WARNING: Spoilers for Bad Times at the El Royale.
Bad Times at the El Royale leaves on massive mystery unanswered: who is on the film reel? Drew Goddard's 1970-set thriller is a tightly scripted mix of zippy dialogue, mysterious characters, intricate-yet-intimate plot developments and deep themes that has audiences thinking about it long after leaving the theater.
There are several mysteries the movie never directly addresses, but one in particular stands out. Early on, it's revealed that the El Royale's "management" has been running a blackmail operation out of the hotel, filming guests through one-way mirrors. However, there's one recent film that concierge Miles Miller (Lewis Pullman) refused to pass on. It's burned at the end of the movie and no character says out loud who they've seen.
While Bad Times at the El Royale ultimately leaves the identity of the would-be blackmail victim unanswered, the movie leaves some clues. The person on the reel is a very well known person - everybody who sees the film immediately recognizes him - whose legacy would be marred by his indiscretions. We can also surmise that the suspect died in the late 1960s or early 1970s; Bad Times is set on October 7, 1970 (based on Nixon's "cease-fire" speech on the TV) and Miles says the guest - now deceased - visited in the past year or so. That leaves several key possibilities.
Martin Luther King
One of the most well-known political figures of the 1960s was Martin Luther King Jr, a Baptist Minister and civil rights leader who advocated for peace, equality, and non-violent protest. His historical significance cannot be understated, and he has been portrayed in historical films like Selma, All the Way, and Boycott.
As a great leader of a marginalized group, MLK was persecuted by the FBI for his alleged infidelities from his marriage to Coretta Scott King. They even sent him a blackmail tape and letter in an attempt to get him to commit suicide over these potential affairs. Dr. King's enemies were many, powerful, and vindictive, and would have seized any attempt to discredit him, even two years after his murder in 1968. He definitely fits what we know of the person in Bad Times at the El Royale's film, and is exactly the sort of figure that Miles would want to protect.
Martin Luther King Jr. was not the only great American leader assassinated in 1968 at the prime of his life; Robert F. Kennedy was killed just two months later, on June 6 of that particularly violent year while he was campaigning to be the 37th President of the United States. Like MLK, RFK was an optimist, a forward-reaching leader who saw the potential of his country and thought he could help make the United States live up to the ideals on which it was founded.
He was decidedly more pragmatic than Dr. King, and his own stance on racial equality was borne of political ambition first, and human compassion second, but his words and needs towards the progressive cause of equality nonetheless spoke for themselves.
Historians note that RFK had a reputation for being flirty, and there have long been rumors of various infidelities outside of his marriage, but not necessarily on the level of MLK, to say nothing of his older brother, John F. Kennedy. Still, there's definitely the possibility that Robert Kennedy is the man on the Bad Times at the El Royale blackmail tapes.
At the end of the day, neither of these possibilities are more or less valid than the other. That Bad Times at the El Royale burns the film before revealing exactly what it contains makes clear that it's up to the audience to decide who they think is on it - and if it should actually matter. The key takeaway of the film is that great men aren't perfect. Good people can do bad things, bad people can do good things, and there's more to human beings than the binary poles of righteous and wicked.
- Bad Times At The El Royale (2018) release date: Oct 12, 2018