Last Christmas is more than a holiday rom-com - and features a shocking twist ending that completely changes how viewers will perceive Kate and Tom's relationship. We explain what is actually happening in the film's final act as well as how the reveal ultimately contextualizes the real lesson Last Christmas is attempting to teach viewers.
Based on the early Last Christmas trailers, most moviegoers were likely expecting an otherwise charming holiday film that follows the standard Christmas rom-com formula: a humbug is challenged to embrace the holiday spirit by someone they initially can't stand but grow to like (and eventually love). It's a genre that Hallmark and Netflix have wholeheartedly embraced - much to the delight of viewers who love holiday rom-coms in spite of, and often because of, their cheesy setups. Nevertheless, Last Christmas (which was directed by Paul Feig and co-written by Emma Thompson as well as playwright Bryony Kimmings) attempts to subvert standard holiday movie tropes with a story and third act reveal that reframes Kate and Tom's romance as a tale of self-love and acceptance.
Last Christmas tells the story of Kate (Emelia Clarke) a twenty-something aspiring singer who spends the time between auditions drunk, sleeping around, and screwing up at work. Her friends, family, and boss are all fed-up with her selfish (and self-destructive) behavior - especially considering that Kate used to be a thoughtful, joyful, and loving human being. As Christmas draws near and Kate faces an increasing number of frustrating situations at work and home, she encounters manic pixie dream boy Tom (Henry Golding) who teaches her to "Look up" and reminds her of the joy that comes with giving to others. Thanks to Tom's infectious thirst for life, Kate is inspired to rediscover the ambitious, "special," and joyful person she used to be - before, as she reveals to Tom, she nearly died "last Christmas."
Note: The rest of this post contains major SPOILERS for Last Christmas. You have been warned.
Last Christmas Ending Explained
As Kate explains it to Tom, one year back, she was rushed to the hospital. Her heart was failing and she underwent an emergency heart transplant. According to her, it was grief that caused her to withdraw throughout the following year - grief for the experience she went through and for the failing heart that was violently cut out of her, thrown in the trash, and subsequently replaced by a donor organ. Tom comforts Kate, and invites her to stay the night in his apartment - but their relationship is forever altered by her confession. The next time they see each other, Tom is distant, emphasizing that Kate cannot depend on him - a stark contrast to his role in their budding romance thus far. However, it isn't until Kate attempts to confront Tom at his apartment that she understands why he started pushing her away. Tom was killed last Christmas while working his night-time bike courier job - and it was his heart the doctors used to save Kate's life. It is at this point that Kate reflects on all of her interactions and "dates" with Tom - realizing that he was never visible to anyone but her.
In one final meeting, Tom confirms to Kate that he is dead - and attempts to explain why she can see him. Tom stops short of providing a concrete explanation but states that he is part of her - suggesting that, by extension, she is accessing whatever part of him was left behind.
Was Tom a Ghost or Imagined in Last Christmas?
The film stops short of explicitly stating at what point Tom became aware of his own state of being or what viewers are to make of him - specifically what he is and whether or not he is fully Tom or simply phantom characteristics of Tom that are closely-associated with his heart (joy, optimism, charm, and love) that Kate is most in need of embracing.
Either way, Tom wishes Kate well - and instructs her to take care of his heart, suggesting it would have been hers, regardless. This line, more than anything else in the film, is the best evidence that Tom is actually a real ghost-like figure throughout his encounters with Kate - given that his parting words appear to confirm that he isn't just a disembodied guide meant to help her move past the trauma of a near-death experience, he has feelings for her as well. The line is open to interpretation but the most meaningful reading of Tom's statement is one that certifies the pair's love as real and reciprocated - that she "would've had his heart no matter what." The line suggests Tom would have fallen for Kate in life but, since they didn't, he's happy his heart has a part to play in all the good she will do in the world.
What the Last Christmas Twist Actually Means
At its core, Last Christmas is a film about confronting fear, accepting and moving past trauma and tragedy. This is most apparent in Kate's journey from choir girl to deadbeat drunkard to selfless servant throughout the film. However, she isn't the only character that overcomes past trauma and embraces life in the moment. In particular, Kate's mother, Adelia (Emma Thompson), is terrified that their family (of Yugoslavian refugees), will be run out of London and returned to their home country - or worse, harmed by British xenophobes emboldened by populist sentiment.
The parallels between Kate and Adelia aren't apparent at first, especially given that Kate actively avoids Adelia and bemoans her mother's compulsions; yet, both characters exhibit the same fear: they do not feel safe enough to receive love - and have, one way or another, steeled themselves against their vulnerabilities. The same is true for Kate's sister, Marta (Lydia Leonard) who is afraid to fully embrace her own relationship out of fear her family will disapprove.
The sentiment that betrayal (trauma, a health crisis, xenophobia) can haunt us forever is even foreshadowed in the Wham! song from which the film gets its title (the song also hinted at the film's big twist). In the song, the narrator reflects on a past heartbreak, intending to move on and give their heart to "someone special" this year - only to conclude they should wait until next year, instead.
"Last Christmas, I gave you my heart. But the very next day you gave it away. This year, to save me from tears. I'll give it to someone special. A face on a lover with a fire in his heart. A man under cover but you tore him apart. Maybe next year I'll give it to someone. I'll give it to someone special."
Last Christmas isn't a story about romance, it's a rumination on self-love and the power of healing. The best relationships simultaneously support and challenge us - especially in times of great difficulty. For that reason, it's no surprise that Kate begins seeing Tom as the anniversary of her near-death experience approaches - especially given that Kate has alienated every other potential supporter in her orbit. With Tom's help, Kate not only learns to love herself, she also learns to love the piece of her, Tom's heart, that epitomized her trauma and previously felt so foreign to her.
To that end, the meaning of Last Christmas isn't a debate about what Tom is now; instead, the ending attempts to recontextualize the cliches of holiday rom-coms with an empowering point. It was love, self-love (not romance) both literally and metaphorically that allowed Kate to heal and rediscover her joy and talents - and subsequently use them to unite her family, reconcile with her friends, and serve the needy.
- Last Christmas (2019) release date: Nov 08, 2019