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.
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.
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…