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Warning: Spoilers for Serenity are in play. Yes, you read that right. If you haven't seen the film , and want to maintain the experience's freshness, please bookmark this story and come back once you've experienced it yourself.
Twist endings are like a surprise left hook. When done properly, it can come for you out of nowhere, land with a jolt, and ultimately you need some time to regroup and discuss just what happened. At least, that's what it feels like when a film like Serenity switches gears from what looks like a noir-tinged seedy drama into something altogether different.
If you've seen the film yourself, your head might be spinning from the final moments of the film. You're not alone. The ultimate reality of Serenity's plot line comes at you like a speeding dump truck, so we'd like to pump the breaks and break things down in greater detail. We'll first go over the ending of the film, and then the two threads that converged to bring it to us. This is the last chance to jump out before Spoiler Island, so if want to remain untouched by the truth, catch the next ferry out to another article.
After being hired to kill his ex-wife Karen's husband, and finally deciding to take the job, Baker Dill (Matthew McConaughey) takes her husband, Frank (Jason Clarke), on a fishing expedition to catch some high grade tuna. Fate seems against him in this respect, as everyone on the island apparently knows he's been secretly hired to do this, and they keep trying to warn him against it. Rather, his friends, and even complete strangers, would have him catch the gigantic tuna he's been obsessed with landing, which he named Justice.
Meanwhile, the film continues to cut to a young man named Patrick (Rafael Sayegh) coding on his computer, as his parents are having a loud, almost violent fight. He stops to pull out a knife in its sheath, and flips the catch to release the knife. We eventually see him leave his room, with knife in hand, presumably ready to kill his abusive father.
It isn't long before both of these threads are resolved, with Baker letting an injured and drunk Frank take the reel as the massive tuna of his dreams bites the baited hook. Frank gets dragged into the ocean, to his presumed death, despite all of the hurdles that fate has thrown his way. As for Patrick, he does end up killing his father, and is charged with second degree murder, only to be released into the custody of his mother (Anne Hathaway).
These twin events aren't isolated incidents though, as Serenity has been laying down the tracks to one huge twist: the reality of Baker Dill is a computer game that Patrick has been programming this whole time. And it's because he misses his real father, who died in combat while serving in the Iraq War. The man that Baker Dill is based off of.
At the end of the film, Patrick retreats into his own thoughts, calling Baker on an old payphone in the world of the game, and telling him he'll change the game so they can be together as father and son. Sounds wild, doesn't it? Well, as out of left field as it sounds, there's is a bit of detail and groundwork that goes into the mental corkscrew turn you've just witnessed, and we're about to lay it out by describing the reality of Serenity, as well as its idyllic fishing island, Plymouth.
The Reality Of Serenity
The world of Serenity's reality is the direct influence for the story that Patrick cobbles together, through his reprogramming of a fishing simulator. Matthew McConaughey's Baker Dill is actually named John, who again is based off of his birth father. Likewise, Anne Hathaway's Karen and Jason Clarke's Frank are his mother and stepfather, both retaining their real names in both the reality of the movie, and Plymouth Island's digital reality.
As it turns out, Patrick's stepfather is, in fact, abusive to his mother; and as an escape, he hides in his room and crafts his own reality on the fishing island most of the film seemingly takes place on. As we learn through fishing company representative / walking rule book Reid Miller (Jeremy Strong), this world is home to tons of side quests and main story quests that Patrick has given Baker to do, one of them being Serenity's would-be central murder.
Patrick creates this world, and we see him actually doing so several times throughout the movie. Various scenes of a young boy coding at his computer, as his parents fight loudly, are sprinkled through the film; and Serenity even goes as far as opening with a shot of Patrick's eyes, pushing into them and making its way into the waters of Plymouth Island. We enter the film through the eyes of this young man immediately, though several characters will call him by another name in the digital world: The Creator.
Though it's initially thought that his side of the story is being told as an aside by Frank's in-game persona, who complains about having a kid that's on his computer all day. As we eventually learn, this was programmed into the behavior of his character by none other than said kid on his computer. The similarities don't stop there, as Baker Dill has John's trademark items from the real world: his Purple Heart, his gold lighter, and his combat knife. Each of those items is in a drawer in Patrick's bedroom, along with a photo of John.
Boiling it all down to the basic elements, we have Patrick idolizing his dead birth father, and wishing he could kill his stepfather before he ends up hurting or killing himself and his mother. In the digital world of Plymouth Island, his father is the one that does the killing; but in Serenity's overriding reality, it's Patrick holding his birth father's knife.
The Reality Of Plymouth Island
While Patrick's world is loud and violent, the sandbox simulator of Plymouth Island is peaceful, and pretty one-track minded. John is no longer dead, but merely took up the alias Baker Dill and started working as a tuna fisher off the island's coast. He has a best friend named Duke, played by Djimon Hounsou, and he even has a girlfriend in Constance (Diane Lane), the woman who, in essence, is the non-playable character that triggers the “find the cat” quest.
Baker's world is isolated to this island, and as we slowly find out, it's the only piece of land that exists in the universe of Serenity's game within a movie. Everything from pursuing the massive tuna fish he calls Justice to his relationship with Constance, it's all pre-programmed in what amounts to a tropical version of Grand Theft Auto. Even the one dimensional characters that play like a teenager's recalling of an erotic thriller on Cinemax come from the fact that the psyche of a young boy who has a very limited grasp of adult relationships is in charge.
Now originally the quest to catch the tuna was Baker's main drive. That was the obsession he was programmed with, and the main goal of his character. But the moment that Karen and Frank show up, the intent of the game is changed. The new main quest line is for Baker to kill Frank, supposedly so he can land $10 million from Karen. But the way the game seems to imply it, Frank would also win back Karen in the process.
It's at this point that the program starts to rebel, with the introduction of Jeremy Strong's Reid Miller signifying an attempt by the game to keep Serenity on course, and have Baker land that big shark. It even goes as far as trying to give him a “fish finder” so that he can “catch that fish,” two key components that recur in the third act. The original programming of the fishing simulator seems to sense something's amiss, and predicts that if Baker kills Frank, the game might cease to be.
Sure enough, the moment Baker lets Frank get taken away by Justice, the game's code stops running on Patrick's monitor, and the game presumably crashes. All the efforts of the game to dissuade Baker from killing Frank fail, leaving Plymouth Island in a sort of suspended state. This happens at the same time that Patrick walks off to kill his abusive stepfather, thus ensuring that, in essence, both games of “Kill Frank” are over.
The world of Serenity pretends to be one thing, but ultimately turns into something totally different, and it’s exactly why the bonkers plot twist spices up the film the way it does. It doesn’t work completely in its execution, but it does bring new ideas to the table and gives the film a shot in the arm about halfway through. With an ending that’ll have everyone talking, Serenity takes itself from an episode of Silk Stockings and turns itself, in essence, into diet Westworld. How well that works is up to you, the viewer, but with the rundown of what exactly happened provided above, you’ll be able to work that result out a little better for yourself. Just remember, sometimes the hardest fish to catch is the truth.