Brimstone Movie Review: What is the story behind & Meanings?

Power, evil, debauchery in the thriller Brimstone (2016) plot summary, meaning of the film, explanation of the ending, similar movies.

Country: Netherlands, France, Germany, Belgium, Sweden, UK, USA

Genre: thriller, drama

Year of production: 2016

Director: Martin Koolhoven

Actors: Dakota Fanning, Guy Pearce, Kit Harington

Slogan: “Retribution is coming”

Awards and nominations: in 2016, the film was nominated for the Golden Lion Award at the Cannes Film Festival.

According to film critics and viewers, Martin Kolkhoven made a truly merciless, evil movie. The plot of the film Brimstone makes you really suffer and seriously think about how legal it is to show something like this.

The fact is that the director talks here about the complete destruction of humanity and at the same time shows all conceivable and inconceivable vices. However, this hate-filled film, billed as a thriller, turns out to be a very deep, powerful drama.

What is the movie about

Brief description of the content of the film Brimstone. The plot of the film consists of four acts. After the first part, what happened earlier is told, and the fourth act is the last in every sense.

In the first act, we are introduced to the main character of the film, Liz, a mute midwife. Together with her husband Eli, stepson Matthew and daughter Sam, she lives in the Wild West.

Dakota FanningDakota Fanning as Liz. Still from the film.

Liz has well-developed hearing, and she communicates with her household and others using sign language. One day, a new Reverend arrives at the church the family attends – a stern priest with a fiery gaze and a scar on his face.

After the service, one of the parishioners suddenly goes into labor. Unfortunately, the child does not come out and Liz has to make a terrible choice – mother or child… In the end, the young woman chooses mother. The child, unfortunately, dies…

At night, a drunken Nathan, the husband of the woman in labor, comes to the house of Liz and her family and accuses her of killing the child. A priest unexpectedly intervenes in the situation and sends Nathan home. He later visits the midwife’s home and states that she should not have had to choose between two lives. The meaning of his short sermon boiled down to the fact that with her decision, Liz seemed to be challenging the will of the Lord – that is, it was necessary to leave everything as it was. Having accused the young woman of murder, he declares that he will definitely punish her.

A little later, Liz asks Eli to go as far as possible – and quickly. Tom doesn’t really like this idea, but he still agrees. The next day, the man comes to the barn and sees to his horror that all his sheep have been slaughtered. Suspecting that this is the work of Nathan, he goes to him.

Liz, in turn, goes to the barn, the doors of which suddenly close from the outside. Through the crack she sees the priest – he is talking to her daughter, and then takes the girl with him. Desperately trying to get out, Liz falls unsuccessfully and loses consciousness. Meanwhile, Eli returns home. He did not find Nathan – he probably hurried to leave. And soon Sam comes running into the yard. Before going to bed, the little girl tells Liz that the priest told her that her mother was a murderer.

Guy PearceThe role of the Preacher was played by Guy Pearce. Still from the film.

Seriously angry, the young woman saddles her horse and rides to the church at night with the goal of killing the Reverend. Having reached his room, she makes sure that it is empty – only her daughter’s doll is in the bed…

Eli, waking up and not finding his wife nearby, sees a burning light in the barn. Armed, the man goes there. There he is met by a priest who stabs him in the stomach. Dying, Eli asks why the Reverend killed him. According to the priest, the answer is simple: this is how he takes revenge on Liz’s husband because she loves him.

When Liz returns, Eli is still alive… Seeing his wife, the man asks her to end his suffering, but Liz cannot do this. Then Eli turns to his son and the boy, sobbing, pulls the trigger. Running out of the barn in tears, Liz sees a burning house and her daughter standing next to her. The girl says that the fire was started by the Reverend – and he took her out into the street.

Then the second act (Exodus) begins. Wandering through the desert, exhausted teenage girl Joanna is picked up by a Chinese family riding in a cart. Having reached the city, they stop at a brothel called Frank’s Brimstone. The Chinese leave Joanna there. The girl slowly gets to know its inhabitants, including the prostitute Sally. She, having decided to take over Joanna’s patronage, initiates her into the intricacies of her “craft” and at the same time protects her. One day, trying to protect a girl from the harassment of one of her clients, Sally kills him and goes to the gallows…

A few years later, Joanna turns from an angular teenager into a pretty girl and it becomes clear that she is Liz. One day one of her friends, Elizabeth, bites the tongue of one of the clients and for this the owner of the establishment cuts off her tongue. The girl does not despair and learns sign language, and Joanna keeps her company in this.

Emilia JonesEmilia Jones as Joanna. Still from the film Brimstone.

One day the Reverend shows up at the brothel. Seeing Joanna, he tells the owner of the establishment that he only wants her. By the way, from this short mise-en-scène it becomes clear that these two have known each other for a long time.

When they are alone, it turns out that in the past he first harassed and then raped her, after which she started running wherever she looked. The situation is heating up, and a mute friend comes running to Joanna’s screams. Armed with a knife, she stabs him in the face, but he snatches the weapon and kills her. He is then attacked by Joanna. The girl cuts his throat, takes his wallet out of his pocket, sets fire to the brothel and runs. Wanting to impersonate her dead friend, Joanna cuts off her tongue.

The third act (Genesis) begins with the very young Joanna praying before going to bed under the watchful gaze of her priest father (the same Reverend).

Having learned that she has already had her period, he pays her increased attention and, to his horror, Joanna realizes that he sees in her not a daughter, but a woman… The shocked mother tries to prevent this, but the preacher beats and bullies her into silence. Seeing all this, Liz one day tells her mother that, in her opinion, death is preferable to such a life. She takes her words literally and takes her own life.

After grieving for a short time, the priest informs his daughter that she should now become his wife. After that, he rapes her, and she, managing to break free, runs away from the house in only her nightgown.

In the final chapter, “Retribution,” the mad priest continues his pursuit and kills Matthew in the course of the chase. Joanna and Sam, meanwhile, manage to get to Eli’s father. Armed, Liz awaits the appearance of her sworn enemy – she knows perfectly well that he will come…

Brimstone Ending explained

Explanation of the ending of the picture. Towards the end, the Reverend actually finds her and informs her that she will be punished for disobedience. Sam, his own granddaughter, will answer for all her sins – the crazy old man promises that he will “make her a woman.” After the struggle, Liz, saving her daughter, kills her terrible father…

After that, she takes her daughter and boards the ferry. It happens that the ferry arrives at the city where Nathan is the sheriff. He reminds her that it was her fault that his child died, and then accuses her of murdering the owner of Frank the Brimstone – a crime that her late friend Elizabeth committed off-screen in self-defense. The trial takes place there, on the ferry. Not wanting to go to the gallows, Joanna-Lise takes her own life.

The meaning of the ending of the film Brimstone is that the main character’s struggle with the disgusting, dirty world is over – and of her own free will. Not wanting to give up, she died the same way she lived – with her head held high. The grown-up Sam told the tragic story of her amazing mother.

The meaning of the film Brimstone

American filmmakers tend to be nostalgic for times considered the highest embodiment of national individualism. However, Martin Koolhoven is not American, but Dutch. Despite the fact that the film Brimstone was shot in English and features English-speaking actors, it did not become a Hollywood film. Accordingly, his film is completely devoid of its characteristic “nostalgia”: the Wild West here looks not romantic, but a truly nightmarish place.

In the original, the tape is called “Brimstone”, which translates as “Brimstone” or “Wrath of God”. However, domestic localizers, for once, did not sin against the truth. Moreover, the Russian title fully reflects the essence of the film: Brimstone (hell) is a place in which there is no God. He is not in this film either.

Kit HaringtonKit Harington played the role of Samuel, and Emilia Jones played the role of Joanna. Still from the film.

Imbued with pain, bitterness and a sense of irreversibility, it makes you think that fate still exists and you cannot escape it – no matter how hard you try, it will overtake you. However, Koolhoven’s cinema is not only about this. It raises issues that are still relevant today, one of which is the problem of family structure. According to a common interpretation, Brimstone criticizes patriarchy and celebrates feminism. All this, of course, is here, but this idea is not the main one here.

At the heart of the picture is the thought “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” In a specific case, it refers to all forms of power of a man over a woman: the power of a husband, a father, a representative of the law and religion. The personification of almost all of these forms is the Reverend. He is nameless because he is not a living person, but an image, or rather, a symbol of omnipresent and all-encompassing evil. And this is exactly the evil that a person faces in his life. It is impossible to defeat him – except temporarily.

The film contains almost all the sins that can come to mind: absolute violence, prostitution, incest, murder, abuse of animals… During this gloomy two-hour film, we are waiting for at least a grain of pity for the heroes, the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. But we see only irreversibility – a cold, gaping void…

According to some viewers who analyzed the picture, there is a hidden meaning in it. Filmed in Europe, it nevertheless tells about America. Europeans received Koolhoven’s work enthusiastically, but the reaction of the Americans was, to put it mildly, ambiguous.

The fact is that the director managed to delve quite deeply into the soul of American society – and in particular, into the history of the formation of the ethics of the New World by all kinds of Protestant sects. It turned out that Europe spat “Hell” with relish into the very core of American self-awareness: this is visible in every mise-en-scène and in every storyline of the film. At first it seems that Koolhoven simply enjoys savoring all this dirt. However, this is not so: it simply tells about what exactly poured in a powerful stream from the Old World to the New.

Carice Van HoutenThe role of Anna was played by Carice Van Houten. Still from the film.

Similar films

Here are several films similar in meaning and plot to the film Brimstone:

  • “The Witch” (USA, Canada, UK, 2015). Mid-17th century, New England. A family of colonists leaves for a remote farm. Soon their youngest child disappears…
  • “Dark Valley” (Austria, Germany, 2014). A lonely traveler travels to a small Alpine town. Local residents are not very happy about this.
  • “Apostle” (UK, USA, 2018). Early 20th century. The girl is kidnapped by sectarians and demanded a ransom. Her brother, whom everyone considers dead, decides to save her.
  • “The Devil is Always Here” (USA, 2020). Willard Russell returns from the front and meets Charlotte. After their wedding, sinister events begin to happen.

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