In 1996, after the release of “The Watermelon Woman,” Cheryl Dunye spoke about her approach to using a mockumentary. “Sometimes you have to create your own history,” she said. Her words reflect the long history of cinema or pop culture in general that didn’t let find themselves on the screen. “I Saw the TV Glow” shares a similar notion of representation. It follows two teenagers obsessed with a supernatural TV show who find themselves reflected in its characters. With a fine blend of humane drama and supernatural horror drenched in teenage blues, it is one of the finest films of the year.

Spoilers Ahead

I Saw the TV Glow (2024) Plot Summary & Movie Synopsis:

Jane Schoenbrun’s “I Saw the TV Glow” is about two teenagers who become obsessed with a supernatural TV show. As the lines between fiction and reality start to blur, the teens begin to learn and accept the truth about their lives. The film is a spiritual continuation of Schoenbrun’s 2021 film, “We’re All Going to the World’s Fair,” which follows a teenager immersed in an online role-playing game.

What happens in ‘I Saw the TV Glow’?

“I Saw the TV Glow” takes place in multiple timelines that follow the lives of two teenagers: Owen (Justice Smith) and Maddy (Brigette Lundy-Paine). When in 7th grade, Owen (Ian Foreman) notices his two-year-senior, Maddy, reading an episode guide for The Pink Opaque, a supernatural television show that follows the adventures of two teenagers, Tara (Lindsey Jordan) and Isabel (Helena Howard), in a suburban town. Although the show catered to kids, Maddy believes that it is too dark for them. Since it airs at a time past Owen’s bedtime, he can’t watch it. So, he lies to his parents and goes to watch it at Maddy’s house.

On that night, the Pink Opaque shows two teens sulking about the end of the summer since they won’t be able to have ice cream anymore. The episode presents the Ice Cream Man as the week’s menacing monster. Owen watches it with Maddy and her friend. After her friend leaves, Maddy explains the lore of the show. Every week, Tara & Isabel fight a different monster through their psychic connection. But the most menacing is Mr. Melancholy, aka The Man in the Moon, who disrupts time and reality to rule their world. This monster wants to trap Isabel & Tara in the Midnight Realm. Although the Pink Opaque is a TV show, Maddy sometimes feels it is more real than her own life. She admires gutsy Tara but not Isabel, who seems eternally afraid.

Owen’s Life & the Pink Opaque

Two years after Owen’s sleepover at Maddy’s basement, Owen’s mother, Brenda (Danielle Deadwyler), suffers from a terminal disease. She notices Owen is often gloomy & aloof and wonders if her condition is making him miserable. Like before, Owen’s father, Frank (Fred Durst), dictates his life decisions. When Owen asks for permission to watch the Pink Opaque, Frank refuses it and ridicules him, claiming the show is only for girls. So, Maddy records the episodes and starts leaving tapes for him in the school. After Owen’s sleepover at Maddy’s house, he barely had any dialogue with her. Regardless, he finds himself immersed in the world of Tara & Isabel, who fight the demons.

I Saw the TV Glow (2024) Movie Ending Explained
A still from “I Saw the TV Glow” (2024)

Soon after, Maddy’s close friend leaves her to join a group of popular kids because she finds out that Maddy is lesbian. Owen isn’t sure whether he likes boys or girls. Whenever he thinks about these things, he feels too afraid and nervous to open himself up and check. Like Isabel in the Pink Opaque, Owen feels that there is something wrong with him and is afraid of what’s inside of him. That night, he joins Maddy to watch the show when it airs. After the episode, Maddy feels an urge to escape the town without telling anyone and asks Owen to join her. Before falling asleep, she draws a ghost symbol on the back of Owen’s neck, like the one on Tara & Isabel’s back that psychically connects them.

Maddy’s Disappearance

The next morning, Owen washes off the drawing Maddy sketched on his back and shows up at his friend’s house. He says he is afraid of going away from his home with Maddy. A few months later, Owen’s mother dies. Around the same time, Maddy disappears from the town while her TV set remains burning in her backyard. Strangely, in the same month, the Pink Opaque was canceled after five seasons. Eight years after this incident, Owen starts working at the local cinema. Despite all those years, he is still afraid to be honest and confident. One night, back from his job, he sees a fallen tree blocking his road. Next to it, he notices burnt-up pages of the episode guide for the Pink Opaque.

Soon after, Owen meets Maddy at a grocery store. Until then, like the entire town, he thought she had died. So, he gets a pleasant surprise seeing her alive. Maddy takes him to a bar outside the town, which is also a location in the show. She talks about being confused about her memories and claims that she disappeared into the Pink Opaque. Owen can’t believe it. So, she prompts him to remember how the show ended. He returns to the old tapes to notice Mr. Melancholy remove the hearts from Tara & Isabel’s bodies. Then, Marco & Polo feed the poisonous ‘luna juice’ to Tara & Isabel and then bury them alive.

Owen’s Reality

After watching the show’s tragic ending, Owen panics and shoves his head into the TV screen. Frank drags Owen out of the screen and intensely washes Owen’s face. Owen screams for help, saying this isn’t his home & Frank isn’t his father and vomits profusely. Later on, Maddy tells him about her experience after her mysterious disappearance. At her home, she felt lost and alone. After running away, she survived in any way she could while feeling like the time was moving too fast. So, she couldn’t fulfill what she yearned for from her escape. After her 22nd birthday, she paid someone to bury her alive like Tara in the Pink Opaque, hoping to go past the fifth season as Tara.

Maddy spent a while stuck there and tried to claw her way out of it. Later on, she looked for Isabel in the Pink Opaque but couldn’t find her. So, now, she asks Owen to bury himself alive with her so that he can resume the sixth season as Isabel with her. She says Mr. Melancholy left them in their current midnight realm, where time passes by quickly. So, she wants Isabel to join her in restarting their journeys as they should. But Owen is afraid to commit to that journey. Although he joins Maddy at the baseball field, he runs back home and leaves her on her own. In an alternate version, Isabel joins Tara at the baseball field for their further journey.

I Saw the TV Glow (2024) Movie Ending Explained:

I Saw the TV Glow (2024) Movie Ending Explained
Another still from “I Saw the TV Glow” (2024)

After leaving her at the baseball field, Owen doesn’t see Maddy again. Soon after, the movie theatre shuts down. So, Owen joins his previous manager for a job at the Fun Centre. Years later, Frank dies of a stroke. Owen tells us, the audience, that he has started a new life as a family man and as a productive member of society. He throws out his old TV and brings a brand new screen. By then, The Pink Opaque had become available to stream. So, he watches it all over again. Only this time, the show seems cheesy and superfluous, unlike how Owen remembered it to be.

Owen keeps working at the same Fun Centre. After twenty years, he seems weary and exhausted. Still, he joins other employees for a birthday celebration of a kid. While they all are lit up with smiles, he stands in the corner, gripped by paranoia. Suddenly, he starts screaming for help from his mother to take him out of his misery. However, no one bats an eye to his outburst and they pretend as if he doesn’t exist. So, overtaken by his emotions, he locks himself in the bathroom. He undresses and cuts his chest open to see a glowing TV screen inside his body. Seeing that, he smiles.

What exactly happens at the end of ‘I Saw the TV Glow’?

Owen breaks open his chest to see a TV screen inside and smiles, looking at it. Moments later, he puts back on his clothes and returns outside. He walks back, apologizing to people for his breakdown. But no one pays heed to him. The ending shows their utter indifference toward his turmoil. Owen lived through all the years haunted by the feeling that he was meant to lead a different life. A lot of his & Maddy’s behavior hints at their teenage angst and an overall heightened sense of emotion in those awkward years. That’s why they considered the Pink Opaque as a dreary dreamscape while it was likely just a cheesy show.

During its dreamy, hypnotic song, the singer says, ‘It’s always the wrong thing when it’s me who’s saying it.’ Although the song is supposed to mostly set the mood (like the music in “Twin Peaks”), its lyrics suggest the teens’ mental struggles as they grow into adulthood by often shedding the intense passion they felt for artistic endeavors. In this case, Maddy & Owen resonated with the TV show they watched, which left a huge imprint on their minds. A lot of adult jobs and responsibilities can suck the soul out of people. So, some viewers may interpret the film as losing the imaginative heart, whereas the ending is a way to return to that innocent self.

What does the ending of ‘I Saw the TV Glow’ mean?

Despite subjective interpretations, “I Saw the TV Glow” presents a striking allegory about trans experience. The film shows its central characters struggling with identity issues. Isabel appears to be the true self that the central teen has been afraid to speak about. Instead, Owen leads his life with his buried truth, apologizing to others for his existence while tired of leading his life further. He talks about being afraid to open himself up. Once he does, he returns to the place where he feels represented and truly seen and heard – the TV.

Read More: 2024 Summer Preview: 20 Movies to check out this Season

Trailer:

I Saw the TV Glow (2024) Movie Links: IMDb, Wikipedia, Rotten Tomatoes
I Saw the TV Glow (2024) Movie Cast: Justice Smith, Brigette Lundy-Paine, Helena Howard, Lindsey Jordan, Danielle Deadwyler, Fred Durst, Conner O’Malley, Emma Portner
Where to watch I Saw the TV Glow

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