Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway have a new movie out called Serenity. Have you heard of it? It's written and directed by Steven Knight, who started the original Who Wants To Be A Millionaire in England, directed Tom Hardy in Locke, and wrote projects like Burnt, Peaky Blinders and Eastern Promises. Mirroring Knight's resume, Serenity spans all traditional genres. As McConaughey told Refinery29, "I think part of the reason going to see this movie is that you like a mystery film, a horror film, a sexual film, and a thriller. A movie that is going to look good, smell good, make you want to be there."
But while the film is indeed gorgeous, lush, and fragrant (just kidding), it also has a really bonkers twist that has already fascinated the Internet. I can't explain the look of confusion, excitement, and horror on my co-worker's face when I first broke down the film's twist and ending. It was in that moment — okay actually it was the moment that McConaughey's character Baker Dill dove off a cliff butt-naked...for the second time — that I knew I, much like Baker, was destined for something bigger than myself: explaining this ending to you.
I'd first let to set the scene (and then I'm going to dive Baker Dill-style right to the end of the film, because I do think you should see the movie yourself — it is a conversation starter in the truest sense): Serenity would be a better movie if Black Mirror didn't exist. Like the Netflix hit show, Serenity seeks to depict the blurred the lines between technology and real life. It wants you to gasp, scratch your head, and then lie back, in awe at how clever it all is. Some people might. Others won't. Either way, let's talk about that ending.
The big twist all starts with Kendall Roy from Succession. Reid Miller (Jeremy Strong), is a fishing equipment salesman whose sole purpose appears to be selling a special fish finder to Baker. For most of the movie, he's wearing a full suit on the beaches and docks of Plymouth Island, always one step behind the erratic fisherman. Baker's dealing with shit — his ex, Karen (Anne Hathaway), has showed up to bribe him to kill her abusive husband, Frank (Jason Clarke), and on top of that he's obsessed with catching a tuna he's nicknamed Justice. Baker brushes off Karen's request until he realizes that his son with Karen, Patrick, is also in danger. There's a lot on his plate!
But when Reid finally corners Baker, we learn he isn't really a salesman — he is The Rules. (Literally, he says "I am The Rules.") As The Rules, it is his job to advise Baker to not kill Frank because that is against the rules — although we don't quite now what rules he's talking about yet. After their trippy convo, in which they compare the lighthouse's flashes of lights to the ones and zeroes of computer code, the two men get drunk, and Baker passes out. The next day Baker can't help but think that something ~fishy~ is going on.
With Reid's words haunting him, Baker realizes that there are rules because this is a game. He is trapped inside a fictional place (all the maps in his house are blank except for a little blob of land called Plymouth), with fictional people (no one can tell him when, why, or how he first arrived on the island), with a real-life programmer controlling his every move (that "creator" is none-other-than his own pre-teen son, Patrick, who is suffering in real-life at the hands of the Frank, who is as terrible in the real world as he is in the virtual one).
So, to recap: Everyone on Plymouth Island is A. Part of the game and B. Not real.
In the original rules created by Patrick, no one dies. This game is his safe haven — free of violence and harm. But, as the situation escalates in real life in Miami, Patrick changes the rules (much to the chagrin of Mr. The Rules). As the programmer, he allows Baker to sacrifice Justice… for justice. Get it? Eventually, we find out why so much of the movie features flashes between a young boy glued to his computer screen typing code, and the crystal clear blue waters rippling on the shores of fake Plymouth Island. Once Baker kills Frank in the game (he connects the drunk and beat up Frank to a live fishing line, allowing Justice — the fish — to yank him into the water where he presumably drowns and dies), Patrick finally leaves his computer, grabs a knife, and kills his actual abusive step-father.
Then, a news voice-over fills in a few more gaps: the son, a gifted IT student, does indeed kill his step-dad, and is charged with second-degree murder. As the news anchor describes details of the attack, a camera pans to reveal that the real Baker Dill did serve overseas like the fictional Baker had mentioned, but he didn't retire to a remote island — he died serving in Iraq in 2006. Patrick's mother didn’t leave his father for a bad man, but instead married him after suffering the loss of her childhood sweetheart, and the father of her son.
Everything we've seen up to that point was part of a computer game programmed by a local whiz kid who was dealing with the significant loss of his father and abuse of his step-father.
But, my friends, that is not all. You see, at some point, the son reprograms his Plymouth game to correct one major oversight: He adds a character for himself, reuniting him with his father forever, in digital bliss.
The final scene of the movie shows the young kid running towards his dad’s boat, “Serenity,” for their long overdue fishing trip. They have a fish named Justice to catch.
Isn't that sweet?