“Sweet cream on an ice cream sandwich! What just happened?” If you’ve just finished watching the psychological horror film Goodnight Mommy (aka Ich seh, Ich seh), you can probably relate to this sentiment. Today, we are going to be talking about the film’s fairly ambiguous ending and what it possibly means. So, needless to say, a SPOILER ALERT is in full effect.
Austrian writer/directors, Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala really did come up with quite a brilliant premise here. In the film, Lukas and Elias (Lukas and Elias Schwarz), twin nine year-olds, are awaiting the return of their mother, who has just undergone some sort of facial surgery. When the mother (Susanne Wuest) returns, face heavily bandaged, the two children begin to question her erratic behavior and wonder if it’s really her who came back. What follows is an existential struggle for identity and fundamental trust.
Eventually the boys decide to take matters into their own hands. This leads to the pair ultimately tying her up and essentially torturing her (with a magnifying glass and some super glue) in order to get some answers. In the final moments of the movie it is revealed that, DUN DUN DUN, Lukas has actually been dead the entire time (he died in an unspecified “accident”) and Elias is riding delusionally solo. Finally, Elias is fed up with this woman, whom he is convinced is an imposter, and sets her and their house on fire. The final moments of the film show the fire department doing their job as the camera pans over to Lukas, Elias and their mother all smiling (quite creepily) for the camera. A perfect family portrait.
So, what the hell happened? Did Elias die in the fire as well? How did Lukas die? Where is the children’s father? Why are Red Cross volunteers in Austria so pushy? Let’s discuss.
First off, how exactly did Lukas die? Given the fact that we first meet the mother as she’s heavily bandaged after having surgery, it might be easy to assume that the family was involved in some sort of car accident. This is never explicated stated so there isn’t any real reason to believe that this is the case.
When the boys run away to seek the help of a local priest he promptly drives Elias back home to his mother. She explains to the priest that things have been hard since the “accident” and the “divorce” (which would explain the father’s absence). No more details are given. Towards the end of the film, their mother tells Elias that his brother’s death wasn’t his fault. Why would she feel the need to say that? What the hell happened?
Some have argued that Lukas drowned to death. This is (somewhat) supported early on the film as the two are seen playing in the woods and by the lake. Elias is counting out loud while his brother is underwater, presumably holding his breath. Before he rises from the water we see one final air bubble, perhaps leading us to believe that this was indeed the last moments of Lukas’ life.
However, if this was the case then what was with the mother’s recent surgery? If her accident had nothing to do with her son’s death, then maybe she wasn’t in an accident at all. Perhaps her surgery was simply cosmetic. But then, who feels the need to get a makeover immediately after the death of their son?
Perhaps the surgery is symbolic. After Lukas dies, the mother moves on with her life while Elias cannot. The “new face” is then just a sign of the “moving on”, she has become a “new person” (not their mommy anymore) who will no longer play the game of pretending that Lukas is still alive. Also, how aware is the mother of Elias’ delusions? Did she ever attempt to get him treatment?
Some have argued that Lukas was killed in a fire. This is (somewhat) supported by the fact that the mother flips out when she discovers a lighter in Elias’ room. Also, as the final moments of the movie proves, Elias is more than capable of starting a deadly fire. This would also explain the mother’s surgery, as she would have most likely been a victim as well. Also, the very end scene shows a house burning but it does not seem to be the house that the movie is set in. Maybe it was their previous house.
There are many scenes throughout this film that also demand explanations. Quite randomly, a delivery man swings by the house with a year’s worth of frozen pepperoni pizza. One night, the boys decide to place a cockroach on their mother’s chest while she’s sleeping, and the thing soon makes its way down her gullet.
The boys find a cat, and decide to keep it as a pet. Soon enough, it turns up dead. Did Elias unknowingly kill the cat? In other words, did imaginary Lukas kill the cat just so he could blame it on their mother and further cement her status as the enemy?
There is a constant thread of “uhhh, what?” in just about every scene of this film, from the opening reveal of the bandaged mother to the face-crinkling ending. It’s nutter butters. Though, one of the best things about a movie so open to interpretation is that there’s no real “solution”. And there are, of course, many ways to understand it.
With all that being said, we want to hear from you guys. What did you think of Goodnight Mommy’s rather indistinct conclusion? Do you have your own thoughts, theories, explanations or questions? Let us know in the comment section below.