I can’t recall the last time I felt as disappointed with the ending of a movie as Lights Out. For the first 70 minutes, I was enjoying a thoroughly entertaining and scary little film with likable characters and inventive sequences, albeit one with some rough dialogue and plot contrivances. The central metaphor about mental illness and depression was interesting, and as we reached the 75 minute mark, I assumed we were entering the third act; I prepared myself for a satisfying 15-20 minute conclusion that tied the themes of the film together. But then the movie ended.
I watched the credits in complete bewilderment with a feeling of crushing disappointment sweeping my entire body. I wasn’t only left wanting more, though; I was left genuinely baffled the more I thought about the message the movie was apparently trying to convey with its final scene. Let’s talk about it…
*SPOILERS FOR LIGHTS OUT AHEAD*
Lights Out is very clearly a metaphor for depression. I don’t think I’m blowing any minds by saying that. Diana is haunted by a horrifying creature, Sophie, that causes her to remain secluded in her dark room all day. The creature even leaves scars on its victims that look exactly like the product of self-harm, and if all that wasn’t enough, Diana also literally does suffer from real depression.
This idea of using a monster as a metaphor for mental illness is hardly revolutionary. It was just done quite effectively in The Babadook, but compare the way that movie wraps up its allegory with how Lights Out does so. The Babadook stands in for Amelia’s depression, and as such, it can not be easily defeated. There’s no fairytale ending where The Babadook is cast off forever due to the power of love, because that’s not how mental illness works. Instead, even though Amelia can’t get rid of the Babadook, she can keep it at bay and ensure it does not take over her life.
Lights Out leaves the audience with a very different message to say the least. It becomes clear towards the end that Sophie can not survive and continue to wreak havoc on the world unless Diane is living, much in the way that suffering from depression impacts both the person and the person’s relatives and loved ones. As such, Diane decides to commit suicide in order to defeat Sophie once and for all and to protect her family.
As Rebecca and Bret recover in the ambulance, apparently having been saved, I assumed this was a classic false horror ending, where the spirit has supposedly been vanquished, only for a twist to reveal that it’s still alive.
But nope! The film ends right there. Cue the credits. Huh?
If we read the movie as a metaphor for depression – and there is virtually no other way to read the movie – then the ending is implying that when a person is suffering from depression, it will ruin the lives of all those around them, and so it’s best they just kill themselves in order to spare everyone the pain.
Right? I mean, how else can we possibly interpret this?
Are we meant to see it as a dark ending whereby the spirit has been defeated, yet Rebecca and her family has another battle ahead because they must cope with the death of Diana? That could work in theory, but the movie really does not play out that way; the tone in the final scene is celebratory and without much of a hint that Diana’s suicide was not very clearly the right choice. There doesn’t appear to be a downside.
Of course, the lights do flicker in the ambulance, possibly implying Sophie is still out there. But this feels like an afterthought, and considering that Sophie being alive would so dramatically alter the way we read the ending, this is not the time for bullshit ambiguity.
Apparently, the ending wasn’t always this way. Director David Sanberg revealed in the AV Club comment section (weird, I know) that originally the ending did indeed reveal that Sophie will continue to haunt Rebecca. There was another 10 minutes or so after Diane’s death, just as I had originally expected. Sanberg wrote:
Originally the film went on for another few minutes and showed that what Sophie did didn’t actually solve anything. When we screened it for audiences though they absolutely hated that. They brought up a very valid point, that if Diana was still around Sophie made the ultimate sacrifice for her children in vain. So we cut out that ending and people now loved the movie.
How could he not see that changing the ending completely alters the message of the film? In the original cut, the conclusion would be that suicide may in the moment seem like a quick, easy fix that will spare your family pain and make everything okay. But in reality, it will only exacerbate things, inflicting even more suffering on everyone around you.
The new ending has the opposite affect. Test audiences evidently couldn’t handle the idea that Diane’s sacrifice was for nothing. But the current cut is actually far darker in that it seems to glorify suicide as a logical way out with seemingly no repercussions. The original version would have been an interesting way of depicting the true consequences of ending one’s life. In the movie, there are no consequences, and that’s a deeply fucked up message with which to end a major motion picture.