10 Cloverfield Lane Spoilers Below
That’s the question 10 Cloverfield Lane‘s ending attempts to answers. Rather than merely go out on a triumphant note after Michelle escapes from Howard and the bunker, director Dan Trachtenberg puts our heroine into an extraterrestrial conflict torn out Spielberg’s version of War of the Worlds. It’s great that she found the inner courage to overcome Howard, but she’s actually jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire. Howard may have been crazy, but he was right about the apocalypse. Michelle fought off her human captor, but she must do the same with her would-be alien captors. After doing so, she chooses to drive into danger to assist other survivors, completing her arc as someone who has learned to no longer run away from her problems or from those in need.
But holy shit is it a jarring switch (as I wrote about in my review). The internet spawned a theory that 10 Cloverfield Lane’s ending was actually added in post through rewrites and reshoots after Paramount decided to turn it into a spiritual Cloverfield sequel, and that sounded about right. As is, 10 Cloverfield Lane’s ending does feel like it comes from an entirely different movie. However, Trachtenberg has repeatedly shot down any rumors of behind the scenes shenanigans, arguing the ending we saw is the same one he read in the script before joining the project.
In a recent SlashFilm interview, he went even further and explained the reasoning behind the ending:
10 Cloverfield Lane is fundamentally about domestic abuse. Howard is a classic abuser, to such a degree that his actions run down a straight checklist of common tactics and warning signs. From his first moments with Michelle, he’s more interested in controlling her than comforting her. He has no empathy for her, or understanding of what’s going on in her head. He threatens her with violence when she disobeys his arbitrary rules, then seems baffled a moment later about why she’s upset. He’s jealous and volatile. He terrifies her, then blames her for hurting his feelings by not showing him enough gratitude and respect. He isolates her from her friends and family, both physically, by locking her into the bunker, and emotionally, by repeatedly claiming they’re all dead and there’s no way to even attempt to contact them. …When Michelle escapes the bunker and finds a new threat waiting, this is partially an extension of the abuse metaphor. For victims of domestic abuse, just getting out of the house doesn’t immediately solve all their problems. For the metaphor to stay sound, 10 Cloverfield Lane needs to acknowledge that finding the courage to leave an abuser doesn’t guarantee a happily-ever-after. For a moment, when Michelle first removes her makeshift gas mask and learns that Howard was wrong about the poisonous air, it seems like the movie might end on a note of relief, and the promise that her problems are over. But that would be facile, and would also mean that Michelle had been in a standard slasher movie, where arbitrarily bad things happen to random people, and nothing much is learned. And that wouldn’t be in keeping with the movie’s actual arc, which is all about the way Michelle comes to terms with her abuse. Michelle’s problems didn’t start with Howard, and they don’t end with him. They aren’t imaginary, like the toxic threat, and they aren’t just part of some vague general calamity. They’re specific and personal, and they require a specific, personal catharsis. And that’s the primary reason the big, direct confrontation is necessary in the final act.
Fair enough, but I don’t actually have an issue with Michelle engaging in a direct confrontation at the end, especially since it is only through that conflict that we see the completion of her arc. It’s the form the direct confrontation takes, though, that causes the narrative whiplash and causes questions like, “Was this really the way this movie was supposed to end?” Earlier drafts of the script went out on a down note where Michelle escapes but realizes America has been decimated by a nuclear attack and there are no signs of survivors, at least where she’s at.
What did you think of 10 Cloverfield Lane’s Ending?