all those other films). Weirdly, You’ve Got Mail is 100 percent suitable for a nine-year-old — I mean, they have no idea what AOL or dial-up Internet is, nor have they ever heard of cybersex, but it’s such a sweet but uncomplicated romantic comedy that it doubles as a fairly decent family film.

We watched it over the weekend, the first time I’ve seen it in a while. It’s a 1998 film that I probably haven’t seen since 2005, although I have probably seen it three or four times at least. I had a strong recollection of the film, and I could recite a number of the scenes before they happened. I wouldn’t count it among my favorite films or anything, but it clearly resonated enough that I could remember a lot of the lines (also, I remembered Steve Zahn and Dave Chappelle, but I did not remember young Chris Messina’s appearance).

Despite it being a movie about Internet dating in 1998 — I actually had to explain to my kids that, back in the day, you could either be online or on the phone, but you couldn’t be both at the same time — You’ve Got Mail holds up surprisingly well. A lot of that — most of it — obviously has to do with the chemistry between Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, and it also requires that we ignore that it’s kind of creepy that Tom Hanks continues his relationship with Meg Ryan’s character both as Joe Fox and the anonymous email pen pal even after Joe Fox knows that Kathleen Kelly is the woman with whom he is also having an online relationship.

In any respect, the family liked it a lot, and I continued to like it, except for one thing. The Ending. It’s not there anymore. Or rather, the ending I remember is no longer in the movie. In the movie I watched over the weekend, Kathleen tells Joe, “I wanted it to be you, I wanted it to be you so badly,” and then they kiss, and Brinkley bugs them before the camera drifts up into the sky. “The End.”

Except that that’s not how I remember You’ve Got Mail ending. I have a very strong memory of this movie, and I have a very vivid memory of an additional scene in which Kathleen is reading to children and, as the camera pulls away, it’s revealed to be a version of her bookstore — Little Shop Around the Corner — that has been rebuilt inside of Joe Fox’s bookstore. My memory of that scene is so vivid that I told the kids to wait after the credits began rolling because it’s probably a mid-credits scene. We watched all the way through the credits, however, and never saw that scene, and then I also remembered that mid-credit and end-credit scenes were not really that much of a thing in 1998.

I asked my wife if she knew why that ending was not in this version streaming on HBO Max, and she had no idea what I was talking about, and she’d seen the movie a dozen times. Not only that, but she told me that was a terrible ending. OK, I said, that may be true, but I definitely remember that ending. It must have been a director’s cut or something. I looked it up. There is not an alternate director’s cut. “But I specifically remember that ending!” I insisted. And then my wife insisted that maybe I was conflating Meg Ryan’s scene with Chris Messina in Fox Books, and the scene in her own bookstore where she is reading to children, but I genuinely did not believe this to be true. I remembered those two scenes, and they did not look similar to the ending of the movie in my memory.

And so I did what anyone else might do, and I consulted the Internet. What I discovered was this: There is no alternate director’s cut. There is no alt DVD or Blu-Ray cut. As far as I can tell, there is no other edit of this movie.

And yet, AND YET, there are a few Reddit threads where users have this exact same memory. They also couldn’t locate the ending in other versions of the film, and yet these people likewise insisted they remembered the same ending I remember. Here’s one:

My wife and I just finished You’ve Got Mail, which we’ve both seen before. The movie (2011 blu-ray edition) ends with them meeting in the park, pans up, and The End comes on screen. Roll credits, simple white text on black background.

What both my wife and I recall is a closing credits scene, with no dialogue, that is a moving shot through the big bookstore and you see her reading to children there, and a sign that resembles the name of her old small shop. The shot tells you that she is continuing her career in partnership with his company.

This scene isn’t in the blu-ray version. It’s not in any deleted scenes or special features. I couldn’t find a reference to it online, but I have seen other people say they remembered it.

Here’s another:

But after she closes her bookstore, I remember a scene at the end, inside the Fox Books Superstore where the banner above the children’s section says The Little Shop Around the Corner (instead of the aforementioned “The Shop Around the Corner” which is the store she ran the entire movie).

Of course, it’s possible that tens or hundreds or thousands(?) of people conflated two scenes, but isn’t it weird that we all have the same specific memory? Especially because that’s not the wish-fulfillment ending I would have given the film in my own head (I’d have liked to have seen Kathleen reading to kids in the bookstore from the children’s book she had just written). How does this happen?

My first thought was the Mandela Effect, and it was a thought that those on Reddit also had. It’s an amusing thought, isn’t it? Our universe split apart from another universe where You’ve Got Mail had a different ending.

But honestly, I’m a rational, logical person. I know the Mandela Effect is not real. There may be alt universes, but we do not have access to them. And yet, for the life of me, I cannot rationally explain how so many of us could have the exact same vivid memory of a scene that apparently never happened. Is this some sort of mass delusion? Did someone on some television show once suggest this as an alt ending, and we all pictured it so vividly in our minds that it became a reality?

It’s weird. Memory is weird. But You’ve Got Mail? It’s not weird at all. It’s still a lovely movie with a weirdly abrupt ending.

Header Image Source: Warner Brothers