The Guilty Review: What Does the Ending of Mean?

Thriller The Guilty: The Evolution Of The Hero. The Guilty (2021): Plot Summary, Meaning Of The Film, Explanation Of The Ending.

Country: USA

Genre: thriller, crime

Year of production: 2021

Directed by: Antoine Fuqua

Actors: Jake Gyllenhaal, Riley Keough, Peter Sarsgaard

tagline: “Listen. Carefully. (Listen. Carefully.)

Antoine Fuqua’s film is a remake of the 2017 Danish film of the same name and almost completely repeats it. It combines two things that are interesting to a narrow circle of viewers: the “one location” genre and a peculiar setting.

The plot and meaning of the film The Guilty (2021) cannot be called original: the answers to the questions asked are given immediately, and the available metaphors are rather superficial. There is no hidden meaning in the tape either, but it still doesn’t work to call it an ordinary thriller.

Plot summary of the film

Description of the content of the film “The Guilty”. In the center of the plot of the picture is Officer Joe Baylor. Eight months ago, while on duty, he shot a man. While waiting for his case to be heard, he works the night shift at a 911 call center.

Jake GyllenhaalJake Gyllenhaal played the role of Officer Joe Baylor. Frame from the film.

The night was tense. Due to massive wildfires in the Hollywood Hills, the call center is bursting with calls. Joe’s head is also on fire, he is alarmed by the uncertainty of his position and personal family drama (his wife does not allow him to see his daughter). This also affects his work: he answers people, barely hiding his irritation.

The bell rings again and the man picks up the phone and hears an alarmed female voice. Emily Lighton informs a surly officer that she has been kidnapped and is now in a white van. The woman does not have time to tell Baylor more details, as she is afraid that the kidnapper will hear her.

She hangs up and Joe relays the information to the California Highway Patrol. However, the police are powerless: it is impossible to find the same van without a license plate on California highways.

Joe decides to call the kidnapped woman’s home phone. Emily’s daughter, little Abby, picks up the phone. The girl tells the policeman that her mother left the house with her father, Henry Fisher, and she herself was left to wait for her with her brother. Joe asks her to give Henry’s mobile number and, after obtaining the van’s license plate, relays the information to his colleagues. He also sends a patrol to the children’s house and calls Henry. He refuses to tell where he is taking the kidnapped woman.

Joe turns to former partner Rick, with whom he had previously agreed to defend him in court, for help, and asks him to check on Henry. After that, he receives another call: Abby calls, frightened by the appearance of the police. Baylor reassures her and asks to let the officers in.

assistance to the abductedFrame from the film.

From this point on, the plot of the film becomes more dynamic and gloomy. When the cops come in, they notice blood on Abby’s clothes. Alarmed, they start a search and soon find the girl’s brother, Oliver, badly wounded.

Joe, meanwhile, contacts Emily again and is horrified to learn from her that she herself ripped open the baby’s stomach: according to her, there were snakes that needed to be pulled out. A fight ensues between her and Henry, during which she hits him over the head with a brick and runs away.

Rick breaks into Henry’s apartment and discovers documents that show Emily is mentally ill. The ex-husband did not kidnap her, but simply took her back to the psychiatric clinic where she had previously been treated. The unfortunate woman unintentionally harmed her son during an acute psychotic episode. Asked by Joe why he didn’t tell the police, Henry, who had a previous conviction, replied that he didn’t trust the justice system: if he did, Emily would be prosecuted for intentionally assaulting a child.

Ending explanation The Guilty

Towards the end, Emily calls Joe again and lets him know that she is about to commit suicide. The policeman sends officers after her, and he, trying to distract her from thoughts of suicide, tells her about the incident eight months ago. He informs the woman that, while on duty, he committed murder: he shot a 19-year-old boy only because he could do it.

This confession shocks Emily and she listens more carefully. Realizing this, the police officer tells her that he promised Abby that he would bring her mother home. There is a heavy pause, after which Emily announces that she must go after Oliver and interrupts the conversation. A little later, the officer learns that the woman is alive: help arrived on time. He is also informed that Oliver is also alive, although in serious condition.

At the end of the film, Joe, shocked by the incident, contacts Rick again and asks him not to speak in his defense at the trial. He is ready to bear responsibility for the fact that he took a person’s life. After talking with his partner, the policeman calls the Los Angeles Times and pleads guilty to manslaughter.

The explanation for the ending looks like this: Joe, whom everything that happened introduced into a real catharsis, suddenly had an epiphany and realized that he really was guilty. However, according to many viewers, the meaning of the ending of the film “The Guilty” is deeper than it seems at first glance. To understand this, you need to disassemble the picture “on the shelves”.

The meaning of the film The Guilty

Unlike the Danish “The Guilty”, which is a mediative and famously twisted tape, the remake turned out to be too Hollywood. It is quite loud and the main events are served too “head-on”. Joe Bale, unlike the Danish “colleague”, turned out to be a rather unpleasant character. He only changed towards the end, having gone through his story arc.

In order to explain the transformations that Joe’s beliefs have undergone (which is the essence of the film), it is necessary to turn to what his worldview was originally.

Based on the way the policeman answered the calls, one could understand that he was cynically condemning most of the people who turned to him for help. The officer has his own rigid moral attitude, through the prism of which he evaluates people.

The point is that Joe, guided by stereotypes, divides the world into black and white. Moreover: he is convinced that he always does the right thing. He contrasts himself with both the majority of his colleagues and the many victims who turn to 911 for help. This is clearly seen in his mocking or indignant tone. Colleagues, however, do not remain in debt and speak unflatteringly about him.

Convinced of the correctness of his ideas, the policeman shot the young man simply because it seemed to him that he had done something bad. However, what exactly the guy did is unknown. By the way, the meaning of the cruel act of the hero from the Danish original was that he had run out of patience and he could (and most importantly, he wanted to) remove something bad from this world.

In their analysis of the “The Guilty” tape, viewers note the extreme imbalance of the protagonist. He is unable to contain his anger: he yells at colleagues, destroys the workplace. This speaks of a deep internal imbalance that torments the hero.

Joe is a cop. And that means a representative of the authorities. It seems to him that he knows exactly how to distinguish good from evil, who should be punished and who should be saved. Because of the inert and absolutely unshakable confidence that he is right, Joe believes that the policeman, whose collective image he associates with justice, should not be judged a priori. If he shot a suspicious person, then it was necessary. That is why he earlier asks Rick to support him in court.

rescue service supportFrame from the film.

Prior to Emily’s call, the officer unwaveringly defends his case and projects his negative qualities onto those around him. However, he misses his daughter, which indicates that he is definitely not heartless. Separating from the majority, the hero of the film “The Guilty” finds a kindred spirit in the victim. Emily seems to him as much a hostage to circumstances as he is. Only Joe has to answer before a real court, and the ex-husband arranges lynching over the woman. Like Emily, Baylor finds himself separated from his young daughter. Promising Abby to bring her mother home, Joe unconsciously promises himself to save his own soul.

At first, he completely trusts Emily, who, in his opinion, is a clear victim, and Henry is her kidnapper and tormentor. Having learned that Henry was once judged, he is convinced that he is right. However, he is wrong.

Anger and psychological rigidity prevent him from seeing the true state of things. When Emily herself says that it was she who endangered Oliver’s life, all the cognitive constructs that Joe had previously built and zealously guarded are rapidly collapsing. Emily continues to be a kindred spirit to him: he associates her snakes with his own negative attitudes. He, like her, in essence, are not bad people, but both are captivated by their own beliefs. She because of a mental illness, and he because of his rigid thinking.

When Emily announces that she is going to kill herself, Joe finally accepts responsibility for her actions and no longer denies the truth. The murder is a consequence of Baylor’s true guilt. It lies in the fact that the policeman lives in captivity of his own prejudices that prevent him from seeing the true state of affairs. Because of this, he is self-confident, unrestrained, and prone to judgment rather than empathy.

When he accepts and fully realizes his guilt for both the incident with Emily and the death of the young man, he is informed that the woman was saved and even her tiny son survived. Apparently, Joe regards this as a sign from above: after all, when he lived, based on his past attitudes, his actions did not lead to anything good. He couldn’t even save his marriage. However, now, having managed to accept the truth, he realizes his true destiny both as a person and as a policeman.

He understands the need to be honest with others and with himself. Only then will you be able to do worthy and just deeds. After that, he decides to plead guilty in court and confess everything to reporters. He does this because he has discovered the truth about himself.

The film “The Guilty” begins with an epigraph that reads: “And the truth will set you free.” These are lines from the Gospel of John. The words belong to Christ. Joe’s moral quest fits easily into a religious context. Realizing the truth about himself, he was able to approach God, whom (rather unconsciously) he had been looking for all this time.

Jack felt guiltyFrame from the film.

Similar films

Here are a few films similar in meaning to “The Guilty”:

  • “The Guilty” (Denmark, 2017). The policeman, temporarily suspended from his duties, works in the rescue service. One day he receives a strange call.
  • “Alarm call” (USA, 2013). The main character works as an operator in “911”. One day she gets a call from a teenager who was kidnapped by a maniac.
  • Lock (UK, USA, 2013). The main character enjoys life. One strange call completely changes his worldview.


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