Unpacking the year's freakiest ending with the stars and creator of 'Resurrection'

·11 min read

Spoiler alert: The following story discusses plot details of the film "Resurrection," including the ending. But another warning will appear before those final scenes are discussed.

As an actor, Rebecca Hall has become perhaps the reigning queen of the movie freakout and breakdown. In films such as “Christine,” “The Night House” and the current “Resurrection,” Hall captures the fragile space of characters trying hard to hold it together and the whirlwind rush of losing it.

In “Resurrection,” currently in theaters and on VOD, Hall plays a woman who seems to have a tight control on all aspects of her life. Margaret is a respected, responsible executive and raised a daughter, Abbie (Grace Kaufman), who's ready to go to college. A series of seemingly innocuous recurring appearances by a man from her past named David (Tim Roth) — at a work conference, in a diner, on a park bench — sends her spiraling into a terrified panic. The film builds to what might be the most bizarre and unpredictable ending of the year.

“I'm genuinely fascinated by these moments of what makes people break,” said Hall. “I'm interested in the extremes of behavior and people who were on the edge because I've seen a fair bit of it in my life. It's a territory that feels kind of close, I guess. But I think from an acting perspective, it's basically about having something to do.

“I always feel enormous compassion for characters that are trying to maintain control and are really close to the edge all the time,” Hall said. “A lot of the characters I'm drawn to have this sort of double persona: They have a very complex internal life, and then they've got the persona that they're trying to put out to the world. And that kind of duality, that I think is fundamentally human, is an area of exploration that I think all of my artistic endeavor deals with on some level.”

Writer-director Andrew Semans, whose previous film, “Nancy, Please” debuted in 2012, knew Hall's ability to convey a character in crisis, but he was drawn to other aspects of her performances as well.

“Absolutely, her ability to break down and unravel so powerfully was very appealing,” said Semans, “but the thing that appealed to me most was I always found when she was breaking down — when she was in these extreme situations of intense emotional response — she always maintained a sense of the dignity of the character.

“And so she grounds these situations and provides them with gravity and allows you to be compassionate towards the character,” Semans said. “Her characters are undismissible. You have to wrestle with them because she's so formidable.”

“Resurrection” pivots on a seven-plus-minute monologue by Hall, delivered in a single unbroken take with a slow, creeping zoom, in which Margaret explains to a co-worker just what David did to her in the past, how he controlled her body and mind, and committed acts of unimaginable cruelty. From there, the film takes on a whole new level of intensity, building to its head-spinning finale.

When Hall first read the screenplay, she did not know the monologue was coming.

“I think my reaction was like, ‘Oh, now we're talking,’” Hall said. “When the monologue happened on the page, it was the moment that I knew I trusted the director, even though I hadn't met him yet.”

Hall shot the scene only twice. (The second take is the one in the film.) Though Semans had a version of the screenplay that implied there would be glimpses of flashbacks during Margaret’s monologue, he only included that so as not to scare away potential financiers and collaborators who thought the scene might be too much of a challenge. Once the film was in production, the flashbacks were never even shot.

“The idea was always to have a long monologue and always do it in one take,” said Semans. “And when you’ve got Rebecca Hall, you can get away with stuff like that.”

Since the movie's Sundance Film Festival premiere in January, the public conversation about women's rights to control their own bodies has come strongly back to the fore, shifting how the movie can be perceived.

“I certainly was not thinking about abortion and the abortion debate when I was writing or making the movie,” said Semans. “But I don't think it's too much of a stretch to see the character of David, Tim Roth’s character, as representing just a sense of patriarchal bulls—.

“He is someone who expects total submission from Margaret, and he is only happy when she submits to him completely. And she is someone who is fighting to maintain her psychological and bodily autonomy, and he will not have it,” Semans said. “It's not a stretch to project that outward into the broader political realm. But it wasn't an effort to make a political film. It's not a statement film.”

Part of what makes “Resurrection” so unnerving is the placid calm of Roth’s performance. Even as David has obviously arrived to torment Margaret, his polite, smiling façade is enough to raise the question of whether Margaret is somehow misinterpreting his intentions. Until his intentions become all too clear.

“You hide in plain sight,” said Roth. “And I found that to be much more scary. But also that idea that you can switch it, you just turn it on a dime so from the beginning of the sentence to the end of the sentence, there's a different human being involved ... that gave us somewhere to go with it.”

A scene between David and Margaret in a small diner is defined by the tension between Roth’s tranquility on one side of the table and Hall’s utter meltdown on the other.

“That's exactly what he's wanting. He's in a happy place, and her behavior is his happy place too,” said Roth. “And then there's just the mechanics of being an actor — you've got Rebecca, so everything's easy. When she walked through the door, I knew the essence of the scene, but I was never quite sure how far she would go, what different character twists she would bring. It's quite remarkable. It makes the day fly by.”

For Semans, just as Hall brought a lot to the role of Margaret, so too did Roth add to the character of David.

“One thing that Tim was very interested in was portraying this character as someone who does not understand himself as a villain,” said Semans. “Sociopaths never imagine themselves as the enemy; you're always the hero of your own story.

“Tim would frequently say, ‘I'm the romantic lead here. I'm someone who is pursuing my great, lost love, and I'm going to repair the situation,’” said Semans. “Of course, Tim didn't think that's what the movie was about, but that's how David perceives himself. ... If you think you're doing the right thing by your own bizarre rationale, there's no reason why he would exhibit malevolence, or be a kind of mustache-twirling villain. He would just seem like a normal man. And that's what Tim wanted to do.”

There is something shocking and dazzling in the boldness of the ending — discussed with spoilers below — which takes the film into another realm, perhaps leaving reality behind altogether for the realm of a twisted fairy tale, but which somehow seems like the right conclusion for Margaret.

Spoiler alert: Specific details of the ending of "Resurrection" discussed ahead.

The final two scenes set the movie off in a wholly unexpected direction. In the first, Margaret meets David in a hotel room. He has continued to torment her by claiming that the infant son he murdered has actually been stored in his belly for years, crying out for her.

She attacks him and cuts open his stomach to discover, indeed, a living baby. In the final scene, she is back in her apartment with the child, healthy and alive, along with her teenage daughter.

“Anytime you end a movie in the way we do — which is a bit of an outlandish ending and also a bit of an ambiguous ending — there are those who will be frustrated by that, who will want a tidier ending or want a more specific sense of what they're supposed to take away,” said Semans. “And I respect that. But we have an ending that is open-ended to a certain degree. And the people who have resisted it have been fairly few and far between. People have embraced this choice.”

For Hall, the question of whether the film's final scenes only occur in Margaret’s mind or are in fact happening was beside the point.

“From my perspective, as an actor, my task was to embody those scenes as they happen to someone who believes they're happening. So whether it is happening or isn't happening is kind of irrelevant to me,” said Hall. “Now it doesn't mean that I, Rebecca, didn't have a kind of outside view on the metaphorical potential of these things. It always occurred to me that the film doesn't work without the audacity of the ending.

“And in a sense, in order for the film to be satisfactory, you have to have this sort of catharsis. And yes, it's a wackadoodle catharsis. It's an insane catharsis, but it is as big as her rage,” Hall said. “[It's like Margaret says] ‘OK, you had control of my body, did you? Well now get a load of this.’ After having gone through the horror of his gaslighting, her breakdown, all of that, you want to see him be destroyed. And that is horribly satisfying, and also problematic.”

Even those who made the movie are not in total agreement as to what is happening at the end.

“In whatever off-world version of the world that it is, for that specific motif, he's pregnant,” said Roth. “He's been carrying this child for a long time waiting for her. It's time that she took her child, who's calling out for her. It's so twisted. I asked Andrew, 'What were you thinking?' And he just laughed at me.”

“Actually he's not pregnant,” offered Semans. “It's much more a 'Little Red Riding Hood' situation, where he consumes a baby and is just sort of keeping the baby in him, in a state of suspended animation. It makes no logical sense whatsoever, but it is meant to be something plucked from Gothic literature or fairy tales. But the character is not meant to be pregnant. He's not going to birth the baby at some point. Although, I guess he does via C-section.”

As unusual and unsettling as the film’s ending is — is it real, in Margaret’s mind or something else? — Semans felt it was the natural way to conclude the story.

“After putting Margaret through everything she experiences in this script, both in terms of her backstory and what happens in the movie, I felt I had to give this character her happy ending,” said Semans. “It was so important to me for this character that I'd become so close to, to have her catharsis, to have her sense of redemption, to get everything she fought so hard for. And for us to see what a perfect ending would be for her.

“The ending is inexplicable. It's supernatural. It's impossible,” said Semans. “I feel like what it suggests is that the underlying reality, the truth of the situation, is probably something far more tragic. So I often think of the ending as a tragic ending, even though it's a very, very happy ending on the surface. But at the same time, it is an intentionally ambiguous ending, and I invite the viewer to interpret it in whatever way is satisfying to them. Hopefully they're compelled to think about it and to talk about it.

For Hall, the film’s topsy-turvy ending, down to its very last instant, was a necessity to the film’s story. Her performance adds to her startling series of characters who go well past the verge into full-blown breakdowns.

“I love that it's an interpretable moment,” said Hall. “And a part of the reason why I wanted to do this was that it has that rare quality of being one of those movies that people are going to come out of going, 'What the f— was that?' You might not like it, but you're going to remember it. And that's something in this day and age. That is something.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.