Decision to Leave Explained: What’s Up With the Ending?

Meaning of Decision to Leave (2022), plot analysis, explanation of the ending. What Really Happened in The Decision to Leave?

Country: South Korea

Genre: detective, thriller, melodrama, crime

Year of production: 2022

Directed by: Park Chan-wook

Actors: Park Hae-il, Tang Wei, Lee Jong-hyun

Awards and nominations: In 2022, the film won the Palme d’Or for Best Director

According to some viewers, Decision to Leave is the most mature work of Park Chan-wook’s career. Here, the Korean director departs from the usual style with shocking scenes and concentrates on a beautiful love story dressed as a mystical detective.

The point of the movie The Decision to Leave is to clarify the nature of the primary human decisions. After all, sometimes they determine our future fate.

What is the movie about?

Brief description of the content of the film “Decision to Leave”. Detective Hae Joong suffers from insomnia. He lives in Busan and occasionally sees his wife, Jung An, a nuclear power plant worker who lives in Ipo. One day, the case of the death of an immigration officer, Ki Doo Su, falls on the detective’s desk: the body of a man was found at the foot of a mountain, which he often climbed. He was an experienced climber and his death looks very strange.

Park Hae-ilPark Hae-il played the role of Hae Joon. Frame from the film.

Taking up the investigation, the detective meets with Seo Re, the young wife of the deceased. The girl, an immigrant from China, is a former nurse. She works as a nurse and, as He Jun seems, is not too excited about the death of her husband.

During the investigation, the detective finds out that Seo Rae’s husband also worked in the field of emigration and, probably, often raised his hand to his wife. He is almost sure that there is a marriage of convenience and a murder out of jealousy or revenge. His confidence is fueled by the cold detachment of the girl when she talks about her husband, and the presence of strange scratches on her body.

He Jun follows the girl, gradually falls deeply in love with her and tries to prove her innocence. Specifically, he finds a witness, an elderly woman who is being looked after by Seo Rae. She tells the detective that the nurse was with her at the time of the tragedy. Later, her words are confirmed by surveillance cameras.

Hae Joon keeps making appointments with Seo Rae that are getting more and more intimate. Having imbued the detective with confidence, the girl tells him about her past. And she has a gloomy one: at the request of her sick mother, she gave her a lethal dose of fentanyl, after which, pursued by the authorities of the country, she was forced to flee to Korea.

Suddenly, an idea comes to Hae-jun’s head. At his request, the girl gives him all her husband’s letters. After analyzing them, the detective is convinced that the deceased was a thoroughly corrupt official and he was threatened with exposure. The detective interprets one of the notes as a suicide letter and with great relief tells Seo Re that she is no longer a suspect.

Tang WeiTang Wei played the role of Seo Re. Frame from the film.

They are gradually getting closer. One day, after visiting Hae Joon’s apartment, Seo Rae destroys the evidence he has collected – she assures her friend that it is his obsession with work that contributes to his long-term insomnia. He accepts her explanation, but one day he discovers that the beloved and her elderly client, who testified in her favor, have the same mobile model.

Moreover, the old woman develops dementia and she confuses the days of the week. Soon, the detective finds out that Seo-rae switched her phone for a client’s phone and then climbed a mountain to push her husband, which caused bruises and scratches. He guesses that the “suicide letter” was also written by her and finally understands that, most likely, she specially approached him in order to destroy the evidence collected against her. The detective bitterly reproaches his beloved, but in the end tells her to throw the incriminating phone into the sea…

So, 13 months later, the main character meets his beloved again. She managed to get married again. Her husband is a swindler, a financial schemer. Because of his not entirely legal actions, the mother of a local crime boss gets a heart attack. The son of the deceased woman decides to deal with the swindler, but meets only Seo Re and threatens her: if his mother dies, he will kill her husband.

Seo-rae is a nurse and she volunteers to help: as long as she looks after the bandit’s mother, nothing will happen to her husband. After a while, she and her husband move to the city where He Zhong lives with his wife. Almost immediately after their meeting, the mother of the crime boss dies, and he himself kills her husband Seo Re.

He Zhong, firmly convinced that the end of a man’s life was brought closer by an infernal Chinese woman, takes up the investigation. But as soon as he is next to her, insomnia disappears … At this moment, his wife leaves him.

Decision to Leave Ending explanation

The explanation for the ending looks like this. Using a mobile app, the detective finds Seo Rae. The girl says that in turn she wants to help He Jun in gratitude for the fact that he did not hand her over to the authorities. The detective is perplexed, but she explains – his instructions, which he gave her before he decided to leave her, fell into the hands of her second husband, and he was going to expose them …

On the shore, So-re digs a hole in the sand, climbs into it and dies in the rising tide. Hae Jun comes to the beach and desperately searches for his beloved, not knowing that she is no longer alive…

The meaning of the film’s ending, The Decision to Leave, is probably that love pushes people to strong actions. For the love of Seo Rae, Hae Joon destroyed the evidence and essentially set himself up, leaving her with recommendations on how to cover her tracks. The girl returned the debt to him, suggesting how he could cover his tracks and evade responsibility. But, given the fact that they were not destined to stay together, she decided to die.

However, this is the official version. In fact, Decision to Leave is not a drama, but a complex and intelligent film. That is, the meaning of the final picture can be completely different. You can understand it if you thoroughly disassemble the tape.

Tang Wei, Park Hae-ilFrame from the film.

Meaning of the film Decision to Leave

To understand the essence of the film, you need to understand that this is a classic neo-noir, based on Hitchcock’s paintings. And the central reference of Pak Chan-wook’s tape was the cult “Vertigo” by the eminent master.

In their analysis of the picture, viewers note that “The decision to leave” is taking too long. This feeling is due to the slowness of the narrative and the very structure of the picture.

This tape seems to be divided into two films. The first one, based on Hitchcock’s Vertigo, ends exactly in the middle. 13 months later, another film begins that is reminiscent of Christopher Nolan’s Insomnia and that could very well exist regardless of Hitchcockism. But in such a “mix” there is a special meaning.

The “Decision to leave” has several interpretations. According to one of them, the main character is neither a policeman nor a Korean. He is a writer and a Chinese living in Korea…

Park Yeon-wooThe role of Im Ho-Shin was played by Park Yeon-woo. Frame from the film.

Everything that happens is unreal

Hae Joong has a problem – he is in an environment alien to him and treats himself very derogatoryly. Upon learning of his diagnosis (lung cancer), he becomes depressed, begins to drink, beat his wife and constantly disappears somewhere. She can’t stand it and decides to leave him. After losing her and struggling to cope with his deepening depression, Hae Joong writes a detective story. Moreover, he is inspired by the dramas that his wife constantly watched.

The point is that in this detective story, he presents himself as an inspector, and his wife as a suspect. Based on Hae Joon’s attraction to Seo Rae’s almost mystical mystique, their romance is a demonstration of how a young and attractive man would like his relationship with his wife to be.

He is writing a novel with a very ambiguous ending and wants to show it to his wife. But she had already married another … It is quite possible that it took him 13 months to write a book and find out that there is another man in the life of his ex-wife. This finally kills the main character. He has cancer and he understands that he now has no opportunity to return his wife. So he decides to end his life.

This interpretation is supported by several mise-en-scenes in which he dictates the text to his smart watch with a voice recorder. The video sequence confirms: dictating the text, he seemed to direct all the actions of Seo Rae. In addition, the montage of all the scenes in which he follows the girl looks the same: Hae Joong looks at her from the side, through binoculars – but at the same time he is in the same room with her.

The key to the whole action is simple: it’s just a visualization of the writer’s brain. That is, he watches his characters from the side, but at the same time is deeply immersed in the text. At the same time, what happens between the detective and the suspect strongly resembles not so much even the old-fashioned Hitchcock thrillers, but the dramas that both Hae Joon’s wife and Seo Rae watch.

Lee Jong-hyunLee Jong-hyun played the role of Jung-An. Frame from the film.

Everything was real

If we take into account the first, “Hitchcock” tape, on which the “Decision to leave” is based, the main character is still a policeman. And he suffers from insomnia, which he says is caused by unsolved cases. But this is inaccurate: sometimes he thinks that the sleep disturbance is connected with his very strange family life.

The everyday world of the protagonist – problems both in his personal life and at work. The trigger event is a meeting with a suspect. He Zhong’s conscious desire is to solve all his problems, the unconscious desire is to solve the case.

Meeting So Rae somehow helps him get rid of insomnia, that is, it is a means to the realization of a conscious desire. But there comes a moment of crisis, and the protagonist faces a choice: save his beloved and leave the solved case unsolved, or hand over Seo Re to the authorities and live with his unloved wife. Whichever option he chooses, the problem with sleep will remain anyway.

What is Hae Jun doing? He chooses the worst possible option. That is, he does not solve the case and goes to his unloved wife. Why is he doing this? To understand this (and at the same time the hidden meaning of everything that happens) will help the second part of the picture.

And here the strangest thing happens. It would seem that Hae Jun and Seo Rae have nothing to stop them from being together. But instead, the girl decides to take her own life. At the same time, she leaves her lover exactly in the state in which he was before meeting her.

Why is this happening? To understand this, you need to combine both parts of the “Decision to Leave” into one. But first, you should “rewind” the movie to the middle.

Ko Kyung-pyoKo Kyung-pyo played the role of Soo-wan. Frame from the film.

So, the main character is faced with a choice. He does not know exactly the reason why he suffers from insomnia. Trying to guess what to do with his mistress, Hae Joong is actually trying to understand what is the reason for the sleep disturbance. If he commits a crime and hides the facts that implicate Seo Rae in her husband’s death, but stays with her, he will solve the problem of insomnia and be happy. But what if the cause of his insomnia lies in unsolved crimes? Then he loses his wife and continues to suffer from sleep disturbance.

Unable to risk it, Hae-jun chooses the worst option. It is as if he consciously and quite voluntarily finds himself in some kind of limbo. In this regard, it can be assumed that the entire second part of the “Decision to leave” is an attempt to imagine what the decision can lead to.

Throughout the movie’s conditional second part, Seo Rae periodically repeats the refrain, “What if I’m playing your part now?”

The crisis faced by the detective thus equates to a cold case. Seo Rae is currently in the same mental state Hae Joong was in when he decided to let her go. That is, for her, the obvious option, if it is impossible to make a decision, is suicide.

What is the choice that the main character makes in the end? What is it, if not a kind of suicide? Yes, he continues to exist, but he is deeply unhappy. Apparently, this is why he spends a lot of time in the smoking room at work, although he is the only one of his colleagues who does not smoke. Passive smoking is much more harmful than active smoking.

decision to leaveFrame from the film.

Interestingly, in the movie The Decision to Quit, smoking is repeatedly compared to a crime. But it can also be compared with the obsession with a girl. The hero is unable to cope with anything. The heroine – too, but she is able to do euthanasia and go on a murder thought out to the smallest detail. Together they are unable to cope with the attraction to each other. For this reason, they are ready to destroy the lives of the people around them.

Such a parallel may indicate that Hae Joong is indeed terminally ill. At the end of the picture, when he follows the trail of his beloved, guessing what she can do to herself, he says that he “will die anyway.”

If we take into account that the hero is mortally ill (the same lung cancer), the choice that he makes can be viewed a little differently. He understands that he can become ill at any moment, but at the same time he tries to save those around him. He probably decides to end his life. That is, the whole “nolavshchina” simply demonstrates more pleasant scenarios for the people around He Jun. But with one caveat: Seo Rae is playing his role. Everything that happens to her after 13 months is a demonstration of the circumstances in which the detective found herself.

That is, everything that happened to the main character really happened. He is not a writer, but a police officer. But he does have lung cancer. But, making a choice – to solve the case or leave with his mistress, betraying his police duty – he comes to the decision to die. Since the options offered to him are both bad (by choosing personal happiness, he would make other people unhappy), he commits suicide.

Main charactersFrame from the film.

Similar films

Here are three more pictures that are similar in meaning to the film “Decision to Leave”:

  • Vertigo (USA, 1958). Detective Scotty Ferguson, who suffers from acrophobia, follows his attractive wife at the request of a former colleague. A young woman is obsessed with the desire to commit suicide.
  • Basic Instinct (USA, 1992). Detective Nick Curran is investigating a gruesome murder case. One of the main suspects is the seductive Katherine.
  • Insomnia (USA, 2002). Detective Will Dormer, investigating a crime, loses his partner and, against this background, loses sleep. Soon he has a suspect who behaves incredibly strange.

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