Serenity's Crazy Twist Ending Explained


From the very beginning, Serenity foreshadows it's taking place a simulated world. Of course, there’s the opening shot, in which the audience is taken into the mind of a young boy, Patrick. When Baker first appears, however, there’s no indication that what’s being presented on screen isn’t real. Baker appears to be just another grumpy fisherman, one who is passionate about his work. In that sense, Baker's introduction is universally relatable, as he fails while doing something he loves; he doesn't land the big catch, Justice.

In Serenity's subsequent land scenes, though, there's something a little off. The characters don’t seem to have much depth; they speak in cliches. Also, McConaughey’s character is repeatedly called by his full name, Baker Dill. In retrospect, the noir archetypes make sense because the characters aren't supposed to have much depth (aside from Baker); they’re just thinly-veiled versions of genre archetypes that Patrick has read about or seen: McConaughey as the Hero, Djimon Hounsou's Duke as the Sidekick, Hathaway as the Femme Fatale, Clarke as the Baddie, Diane Lane's Constance as the Idealized Love Interest. 

In addition, Hathaway’s Karen references "the real world" when speaking about Facebook early on. At that point, Serenity suggests these characters live in a parallel world, subtle as it may be. While offering $10 million to Baker, Karen acknowledges the reason why she’s there: to make an offer her ex-husband can’t refuse (see The Godfather). Later, a supporting character tells Baker that he’s just in his own head, and Duke - the loyal friend - reinforces certain rules that Baker must live by. In this simulation, Baker does indeed have an Iraq backstory. And during a moment of reflection, he states that he "didn’t really come back." As Serenity progresses, it becomes evident that no one is supposed to die in Patrick’s simulation, which explains the collective character confusion when the creator begins working away on new code, all the while contemplating his own free will. 

To complement the dialogue’s foreshadowing, Serenity uses visual motifs to at once support genre tropes while associating characters with specific colors. For example, Plymouth Island is full of bold reds, greens, whites, and blues; all of which match the design of Patrick’s room. When Baker begins to accept that he may indeed be part of a simulation, he asks someone about the island’s exact location in the world. In the subsequent phone call shot, the color scheme is red, white, and blue; matching Patrick’s geographical location, the United States of America.

Throughout Serenity, Baker is coded in blue. He’s a conflicted Aquaman in this story, associated with the ocean (and the blues). As for Frank, he wears primarily dark colors because he’s the villain. Lane’s character, coded in red and green, seems to reflect an unfinished version of Patrick's mother, while Hathaway’s femme fatale represents the idealized version. To further emphasize the noir elements, and to foreshadow death, Serenity uses the “X” visual motif - a technique that was famously used in the original 1932 Scarface (among various other noirs), along with a modern film like The Departed.


In Serenity's ending sequence, the writer-director Knight pays homage to the film's genre influences while making a bigger statement. When Baker speaks with his son on the phone, the scene is once again color-coded and includes the X motif. This is where Serenity allows for various interpretations, depending on the viewer's personal experiences. On one level, Serenity’s ending appears to suggest that Patrick has accepted his father’s death, which in turn correlates with new beginnings and life itself. When the two meet on a dock in the final shot, Patrick wears a bold red shirt and Baker now wears a bold blue one. The implications are that Patrick isn’t out of the water, so to speak, he definitely has legal problems (red symbolizes trouble). And for Baker, there’s a sense of clarity, evidenced by a solid shade of blue. Most importantly, the two are together, surrounded by a bright white light.

Serenity also raises questions about simulation theory, the idea that our current world is being controlled by a higher power, a technological God. Author Chuck Klosterman articulately addresses this concept in his 2016 book But What If We're Wrong?: Thinking About the Present As If It Were the Past, in which he discusses the idea that maybe life as we know it is merely the creation of a kid like Serenity's Patrick, someone living in the future playing out various simulations and fantasies. Justice comes in many forms, and Serenity can mean many things. 

More: Watch Out Interview With Serenity Director Steven Knight

Key Release Dates
  • Serenity (2019) release date: Jan 25, 2019
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