Warning: spoilers for Uncut Gems are in play. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, just exit through the outer door and come back once you’ve seen it. Don’t worry, we’ll buzz you out.
As Adam Sander’s Howard Ratner finds himself in a pressure cooker bet that could solve all of his problems, the final act of the film creates an atmosphere of unpredictability, with a resolution that only makes the ending all the more effective. However, if you really look into the events at the end of Uncut Gems, there’s a question that most people haven’t thought to ask.
So, in the spirit of resolving that particular issue, we’re going to dig deep into the Uncut Gems’ finale, and try to shed some light on what we think happened at the very end. This is your last chance to jump out before heading into spoilers, otherwise it’s time to take a trip into the world of this indie smash hit.
How Uncut Gems Ended
Uncut Gems’ third act revolves around Howard betting on a game that, if his bet hits, should pay out big time. Sure enough, things pan out in his favor, as a tense sequence plays out that sees him keep brother-in-law/debtor Arno (Eric Bogosian) and his goons, Phil (Keith Williams Richards) and Nico (Tommy Kominik), locked up in his jewelry shop’s vestibule for the entire NBA Finals showdown playing on the shop's television.
It's very shortly after Howard's big win, and not two seconds after being released into freedom that Phil gets to his feet and shoots Howard dead – an act that he then follows up by killing Arno after he starts to question what he has done. Meanwhile, Howard’s girlfriend Julia (Julia Fox) escapes with Howard’s payout, having been sent to the local casino to place the bet while the diamond dealer was being held up. Unaware of what’s happened at the store, she’s in for a bit of a surprise... but it's not one that we ever see sprung on her.
That surprise could range from one of the many remaining debt collectors Howard left unpaid now chasing her for closure, to her starting a new life in a post-Howard world after finding the shop deserted and her boyfriend dead (and perhaps a police presence). Julia’s fate at the end of Uncut Gems is one of the major threads that is still left open, much like the various debts we see Howard rack up throughout the film.
As Phil and Nico are grabbing what they can from KMH Gems And Jewelry, we can hear sirens in the distance. Stemming from Howard’s wife Dinah (Idina Menzel) calling the cops, which was in turn inspired by the last time Howard ran into trouble with Arno and company, there’s a chance that the goons looting the shop might be in for some big trouble, should they not make a quick getaway.
Uncut Gems closes with us passing through Howard and into the luminous ether we entered the film with, asking that question we were teasing at the beginning of this piece.
Did Phil And Nico Get Away With Murder?
With Howard and Arno dead, and the cops closing in, there’s a good chance that Phil is going to be put away for murder, with Nico as an accessory. Of course, in a film like Uncut Gems, where the protagonist is an anti-hero who keeps escaping the chopping block up until the very end, there’s surely a way out for these two gents, right?
Our guess is probably not, for several reasons. The first is that in the final moments of the movie, we know that the cops are already on their way thanks to Dinah’s phone call. Hearing those sirens that close to the jewelry store means that the NYPD was probably only moments out from the jewelry store – quite possibly close enough that they would see Phil and Nico head out the door.
However, that's assuming they could even get to the outside door, as there’s an even bigger detail that would trip up Phil and Nico’s potential escape from KMH Gems And Jewelry: they’re trapped in the store thanks to the “Uncut Gems Two Door Problem.” It’s a conundrum that could only happen in a tragicomedy of errors such as this, and if our hired muscle antagonists had thought it through, they might have escaped the long arm of the law.
The Uncut Gems’ Two Door Problem
KMH Gems And Jewelry, Howard Ratner’s base of operations in Uncut Gems, has a secure entryway consisting of one outer door, one inner door, and a vestibule in-between the two. If you want to get into the shop, you need to be buzzed through the outer door, close that outer door, and get buzzed in through the inner door.
However, that inner door has a technical problem with being unlocked, as its magnetic seal has tripped up and remains engaged even when someone is actively trying to buzz someone in with the proper button. Not to mention, the same process to get in needs to be followed getting out.
As seen in the film, Howard temporarily subverts the issue by using a nail file to disarm the lock’s magnet. As long as the file is in the lock, the magnet is disengaged and the outer door can be buzzed through once the inner door is closed, and it was because the file fell out that Arno, Phil, and Nico were trapped in the vestibule to begin with.
Our friends Phil and Nico didn’t think about that, and have now left themselves in a bit of a jam, as there’s only two solutions to Uncut Gems’ Two Door Problem, and neither look like they’re particularly viable.
Two Solutions To Uncut Gems’ Two Door Problem
The outer door to Uncut Gems’ jewelry store could be unlocked one of two ways: either you have someone buzz you from behind the counter, or you can use an electronic key fob to open it independently. Right away, Phil and Nico can count out any chance of using a key fob, as the only person we know that has one is Julia.
It's very possible that Julie and Howard probably share the same fob, and nobody else was in the shop. And even if there was a backup located somewhere for emergencies, the time Phil and Nico spent robbing KMH Gems And Jewelry probably should have been spent trying to find it, as the cops are clearly pretty close at hand by the end of Uncut Gems.
Without that fob, Phil and Nico have only one option: one of them has to stay behind to let the other out, by not only disengaging the magnetic lock, but also buzzing their partner through the outer door. This seems as unlikely as an electronic key fob appearing out of nowhere, or Adam Sandler’s character sitting up and saying he’s feeling just fine after that fatal gunshot to the head.
Neither of these meatheads is going to sacrifice themselves, which limits the outcome yet again. In the worst case scenario, Phil and Nico would get into a violent skirmish, and one of them would probably kill the other. In the best case scenario, both of them are arrested by the police when they bust down the doors. Either way, it’s not a pretty picture, and it fits nice and snugly with Uncut Gems’ overall story arc.
How The Two Door Problem Reflects Uncut Gems’ Story Arc
In the most brutal of readings, Uncut Gems is a story that says the only ways out of the tailspin of greed we see Howard and Phil engage in are either death or jail. Both men are obsessed with grabbing all they can, and any chance of pulling themselves out of this hole is met with their insistence to go double or nothing.
In Howard’s case, death was supposedly the only way out, as Phil ended his compulsive cycle of winning and going for broke yet again. But in his own rashness, Arno’s right hand bruiser put himself, and his partner, into their own gambling scenario.
If Phil and/or Nico thought out the problem, they might have had a chance to get out of this situation. The Two Door Problem stared them right in the face through the entire third act of Uncut Gems, and they could have probably thought up a way to escape, with the murder of Howie still being on the table for a later date. But their greed blinded them, and as a result Phil and Nico end up on the losing end of the bet they play with fate.
Money has once again led someone down the path of ruin, and a sacrifice must be made. Whether it’s a violent death or a stint in prison, a debt is owed, and it’s time to pay up. Such is the nature of The Safdie Brothers’ cinematic oeuvre, and the ultimate dead end in Uncut Gems’ anxiety-fueled narrative. But then again, there’s always a chance we could have gotten it wrong.
For this reason we encourage you all to take the poll below, and provide further details in the comments section explaining why you feel this Uncut Gems theory is correct, or utter nonsense. Meanwhile, if you need to see the movie again to shape your own arguments, it’s in wide theatrical release as we speak... though you may want to temper the expectations of any hardcore Adam Sandler fans you bring along for the ride.