What Does The Ending Of American Honey Really Mean?


American Honey Ending
Teen coming-of-age movies don’t come much cooler and sexier than Andrea Arnold’s American Honey. There’s nothing quite like the sunkissed, Instagram-filtered, hormone-crazy world that we are presented with.

American Honey follows young Star (Sasha Lane) as she seeks a way out of a dead-end life by joining a “mag crew,” young people like herself who go door to door selling magazine subscriptions under the watchful eye of their pimp boss, Krystal (Riley Keough). They drink, they smoke, a couple of them have graphic sex, and then the movie is over. Well, at least that’s how it will look to more conservative audiences.

Today we are going to be focusing on one aspect of the film, the rather cryptic and ambitious ending. First, though, let’s talk everything leading up to this finale. Needless to say, a SPOILER ALERT is in full effect.

While trying to hitch a ride home with two young kids, Star happens to notice Jake (Shia LaBeouf) sitting shotgun in a white van that’s blaring bass-heavy rap. Apparently she’s smitten with him immediately, following the crew into a store and flirting with him.

American Honey Jake

American Honey Sasha Lane

Once Star and Jake begin their mating dance, however, Star’s original motive for talking to him loses importance. Jake’s motive for flirting back ultimately becomes foremost, because by story’s end, we’ll see Jake’s true motivation for charming (and bedding) Star: he’s a skilled salesman and he knows how to instantly identify other potential sellers to round out Krystal’s mag crew. That Star falls hard for him once they have some time together is not strange – he is a salesman after all, and he sells her on his grungy suitcoats and streetwise patter. But one distant glance at a guy in a van from across a busy street, and that’s all it takes for Star to fall for him? That part comes off a little muddled.

Having said that, this “insta-love” element is almost the point. For Star, it is love at first sight, and the film doesn’t apologize for that. Indeed, it apologizes for nothing at all.

The film redefines “gritty.” From the very first frame of Star rooting around in a dumpster for food, finding a packaged whole chicken that’s been in there for god-knows-how-long and then tossing it to a little red-haired boy that is in her care, there’s no question this is going to be a filthy film. And it is. You can smell this movie, and it doesn’t smell good.

This opening scene in the dumpster is absolutely heartbreaking, and puts us squarely in Star’s corner from the opening moment of the film. When she goes home – if you can call it that – and ends up leaving the two kids (who are not hers, it seems, though her relationship to them and their dad is a bit hard to grasp) to go join Jake and the mag crew, there’s definitely a moment of anger on our part. How could she leave these two sweethearts with their idiotic, careless, line-dancing mother? But we also understand; she needs to get out, and get out now. The question is, is the family she finds on the road any better than the one she’s leaving behind? While the plot is essentially a love story between Star and Jake, the film’s themes veer more toward finding one’s tribe and redefining family.

But as far as our love story goes, Jake and Star have sex in fields and cars, but Jake warns her that their relationship can’t be public for fear of vexing Krystal or causing drama in the group. As they move from town to town, Star becomes more reckless and agrees to meet an oil field worker after-hours for $1000. It’s not exactly the night of his life and likely made him feel more lonely than before, but it blurs the boundaries of what she’s willing to do for cash.

Jake sees her coming back to the group’s temporary house after the encounter and goes nuts, accuses her of sleeping with the guy. After a dressing down from Krystal, who gives her some home truths about Jake, Star is awkwardly relegated to just another girl in the van and is replaced with fresh new meat.

American Honey Krystal

American Honey Star

The film ends with the mag crew surrounded around a bonfire (with Raury’s God’s Whisper blasting loudly in the background). Jake passes Star a turtle, seemingly as a peace offering (she has a major affinity for animals). Star walks over to the lake, let’s the turtle free and then hops in herself (despite not being able to swim). A few moments later Star emerges from the water, reborn if you will. And with that, our journey is over. Cue credits.

So, what does that final scene mean? Perhaps setting the turtle free is a rejection of Jake, but it doesn’t feel like a rejection. It feels like transcendence. It feels like she isn’t just rejecting Jake, but the notion that she needs to be dependent on another person. And then Star, who, again, can’t swim, immerses herself in the lake, and emerges rejuvenate.

And speaking of Star’s affinity for animals, it’s really hard to ignore the abundance of interactions between our protagonist and wildlife. Let’s recap:

    * Cows in the truck give Star pause.
    * Dogs in the hotel lots give her pause.
    * Drawings on the meth mom’s house walls of tigers and what not.
    * The horses at the 3 cowboys house.
    * The dog and rat in the van the whole time.
    * The cat being held tightly by the kid in meth mom’s house.
    * The bugs all throughout the movie.
    * The bear she comes face to face with.
    * Of course, the turtle at the end.

Clearly these are all symbolic. But how? Why? Perhaps to show Star’s compassion? There is a scene where she doesn’t kill a wasp stuck in her room. She traps it in a glass and sets it free.

By film’s end the travelling lifestyle has taken its toll on Star and it begins to feel repetitive and far from her dream of country life with a home and family. The ending is pretty open-ended, but it does indeed feel like a rebirth for Star, as though change is on the horizon.

Though, at the end of the day, 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 that being said, what do you guys think of all this? Do you have your own thoughts, theories, explanations or questions? Let us know in the comment section below. Let’s discuss…

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29 thoughts on “What Does The Ending Of American Honey Really Mean?

  1. I think Jake was her unlikely savior (note the song at the end) just as she was the unlikely savior of the bee in the pool, the turtle etc.

    1. I like this. I agree. I think he came back for her, I almost feel like she thought about killing herself for just a second and in doing so realized her passion for living and was therefore reborn.

    2. He came back for her but not to leave with her, and not to keep her committed to the mag selling group or even to start up their romance again. He pulled her away from the ‘tribe’ to a quiet spot, gifted her with the baby turtle, and without words, he let her go. He freed her and she understood right away, as she went immediately to the water and let the turtle go, and then went into the water herself to free herself and start over.

      1. I meant to add that he came back because it was where HE belongs. He doesn’t really want to settle down. Not now, anyhow. But he also came back clearly to do the thing she was too nervous to do. He compelled her to have faith in herself, and to leave. I don’t know that without that tug, without that being confirmed for her by someone else, that she could have left. That was his gift to her.

  2. I agree with Ben. Just listen to the music. It helps tell the story. I love the song in the van when Jake joins back at the end and also the look on her friends face when they are finishing American Honey. Her friend’s expression speaks a thousand words. Jake came back to be with her. If I had more time tonight I would write more. It will just have to wait but I have to say one of my favorite films:)

  3. Agree with Kelly

    This reel is full of moments

    “Her friend’s expression speaks a thousand words”

    That being one of them

    This is a gem of a film and in a aspect ratio of 1.37 / 1:1.33
    this film will look great even on old crt’s 4.3’s so forget about your 21.9 16.9 UW screens just hook up to an old crt tv and your golden 🙂

  4. I watched movie last night, I really enjoy it. But why the f*** ended up like that? What’s the point?!? Are they or aren’t together again?

  5. I think Jake handing Star the baby turtle has a very deep meaning. I believe it was not only a piece offering for forginess, but also a message of passionate understanding. Star has a close connection with animals and children. Star tells Jake that she earned the $1000 doing what ever it would take to get them out of the magazine sales and into their own trailor. She also tells the truck driver that she wants a trailor with many kids. The baby turtle was a great symbol to recognize the both. The turtle could also play a duel meaning; taking things slow with the one you love, while also delivering the message to not being afraid. The turtle leads Star straight into her biggest fear, she undoubtably follows. Seconds later Star is emerged underwater then springs up rejuvenated. I think this sybolyizes that’s she’s washed away her past and is ready for a new beginning.. As said above

    1. You have some interesting points. I hadn’t thought of that: the turtle did lead her into the water, into facing her fear.

  6. Raunchy kids style coming of age movie minus the HIV aids scare and they use condoms in the movie but very drawn out would have been better if it was cut down to two hrs fifteen some scenes didn’t need to be as long to portray what it was but for and artistic indie it’s good

  7. I believe , it was great there are no real ending. Its life we make choices & there are always consequences to our reaction. He Asked for forgiveness she chose to forgive but not forget & simple move on. However I wish it was more but life goes on

  8. I lean toward Star and Jake moving forward together. Jake was back in the van with the second class citizens in order to be near Star. The turtle was definitely a peace offering and Jake knew Star would do nothing with it but set it free. It wasn’t meant to be a pet, so her releasing it wasn’t a rejection, rather a demonstration of how well they know each other. I believe she baptized herself as a means to put the mistakes of her past behind her, including betraying Jake with the misguided sexual encounter. I didn’t get the impression that she felt anything other than devotion to Jake particularly and the squad in general.

  9. you are all wrong. The guy was a salesman loyal servant of the manager. The manager set rules and he has the duty to make them happen. his duty is to find new girls to join the group and make money and ofcourse to follow the teams rules. at the end he gives her the turtle(and goes dancing after the other girl) because he knows her character. As if he tells her that if she need to love and taking care of a soul she can have a turtle(or what ever pet).they are coworkers after all and that all.she let the turtle free in her natural environment-the water- and try to follow her under the water. she tries to stay submerged in the water but finally gets out for water is not the natural environment for a woman(or a man)… So,every body must be where he or she belong… you must be able to fit in the environment (something like the natural selection theory)(it’s not a romantic film either way or after all)… (I have worked in sales generally ,including road trips ,and that’s exactly how things are…)

  10. Here’s my interpretation. I feel like that the reason Jake came back in the first place is to get Star out of the magcrew, not because he hates her but because he loves her, and he doesn’t want her to be stuck there like him, and fall deeper and deeper. He does the same thing to Star what she does to the turtle and the bee, Jake sets her free. In the end star choose to “reborn”. As she comes out the water there’s no music, no party. The magcrew left without her, and she’s on her new path.

    1. I agree Jake is setting her free. She is not one of them. He sized her up in the beginning, knew what she needed to get her committed as a new girl. Romanced her so to speak. (closest thing she had experienced). In the end he saw her as someone who would not be happy in that life and who was also too good for him, and the baby turtle was his way to convey he was letting her go. He did wind up caring for her… but not enough to leave this wanderlust of a journey behind.

      I love Andrea Arnold and the amazing way she conveys the life of the lower money class. The reality, unapologetic and not all shined up. And the name Star – she shines far above her life. We all hope she gets alot more out of life than where she winds up.

    2. Jesse – I want to thank you for this. I came here searching for an answer to what the ending of this incredible film meant and read comment after comment. Some of them made partial sense but none of them connected to me until I read yours. Thank you! Kelly

      1. Jesse, I took a screen shot your comment so a I can remember your theory and relay to others. I really think you hit the nail on the head there good work!

  11. The ending was the best part. Having just watched the movie 15 minutes ago, it still resonates and I think its because its one of the most character defining moments for Star. She wasn’t losing touch with herself which was one of her worries, she was still the person she had always been and Jake was the reminder. It gives of a vibe that the future has more in store and the intimacy of the ending reminds me of the way she kept the future/dreams in mind as she had in earlier intimate moments of the movie

  12. I think the turtule had an armor. The same as Star. She doesnt give her self like other kids. Always with her guard up. Like in the pool. Drinking with the cowboys. The meaning of the present is that jake is now willing to accept Star. He knew she will set it free. The same as she gave away his previous present. And he is not going to be bothered.
    For Star sitting on the edge of the pool symbolizes living on the edge. But getting into the water may indicate that know she is ready to start her grown up life.

  13. Watching this movie for me its sorrowfull(I am not explain why)

    The end like the movie is petulant.

    I really like Arnold (I discovered Fassbender on Fish Tank) she uses the animals like metaphors, the light , the sensastion of privacy and connection with the starring(sasha lane, lucky girl and the same on Fish Tank).

    But I need to tell u Inonly ses this movie cos Labeouf look like the guy I am in love with.

    The end, he loves her, she wash all her past on the lake bla bla bla, she is learning bla bla bla, maturity, american white trash, YOLO bla bla bla…

  14. This movie was real maybe the characters and circumstances where fictional but the story was true and as in life there is no beginning end or reason the girl was a innocent in a world were she was used by all those around her but in a world of pain she was free and joyous and one with all at least for a moment

  15. All the movie was about the naive girl who didn’t understand what is “gang” or maybe cult as a better description to the group… the scenario has hidden in purpose in many symbols like empathy to anything alive, male frontal nudity etc… but the thing STAR learned is the real life of a cult. at ending she is more adequate to the rules of the gang.

  16. Well, if you pay close attention to the movie it’s explained that “Jake screws all the girls he recruits”…so, the fact he came back for Star was out of character. But did he come back for star so he can free her? Maybe. Or did he come back because of his natural character? Because at the end of the movie JAKE DOES GO AFTER THE NEW GIRL during the Bonfire scene ….but, also doing so he frees Sta; as Star would Free the turtle.

    The movie was OK, because of this lazy the ending. I dislike movies that cut off the end and try to use symbolism when the movie didn’t focus on STRONG character development to begin with. I enjoyed it; but ending feel incomplete. unless the message is “Star will always feel incomplete”… but when Star merged out of the water the music and crew was also gone. So? She starts Fresh?

    Meh.

  17. I think Jake is a creepy killer. He’s covered in blood after the encounter with the oilman. Shia LaBeouf plays this part very well.
    Suddenly he isn’t o.k. at all anymore but really scary. In the end of the film Star stays with the magcrew, but the relationship with
    Jake is completely finished. Lucky for her.

  18. I watched the ending like 4 times Jake doesn’t go after the new girl the girl in front of him is the blonde that has been there the whole time. I think Jake really cares about star because krystin said in the past year he always made money with everyone else that he trained just not with her also he went and found her with the cowboys to make sure she was safe I bet that doest happen every time. he beat up the oil worker they had the inside thing between them with the wolf call, he told her his dreams he’s also never disappeared before that you can hear the mag say that. I think the reason krystin told star that Jake sleeps with everyone is so she would think he doesn’t care. Jake couldn’t have found the new girl because he disappeared before she showed up and the way he gave her the turtle was very much of an intimate embrace he was giving her a present which he knows she likes. I think jake really was in love with her sales person or not he already had her there, there wasn’t a reason to keep it going.

  19. I am in agreement with Bri, as well as several other’s in this thread. Questioning the validity of statements here, I watched several parts of the film again as well. Shia’s character Jake, DOES NOT go after any other girl at the end, and he was not there to recruit the new girl either. Jake simply rejoins the line, and dances on top of the fire. Paying even greater attention, it’s clear that Jake is in love with Sasha’s character Star. I also agree that Krystal is jealous of star and is just talking sh*t; it’s a clear case of not accepting everything everyone says as gospel – people still lie in films. Even if that was true, look at his actions since he’s met Star; clearly the dude in love; jealously is a symptom of that. Jake clearly values privacy, hence not wanting any of the crew knowing about their relationship. I also think he doesn’t want anyone else knowing, because he does plan to leave one day. I think he did come back for Star, as he had more than enough to finance his own way, (from what he showed/told Star) and was very close to his dream, (of owning a place in the woods etc). The BIGGEST things I think that are taken for granted, is symbolism of the turtle, Star facing he fear of water, AND something no one else has seemed to point out – The fireflies glowing at the end. Even Googling the symbolic nature of a turtle will result in the following: •Ability to stay grounded, even in moments of disturbances and chaos •Slowing down, pacing yourself •Determination, persistence •Emotional strength and understanding. Fireflies glowing symbolize growth, and love (as they primarily do that to attract a mate). I personally think the ending not only fortified Jake and Star’s love for each other, it also eliminated their co-dependency of each other, which to me is a beautiful thing. When you truly love someone, they are a part of your life, (even if it’s a huge part) they aren’t your whole life. That is something we all eventually learn; I can only speak for myself though. This movie has an “open-ended ending” for a reason though – the best films usually do. While it’s not a textbook fairy-tale ending, I do see a future for Jake and Star, and hopefully with their own ‘spiritual rebirths’ so-to-speak, they’ll be able to channel their love for each other in a more healthy and productive way. We don’t know this for sure of course, however all those fairy-tale endings you see in movies, doesn’t guarantee those parties stay together either. I feel the ending really symbolized the above, and of course, freedom. The freedom to love, live, and choose to be whatever your heart of hearts truly desires.

  20. I am in agreement with Bri, as well as several other’s in this thread. Questioning the validity of statements here, I watched several parts of the film again as well. Shia’s character Jake, DOES NOT go after any other girl at the end, and he was not there to recruit the new girl either. Jake simply rejoins the line, and dances on top of the fire. Paying even greater attention, it’s clear that Jake is in love with Sasha’s character Star. I also agree that Krystal is jealous of star and is just talking trash; it’s a clear case of not accepting everything everyone says as gospel, (people still have the ability to lie in films). Even if what Krystal said was true, look at his actions since he’s met Star; clearly the guy is in love; jealously is a symptom of that. Jake clearly isn’t a PDA kind of guy, hence not wanting any of the crew knowing about how intimate their relationship really is, (although they all are aware of their fondness for each other). I also think he doesn’t want anyone else knowing what level they’re really at, because he does plan to leave one day – the lifestyle with the crew isn’t exactly sustainable forever. I believe he did come back for Star, and possibly himself, as he would have regretted not seeing things through with her. Evidence being that he had more than enough to finance his own way, (from what he showed Star, when telling her of his dream in confidence). He was very close to his dream, (of owning a place in the woods etc). The BIGGEST things I think that are taken for granted, is symbolism of the turtle, Star facing he fear of water, AND something no one else has seemed to point out – The fireflies glowing at the end. Even Googling the symbolic nature of a turtle will result in the following: •Ability to stay grounded, even in moments of disturbances and chaos •Slowing down, pacing yourself •Determination, persistence •Emotional strength and understanding. Fireflies glowing symbolize growth, and love (as they primarily do that to attract a mate). I personally think the ending not only fortified Jake and Star’s love for each other, it also eliminated their co-dependency of each other, which to me is a beautiful thing. When you truly love someone, they are a part of your life, (even if it’s a huge part) they aren’t your whole life. That is something we all eventually learn; I can only speak for myself though. This movie has an “open-ended ending” for a reason – the best films usually do. They are meant to be thought-provoking. While it’s not a textbook fairy-tale ending, I do see a future for Jake and Star, and hopefully with their own ‘spiritual rebirths’ so-to-speak, they’ll be able to channel their love for each other in a more healthy and productive way. We don’t know this for sure of course, however all those fairy-tale endings you see in movies, doesn’t guarantee those parties stay together forever either. I feel the ending really symbolized the above, and of course, freedom. The freedom to love, live, and choose to be whatever/with whoever your heart of hearts truly desires.

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