Glasshouse (2021) Movie Ending Explained & Themes Analyzed: Memory is pain, and what would we not give to forget some of the things we remember? Given an opportunity, would we choose the bliss of oblivion or voluntarily bear the burden of the act of remembering? The philosophies around memory-making are complex; even more when co-writers Kelsey Egan and Emma Lungsiwa de Wet decide to show us a post-apocalyptic world where a deadly virus, the Shred, has eaten away the memories of human beings. Glasshouse directed by Kelsey Egan, a South African dystopian thriller, is of the better directorial debuts I have watched this year.
This film has the capacity to completely absorb you into its pandemic-styled Victorian setting, giving you a glimpse into a unique ecosystem of human survival where memory is the key to existence. With the persisting presence of the invisible Shred in the air, a mother and her family have managed to keep it away from themselves, locking themselves in a glasshouse they call the Sanctuary for safety. It hits too close home; after all, we are still reeling under the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
It is unsettling, to tell the least; especially as the film progresses and the characters start to unfurl the sinister human tendencies for evolution. In some scenes, such as the one where Daisy, the youngest of the three daughters, chants a deeply unsettling rhyme as she plays with Gabe, his brother, in the drawing-room. I shifted in my seat because of how uncomfortable it felt to sit through a morbid reality embraced with such nonchalance among the survivors. It becomes a mini cottagecore-like nightmare that is so riveting you won’t be able to look away from the screen even for once. The closely-knit plot is complemented by a stellar performance of a young cast playing their part with due diligence, including Jessica Alexander, Anja Talijaard, Brent Vermeulen, Kitty Harris, and Hilton Pelser.
However, the film is so ripe with philosophies and tense sequences that it deserves to be unpacked slowly and steadily for the readers to be able to grasp the many nuances of this film. Don’t worry! We have you covered. You can read an in-depth explanation of the film, its ending, and its various themes below. I must warn you though, it is FULL OF SPOILERS AHEAD. If you can, please watch this beautiful, mind-boggling film before you read on!
The Setting of a Glasshouse
Before we proceed to discuss what happens in the scope of the film, it will be better to familiarize ourselves with the setting we are concerned with. The events of this story take place in an isolated glasshouse. It is a big, beautiful glasshouse situated in the middle of a clearing surrounded by forests on all sides, and the family that lives here calls it the Sanctuary.
The glasshouse has its entrance guarded by plastic sheets. It looks like a workshop where the masks and tools that the family use for working in the open air are stored. It serves as an air-locked portal between the glasshouse and the outside world. The glasshouse looks like a big greenhouse that holds and nourishes human beings under optimally regulated conditions instead of plants. The glasshouse has walls painted by all the family members to tell their stories and help them remember them accurately.
From the conversation between the Mother and the Stranger in the course of the film, we can also understand that this glasshouse is located far away from the city. According to the testament of the Stranger, he has traveled through the city, now completely in the grip of the Shred. To help themselves sustain in the Sanctuary, the family has utilized the plot of land immediately outside it to grow fruits and vegetables.
There is presumably no electricity, and some scenes show us the idyllic setting of the drawing-room where the family engages in storytelling and knitting activities every evening before bed. Further, to keep strangers affected by the Shred away from the Sanctuary, one of the family members post themselves on a nearby tree for sentry duty and fired at any suspicious human presence. This human being was then chopped up to utilize all its good parts for the manure of the plants and ritualistically buried later on. The glasshouse presents itself like a dystopian bio-bubble.
Glasshouse (2021) Movie Synopsis & Plot Summary:
The film begins with a silhouetted stranger approaching the glasshouse from a distance. However, a gunshot resounds, and he collapses to his death. Soon, we see how the family living in this glasshouse utilizes the body parts of this stranger to sustain their lives. The three sisters – Bee, Evie, and Daisy – lay the body on a stretcher in front of them and cut it open for whatever organs they can for preparing compost for their kitchen gardens. They later wrap the body in a jute rug and bury it in a garden patch. Next, we see their brother, Gabe trying to recall the game that he and Daisy play every evening. From their conversations, it is clear that Gabe has been exposed to the Shred previously and has lost his memory to the contagion’s effects.
The conversation between Bee and Daisy also reveals that Bee likes to take a shot at these strangers who stumble inside their territory only after she has gotten a good look at their faces. She seems to be looking out for Luca, the brother who left the house years ago. Soon, we see them discussing their day with the Mother, the matriarchal head of the household. They also perform a curious ritual unique to the family, with the remains of the dead placed on a table between them. It is a ritual formulated to help them remember their stories, a way to fight the Shred. Everyone seems to be going about in a practiced rhythm – humming songs, performing their duties, and, most importantly, remembering.
One fateful day, Bee goes for sentry duty into the forest and rescues a wounded stranger. While the Mother is angry with her, Daisy reminds them that according to their rules, once inside the Sanctuary, he was scared. They tend his wounds and wait for him to gain consciousness. The next morning, when the Stranger has awoken, the Mother inquires about his whereabouts and how he still remembers everything despite being exposed to the Shred. It turns out that he is immune to it, was attacked in his path, and was saved by Bee’s benevolence.
As the Stranger starts to recover, he discovers the chilling habits of the family. Bee is peculiarly taken up by him and seems to believe that it might be their lost brother, Luca. However, Evie is doubtful and on her guard. She is seen asking Bee to reconsider her confidence in the Stranger, who seems to be trying to get intimate with Bee. He wins over Daisy by talking with her about animals, but Gabe is curiously violent in his presence. The Stranger also appears to be making inquiries about Luca, Evie’s secret memory box, and the pendant they wear at all times.
During sentry duty with Bee one day, they become physically intimate. Later, Evie catches the Stranger and Bee having sex with each other. She is outraged and lashes out at him during the family ritual before he goes on to display Luca’s pendant that he had previously stolen from Evie’s box. The Mother soon reveals that everyone has a purpose in the Sanctuary, and she was utilizing the intimacy of the Stranger and Bee to bring a new life into their midst.
In a conversation with Bee, the Mother reveals to Bee that she will soon turn out the Stranger from the sanctuary because he has served his purpose. Bee has an emotional breakdown and reveals the Mother’s intentions to him, telling him she will go with him wherever he goes. Bee’s pregnancy is further confirmed when Evie is washing their undergarments and notices that she has missed her periods.
Soon, we learn that in a moment of carelessness on the part of Evie, Gabe had walked out into the open without his mask and exposed himself to the Shred in his childhood. That is why Evie was so protective of the family; she was constantly bearing the guilt of not having served her purpose in protecting her brother from the Shred. Later, we see Gabe trying to forcefully get intimate with Evie, but tears herself away from him and pleasures him instead. That is the extent to which she is ready to succumb to her guilt. Gabe also has another incident of violence in the Stranger’s presence, during which one of the glass walls gets broken, an incident that alarms the family.
Towards the end, the Stranger has an encounter with the Mother when she tells him that she never believed him to be Luca. He eventually kills her and plants her on the side of Gabe’s bed to display that he killed her in a moment of uncontrolled rage. As the daughters go about preparing the mother for the farewell ritual, the Stranger intentionally exposes Gabe to the Shred, and Bee walks out into the open air without her mask to forget a certain bad memory that has recently surfaced. The Stranger’s affections shift towards Evie. In the end, with the Mother’s death, the family members reconstruct their identities according to their wishes, the Stranger integrates himself as Luca into the family, and they continue to live in the Glasshouse.
Does Gabe get his memory back in the end?
In the second half of the movie, we come to understand that Gabe had been exposed to the Shred, and hence lost his memory to its effects. Throughout the film, we find the family earnestly trying to help Gabe remember the family, its rituals, and the world they are inhabiting. In one scene where the Mother repeats the same story to Gabe, we also understand that they are trying to condition him to remember things. However, once the Stranger arrives, Gabe starts to act out against him. He is unfamiliar, and Gabe doesn’t like him – it seems.
In a brief interaction with the Stranger, the Mother hints that the Stranger must leave the Sanctuary because it was affecting Gabe’s progress in a negative way. Soon after, when Gabe can recall the elements of the story from his memory, the Mother realizes that he is finally starting to hold on to the memories, a sign of progress. But the Stranger kills the Mother and tells Gabe that he was setting Gabe free from the everyday struggle of trying to be the past version of himself. So, he uses a sharp object to slightly ajar a glass window in the room and ties Gabe to his bed, letting him breathe in the Shred. In the end, we see that the second exposure to the Shred has reset his entire progress. Gabe goes back to being his older zombie-like self without any memories.
Is the Stranger really Luca?
Although at the beginning of the film the Stranger tries to pass himself off as Luca, we soon come to realize that he is a fraud. Luca is the beloved son who left the family in search of other people like them and never came back. The Stranger seems to be gathering information about Luca through his conversations with Daisy and Bee, learning that he was most special to Bee and the pendants with the initials they wear is the most pertinent marker of their identity.
He even confesses to Bee in a playful intimate moment that he cannot be Luca and strongly hints at being sexually attracted to her. It becomes clear in no time that Bee and Luca may have been involved in an incestuous relationship.
Soon, he chances upon Daisy’s secret wooden box of memories and finds Luca’s necklace with his initials carved. He tries to convince the family that he had always kept the necklace safe but forgot what it meant to him. It excites Daisy and Bee, but the rest of the family is still suspicious and on their guard. The reason becomes clear only towards the end when we come to realize that Luca may have come back in the past, but Bee mistakenly killed him, realizing later that she had killed Luca.
Bee has intentionally tried to bury that memory in her mind and forget it, while Evie, who knows about this incident, had stored away Luca’s belongings, the pendant, and the batteries of his torch, as she is used to doing with every human being they killed. So, the Stranger really is an anonymous person who had wandered into the territory of the glasshouse, got mistakenly saved by Bee during her sentry duty because she thought he was Luca, and went on to reorganize the family’s structure to become a member of it and calls himself Luca in the end.
Glasshouse (2021) Movie Themes Explained:
Remembering v/s Re-membering: A Commentary on Oral Storytelling Traditions
Memory is one of the building blocks of human existence. If none of us happened to remember anything, then we’d be no different from zombies. Therefore, the act of remembering itself becomes a task that human beings must actively engage in, be it in our everyday lives or in the dystopian future the film is set in. To remember is to acknowledge history.
Now, in age-old times, when the written word did not yet exist, human beings attempted to pass down their history in the form of stories. By reiterating the stories, human beings believed that we were acknowledging history, therefore, validating our earthly existence. In the narrative of the film as well, we hear the members of the family practicing their rituals with the utmost diligence, repeating their rehearsed lines, and telling the same stories over and over again.
It was an act they consciously engaged in to remember who they were in a world ravaged by a contagion that eats away at human memory. Their act of remembering is what helped them believe that they had not yet been affected by the Shred.
However, with the coming of a stranger into this organized ecosystem of life inside the Sanctuary, every member of the family is forced to re-assess what they remember. While Bee would like to believe that the Stranger is their long-lost beloved brother, Luca, Gabe seems hostile towards him. In a conversation between Bee and Evie, Bee hints that remembering, a completely cognitive action, must also see the participation of the heart.
The Stranger, to come off as Luca, plays with the memories of the family. To accommodate himself inside it, he sets out to reorganize, or re-member, the oral storytelling traditions that governed the memory of this family. To begin with, he introduces the story of a one-eyed king in search of his one-eyed queen. Towards the end of the film, we see how the remaining members of the family and he are successfully engaged in re-membering their stories in order to rewrite their history. In a way then, you may say that the Stranger is a personification of the Shred itself. He helps the family members re-member the old stories and makes way for a new story, to the extent that even the walls of the glasshouse are repainted to accommodate the new stories.
The ending also lays emphasis on the act of remembering and re-membering as personal choices. Both these actions are Freudian and hold great potency in commanding relationships and personal human freedom. It bestows upon us the chilling realization that the human act of remembering, and memories in general, are as fragile as a glasshouse.
Glasshouse (2021) Movie Ending Explained:
One night, the Stranger confronts the Mother, who tells him that she doesn’t believe him to be Luca. He assaults her by strangulating her, tells her he will take care of the family, and kills her by hitting her head with a blunt object. Later, he plants the corpse near Gabe’s bed and throws the murder weapon near him to give an impression that Gabe was responsible for the Mother’s death. In a fit of rage, he attacks the Stranger, calling the sisters’ attention, who then find out that their mother has been killed.
While Bee and Evie seem to be in disagreement about who killed Mother and Daisy plays in the background, we see the Stranger tying Gabe to his bed. He tells him that he’d like to set him free because Gabe was engaged in the painful act of trying to remember the past beyond his reach. The Stranger lays ajar a glass window in the room to allow the Shred to come in and affect Gabe while sitting at a distance and confesses how he has previously witnessed his family disintegrate in front of his eyes.
The Stranger had voluntarily wanted to give in to the Shred, but he is immune to its effects, bearing the burden of remembering everything. Simultaneously, when the sisters are preparing the Mother for her burial and a ritual preceding it, Daisy has an emotional breakdown and is taken care of by Evie. When Evie leaves to put Daisy to bed, Bee comes across the secret memory box belonging to Evie.
While rummaging through it, she finds Luca’s belongings, and they trigger her memory. She is the one who killed Luca accidentally. To find out if she was recalling the truth, she goes to one of the vegetable patches and digs it only to find Luca’s torch buried inside. But the memory is a painful truth that Bee would rather forget, so she voluntarily breathed in the Shred to help forget about the incident.
Bee confronts Evie about her tendency to be protective and remember everything. She says as long as they remember, the incident, it will always be real to them and proposes to expose themselves to the Shred. Evie says that she loves Bee, but she wasn’t ready to lose herself, or her memories, for her sister. The Stranger arrives on the scene, shows concern for Evie, and Bee leaves to expose herself to the Shred.
While Evie is angry about Bee’s decision, the Stranger convinces her to allow herself to lead the life she wants. They soon discover Gabe and Bee reeling under the effects of the Shred to varying proportions; while Gabe is completely lost in a zombie-like stupor, Bee seems to remember herself and calls out to Daisy as her child. She, however, doesn’t seem to recall the Stranger. Evie is now burdened with the act of remembering everyone’s truths by herself when the Stranger proposes to become her partner in remembering.
Just before the film ends, we see the family conducting the ritual for their late Mother. Evie has taken up the Mother’s position at the table. She is now the one who remembers. They have also changed their identities to fit the stories they prefer to inhabit now – Evie is the one-eyed queen, the Stranger calls himself Luke, and he is the one-eyed king, Bee is the sister of Evie, Daisy is the daughter of Bee, and Gabe is the brother of all.
Each of them has chosen their own lives now, repainted the walls of the glasshouse to change their histories, and scraped away the past. In the end, however, there is a hint that another change is on its way when on sentry duty, Luke, a.k.a the Stranger, chooses to kill Gabe instead of a newcomer in their territory. It fills us with the chilling realization that memories are fragile; they can be structured and rebuilt around the life we want. Who knows, maybe, even the Shred is a product of human memory?
Glasshouse (2021) Movie Links – IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes
Glasshouse (2021) Movie Cast – Jessica Alexander, Anja Taljaard, Hilton Pelser, Adrienne Pearce, Brent Vermeulen, Kitty Harris