We all like to seek out movies that truly challenge us and the way we think about the world. A lot of us tend to get bored of the average, run of the mill, cookie cutter movies that get released into theaters on a weekly basis. As a result, we desperately desire movies that are different from the average mainstream Hollywood blockbuster: the kind of movies that refuse to treat its audience like idiots by spoonfeeding them basic information and that provide us something different while also giving us some compelling food for thought to chew on as we leave the theater. When movies like that manage to ooze out of the Hollywood consortium, we rejoice as if we’ve found the holy grail of film. Unfortunately, every once in a while, we also realize that certain films that fit this category tend to challenge us too much.
There comes a point where a movie stops being challenging and starts becoming outright confusing; such a confusing head-scratcher that it can become frustrating to the viewer trying to analyze just what the hell they just witnessed. Sometimes, some movies are hard to analyze, impossible to analyze, or so intricately woven together that we miss key details. This is all especially true when it comes to the ending. It’s especially infuriating when the ending of a film becomes impossible to decipher. Seeing as the ending of a film often contains the filmmaker’s overall message that they want to get across to the viewer, it can become especially frustrating when that message becomes lost in translation. Luckily, we’ve managed to find some of the most confusing movie endings, compile them together, and find ways to figure out what they all actually mean.
15. Alien: Covenant
The ending of Alien: Covenant sees Daniels, Tennessee, and Walter as the only survivors of the Xenomorph attack on their ship, but the film ends with the shocking reveal that Walter is actually his evil clone that started this whole thing. There are bigger implications from this ending that will surely have an effect on future Alien films, but if we were to speculate for a little bit, there’s a good chance that Daniels might be killed off before she awakens from cryosleep. After all, right before going into cryosleep, she discovers that Walter is David in disguise, and David wouldn’t allow a loose end like Daniels to awaken and inform everyone that David is in their presence. We’ll have to wait and see just how David will keep Daniels’s mouth shut, but if we were to make a bet, we’d have to say that Daniels won’t be returning alive for the sequel.
14. No Country For Old Men
Many viewers felt that the ending of No Country For Old Men was anti-climactic. The big final confrontation between Llewelyn and Anton Chigurh takes place off-screen, Chigurh walking away scot-free, and we end on a perplexing monologue from Sheriff Tom Bell. Bell’s monologue was perplexing because we were all too engrossed by the Chigurh/Llewelyn ordeal that we failed to even pay attention to Bell’s side of the story. Bell’s monologue sees him recall a dream where his father left to go in the darkness and set a fire. This is when Bell realizes that he should walk away like his father. At this stage in his life, retirement is really the best option he could choose. He doesn’t have a place on the force anymore, and if he stays any longer, he either won’t survive or will get overshadowed (much like he does in the movie throughout the bulk of the story). After all, as the title of the film suggests, this is no country for old men.
13. American Psycho
Throughout American Psycho, Patrick Bateman commits a flurry of crimes and a few murders as well. At the end of a night of unadulterated rampage, Bateman confesses his crimes to his lawyer via a phone message, and the next day, his secretary finds all of the graphic drawings he’s made in his office. Yet, there are no consequences for Bateman’s actions. In fact, the people he’s confessed to shrug Bateman’s claims off as a joke. This would leave one to believe that it was all a dream, but both director Mary Harron and original author Bret Easton Ellis have said that neither of them intended for that to be the case. If nothing else, the ending seems to highlight the shallow mindset of yuppie society — yuppies who don’t care that a madman confessed to murder because it doesn’t affect them directly.
After Riggan shoots himself in the head following his opening night performance, he miraculously awakens in a hospital bed the next day and receives word that people loved his performance onstage, receiving a standing ovation the moment he pulled the trigger. Afterward, he proceeds to jump out of a window. When his daughter, Sam, figures out what he’s done, she peeps her head out the window, looks down, then up to the sky, then smiles. This suggests that like his character, Riggan flew away. But remember, this story takes place in the confines of reality, and Birdman is just that — a character. Riggan most likely fell to his death, and if we have to look toward the sentimental side of things, Sam looks up and smiles at seeing her father’s soul ascend to heaven, finally at peace with a great performance to his name.
11. The Babadook
The Babadook is an allegory for depression and understanding, and that helps the viewer understand the story a little better, namely the ending. After she and her son spend much of the film being terrorized by The Babadook creature, Amelia manages to trap and lock the beast in her basement. Right before the credits roll, we learn that Amelia keeps The Babadook in the basement as a sort of pet, feeding it every now and again. Taking the visual in its most literal sense, it’s rather strange, but taking it in symbolically is easier to digest. The Babadook symbolizes the grief that Amelia carries for her late husband and is essentially the embodiment of her depression. Depression isn’t something that completely goes away. It can be hidden and controlled long enough that Amelia can carry on with her day a little happier, but as the saying goes, “You can’t get rid of The Babadook.”
10. The Shining
The end of The Shining sees Jack Torrance freeze to death in the snow after failing to chase after his wife and child. However, right before the credits, we’re shown an old school photo of Jack Torrance at a party that’s dated back to July 4th, 1921. There’s a multitude of theories out there speculating on what exactly this could suggest. One popular theory from the Room 237 documentary has to do with the numerous Native American imagery seen throughout the hotel. The photo and its date of July 4th, a historic American holiday, suggests Kubrick’s commentary on America’s history with Native American genocide. Despite all of the decor, we never actually see a Native American in the film, but there is one person of color (Dick Halloran) who gets axed to death over a floor image of a Native American. The American slaughter of Native Americans could be a generational thing that will occur for decades to come, or so the ending suggests.
In the end of Oldboy, the antagonist, Lee Woo-jin, exacts the ultimate revenge on rival Oh Dae-su. Apart from having the man imprisoned for 15 years, Lee Woo-jin crafts a carefully configured web of deceit that connects Oh Dae-su to the beautiful Mi-do. The two fall in love and have sex along the way, but Oh Dae-su later learns that Mi-do is actually his long lost daughter. Oh Dae-su is so horrified that at the very end, he allows himself to be hypnotized by a hypnotist so that he can stay together with his daughter without him actually knowing that she is his daughter. When Oh Dae-su embraces her afterward, his looks are a mix of a smile and being painfully teary eyed. It’s hard to tell if the hypnosis was a success and should be left open to interpretation. However, if we needed to give a concrete answer, we’d say that you have to keep in mind that ominous quote that appears throughout the movie: “Laugh, and the world laughs with you. Weep, and you weep alone.” Oh Dae-su definitely looks closer to crying, so the hypnosis might’ve been a bust.
In a world where everyone surrounding the protagonist has the same face and voice, Anomalisa sees Michael run into an insecure, yet strangely unique woman named Lisa. They spend the night together at an Ohio hotel, but the morning after, her voice and face transform into the same voice and face that everyone else has. Turned off by how his once unique snowflake reveals herself to just be like everybody else, Michael returns to his wife and child in LA. The ending suggests that Lisa was never unique, just new — a brand new distraction from Michael’s mundane lifestyle, and he jumps at the chance to sleep with her the night they meet, thinking he’s fallen in love. But the more he gets to know her, the more he realizes she isn’t as special as he initially thought. In his head, she initially wasn’t just like everybody else, but really, she’s just normal is all. Michael doesn’t want normal. He wants an anomaly, and Lisa wasn’t his anomaly.
7. A Clockwork Orange
After living a life of ultra-violence, Alex is institutionalized to the point that he’s “cured” of his juvenile life, no longer wanting to commit crime. However, he ends up worse off in a post-life of crime than he was prior due to being constantly victimized by his former victims. In the end, after a failed suicide attempt, Alex awakens and declares that he was truly “cured” as a sexual fantasy seems to suggest he’s reverted back to his former juvenile self. He’s “cured” at that point because he actually has a shred of free will. It’s horrible to commit crime, but it’s even worse to be institutionalized and forced to leave crime behind. At least with free will, he could make a conscious decision as to whether or not he’ll keep committing crime. If the film continued from Alex’s shocking declaration and wound up like the ending of the book, Alex would choose on his own to give up crime and settle down with a family.
6. It Follows
In layman’s terms, It Follows basically follows an STD demon that can only be seen by the last person you had sex with. In the end, after killing her demon, Jay has sex with her friend Paul, and as they walk down the street, someone (or something) follows them in the distance. Whether the “it” in question is the demon again is irrelevant according to the director. Director David Robert Mitchell based the concept of the film on dreams that he had in his youth and even likens the logic of the film to a nightmarish dream in itself. As he explained in an interview, he isn’t interested where “it” comes from because it all boils down to “dream logic in the sense that they’re in a nightmare, and when you’re in a nightmare there’s no solving the nightmare. Even if you try to solve it.” Further elaborating, he says that Jay “opens herself up to danger through sex; sex is the one way in which she can free herself from that danger.” Essentially, Paul and Jay think they’ve solved their problem, but in a nightmare, the problem never ends. We can fix a problem like this temporarily, but it will always follow us until we die, or in some cases, lead us to death.
5. Mulholland Drive
Arguably more than any other film in David Lynch‘s filmography, Mulholland Drive is a confusing mess. Granted, it’s a beautiful mess but nonetheless confusing. Here’s the best we could figure out from the visuals that Lynch presents us with at the end: after Rita unlocks the blue box, and Betty disappears, it’s revealed that the whole murder mystery we’ve been watching was a dream. When the box is opened, we’re back in reality where Betty is actually a failed actress named Diane, and Rita is her lesbian lover and Hollywood starlet on the rise, Camilla. After Camilla reveals she’s agreed to marry director Adam (who spends the majority of Betty’s dream getting abused, perhaps her subconscious punishing him), Betty puts a hit out on Camilla. After she learns the hitman succeeded in killing Camilla, Betty feels guilty and is then suddenly overwhelmed by hallucinations that lead her to kill herself.
In the end of Whiplash, despite all of the abuse that Fletcher flings at him throughout the movie, Andrew manages to deliver a defiant and awe-inspiring performance of “Caravan” on-stage. On the surface, this appears to be a triumphant moment, but the moment has much darker implication when looking at the ending in retrospect to the dinner scene from halfway into the movie. Andrew talks about Charlie Parker, who, like Andrew earlier in the film, had a cymbal thrown at his head. At the dinner table, Parker is described as a guy who was one of the greatest musicians of his time, but all of his talents came at the price of being friendless and alone. As Andrew’s dad dubs him, Parker died “broke, drunk, and full of heroin at the age of 34.” In Andrew’s obsession with being successful and talented, he’s lost the few friends and support he actually had but gave the crowd a masterpiece. Like Fletcher always wanted, he got his Charlie Parker but perhaps, at the price of Andrew’s well-being.
3. Total Recall
On the surface, Total Recall ends on a remarkably happy note with Douglas Quaid essentially riding into the sunset with a lady in his arms and Mars in the distance. There should be nothing further to analyze from there. However, a deeper analysis tells us that everything we’ve seen up to this point has played out exactly like the scenario offered by the Recall officials during the first act of the film. This includes Quaid being a secret agent and even the lady whom Quaid chooses to take part in his fantasy. Quaid’s mind seems to have had a violent reaction to the implant process and so incorporated facts from his real life into the dream. The entire plot of the film was just Quaid’s dream, and he likely awakens once the film fades to white. When Quaid does wake up, the only lady he’ll be going home to is his wife, Lori.
2. Get Out
There’s a lot of brilliance that can be unpacked from the ending of Get Out, almost too much to pack into one single entry. For starters, pay close attention to how Chris finds himself free from the clutches of his captors — by clutching and clawing at a leather chair until he could pull out the cotton he used as ear plugs. African Americans have historically been associated with cotton during slavery, and Chris used the one thing that oppressed the people of his heritage and used it to free himself. It’s as if director Jordan Peele is sending a message to his black audience to not let the tools that oppress them hinder them. Instead, they should transform the negatives of a dark past and make a positive out of a better future.
The biggest debate that moviegoers have been having since leaving the theater after having watched Inception was whether or not Cobb is still in a dream. The end sees Leonardo DiCaprio‘s character rush into the arms of his children, but the top was still spinning. Much of the film’s focus has been debating whether or not the film is a dream, but we’re all missing a key ingredient to the scene. When his wife Mal died, he considered her top to be his totem to signify whether or not he was still dreaming. His actual totem seems to be his wedding ring, which he is only seen wearing during his dreams. Since he isn’t wearing the ring during the highly speculated ending, it’s safe to say that Cobb isn’t dreaming after all.