Paradise Highway (2022) Movie Ending Explained: Director Anna Gutto brings to the screen a story that is thoroughly relevant to today’s America fighting different aspects of human beings stuck in a broken system. When stuck, they find desperate methods to survive. ‘Paradise Highway’ is an American thriller film that bears America’s ugly underbelly of crime, a broken-down justice system, and a general sense of civic ignorance that plagues the state. Gutto is a literary genius, who translated essays in Norway but continued to make her way into cinema through the arty city of New York City. This film is her debutant original, marking a milestone in Hollywood.
Certain harsh aspects of the film come through with a particular luminescence through characters that build a narrative driving the film through a dark timeline. It comes close to touching upon sensitive moral issues. These issues talk about the abuse of human rights and the rampant use of sex trafficking through mediums like the trucker system in the United States of America. With possibilities to shuttle contraband, trucks become permanent routes for these deliveries. While it may supply a decent alternate income, it is dangerous for these truckers to venture into anything else, let alone get caught, since they keep traveling across border lines.
Paradise Highway Plot Summary & Movie Synopsis:
The film starts with an antithesis aesthetic of French arthouse actress, Juliette Binoche donning the look of a tough trucker while sitting in the high seat of her truck waiting for a pick-up to collect a package from a secret compartment. The tone of the film is set from the start that drivers of trucks have other sources of income. They are rugged and not to be trifled with. Academy award winner Juliette Binoche plays Sally Barett, a lone female trucker doing deliveries of large hauls all over the county of the States. With certain stations as part of her route, she is a familiar face around gas stations with a brother named Dennis (portrayed by Frank Grillo)currently in jail. Sally meets him to gauge whether he completes his time and can finally come home to her.
Things take an unexpected turn when Dennis must say goodbye to Sally when their two-minute visit is over. He shows her a nasty bruise to tell her there is one last delivery of illicit cargo to make that requires messing with the Border security. Tired and anxious with these illegal hauls, she pleads with him not to continue like this. After learning of his desperate state in the jail, she complies because it’s the last time he stays in prison to come home in two days and hopefully stay out of trouble. When Sally meets Claire, the client, Sally discovers the package is a little 12-year-old girl named Leila. She strongly objects to the delivery. Claire sternly reminds her of the consequences her brother will suffer if she does not comply. She thinks quickly and accepts with disgust on her face at both her brother and Claire. Her anxiety reaches new levels because she knows full well what it is like to be preyed upon as a child. Some unwanted memories return. Holding herself together, she seats Leila in the lower part of the passenger seat next to her.
When it is time to make the drop when Leila sees the man who is about to take her, it only takes a few seconds for her to act. She shoots him from the passenger seat of the truck. Sally was about to make the exchange when Leila turns the situation on its head. This changes everything for Leila and Sally. Sally immediately removes them both from the area and drives the truck as fast as she can, with Leila screaming next to her. She is about to approach a checkpoint. They move past it with no issues when Sally screams back at Leila telling her if the police hear her, they will take her which in turn silences her.
Leila is a package to be delivered and Sally does not know how to do this without being caught with her brother in danger. With a man left to die, Sally explains very plainly that Leila must work together with her to get through this in the smooth possible fashion to keep themselves safe.
After informing Dennis of all that has taken place, Dennis tells her to lie low and stay safe. Sally feels most vulnerable at this point and her brother is the only grounding force driving her forward. When the man’s body is discovered, we meet a dogged FBI Agent pleasantly retired from his job and only returning to confront a dark familiar history with a certain criminal. He is accompanied by a desk agent who recently graduated from Yale. The pair pursue an investigation that slowly leans parallel to Sally’s current events and the narrative turns gloomy.
What do FBI Agent Gerrick and his accomplice Yale do to find Leila?
When FBI Operative Agent Gerick (portrayed by Morgan Freeman) turns up on the scene, he knows full well what is in store for him. His accomplice is Agent Finley ‘Yale’ Sterling (portrayed by Cameron Monaghan) who wishes to gain field experience, rather than sitting at a desk that never aided his levels of credit as a Police officer. When they find out that the victim is named Paul, Gerick’s experience with the Police force surfaces for the rescue. After 50 years of the same kinds of cases, he knows Paul. With Paul’s phone still in his pocket, all correspondences could be acquired by the police. Gerick does not wait and heads straight to where the calls are first made before the exchange was to happen.
On reaching Paul’s residence, they discover an aggressive dog and a cage in the basement and a couple of mattresses with certain remnants of women’s belongings lying here and there. The dog was used to terrorize whoever was bolted shut inside the cage. With dog shit around the cage, they spotted blood on the bolts of the cage that was attached to the wall. From hair strands found within the cage, they ascertain that a child was kept in the cage and tried to claw out of it. While Yale is still wrapping his head around it, Gerick is riled up to find this monster.
Gerick tries to earn his senior’s confidence by trying to stress the fact that the girl must be found before she is killed. The only way to convince him was to put the girl’s hairbrush in front of him to tell him that it could have been his daughter if not for this girl. With that grim assumption for Gerick’s senior to confront, Gerick suddenly is struck with the idea to put Yale to use and decides to visit a Truck Park Station nearest to where they are. By some vague co-incidence, Sally and Leila have parked the truck in the same station.
Leila disagreed with Sally and wandered off unexpectedly to go to a young boy’s trailer and spend some friendly time with him. When Sally discovers Leila has gone, she feels a sense of relief and goes to the nearest bar at the station. Gerick speaks with the owner of the park to gauge whether it’s a good idea to inspect the park and ask questions. They step into the bar and question Sally who is quite drunk and dancing away her troubles. She denies any knowledge of the girl’s whereabouts. Later she is guided by two women to her truck.
After a certain commotion, Gerick and Yale see people in the truck park screaming with headlights flashing to alert them that something is wrong. A short while later, they see a Blue Haul truck speeding away. It could very possibly be the one they are looking for. They chase the truck with one woman in custody who was screaming after the truck. When they question the woman, they find out that the little girl Leila with Sally knows how to operate a shotgun. With a BOLO out for the truck, they manage to find Sally, who has hidden Leila with another trucker woman named Rose. Gerick inspects the truck and does not find the girl but he does find the magazine with the same drawings on it as was in the cage. Finally, he has a lead and he knows where Leila is. He calmly gives Sally his card telling her that this policeman does not want to play the bad cop.
Paradise Highway Movie Ending, Explained: Who will Rescue Leila?
Dennis is in jail serving his time and about to be released to be reunited with his sister Sally. After writing letters to her, his resolve is only to go home and be at peace. Sally and Dennis share a close bond as siblings due to the heavy abuse they suffered from their father as children. With Dennis incarcerated, Sally makes for herself another support group who are fellow women truckers like herself who travel country-wide making the same large delivery hauls. With cigarette burn marks on their hands to help them remember that they are survivors, Sally must trump the odds to save her brother and find a way to save Leila too.
After discovering that the child is hiding with someone else, Gerick knows that Sally will reunite with the child at some point. They maintain a distance and follow Sally. But during this time, Yale learns that Sally has a brother in the same prison as Paul. His name is known by every policeman but by another term. He is known as The Mud Victim. The Mud Victim’s modus operandi was to recruit people within the jail to help facilitate pre-pubescent girls to him from outside the prison. His methods prove a sex racket gone unnoticed and encouraged exposing a broken system with laws that are not even applied even after he is released, allowing him to resume his criminal activities. After they find out that Sally’s brother serves time in the same prison, it is no coincidence that Dennis is involved. Thereby making Sally involved and hence a chase pursues.
Sally knows Gerick is following her. She makes a quiet getaway after selling her trailer that held her large hauls. She finds Rose and Leila. After collecting Leila, she takes her to meet her brother Dennis, who is staying at their father’s house. A place Sally promised herself she would never return to after he passed away. Dennis talks to Sally. Staying true to her values, she turns things around saying she will buy out Leila’s traffickers to secure her and Leila’s safety. Dennis is surprised and tries to convince her otherwise. Sally has not suspected anything but when Leila needs something to wear, he makes her wear a green dress that haunts Sally’s present. After making Leila remove that dress, Gerick and Yale find Dennis’s address and find the dress but no one is there. They have already left.
Dennis takes Sally and Leila to the exchange point. Sally steps forward to tell Claire that the deal is off if she gives her a certain amount of money. She and Leila’s safety along with Dennis’ safety must all be guaranteed. But Claire’s partner engages in a physical struggle with Sally when the cash is handed over. After hurting Sally, Dennis shoots Claire’s partner. Suddenly, Claire stops role-playing and kneels next to her partner crying and screaming at Dennis that this was not the plan.
Sally realizes that she has been deceived. We see that Dennis grabs Leila to put her in the back of the truck that Claire drives and drives off telling his sister it will all be over soon. His abuse from childhood has made him a weak and vulnerable man who understands that this is a way of life, making him the opposite of what his sister believed him to be. Her rose-tinted glasses falling off, Sally understands that she cannot feel anger for him but tries to stop her brother from taking Leila, who is screaming for Sally. Sally has rallied her trucker troop, who intervene at the right time with the van hitting a nasty ditch which makes Dennis and Claire fall unconscious. The girls get out safely. Dennis tries to run. Sally finishes what he started by telling him that they both do not see life through the same lens. After his arrest by Agent Gerick and Agent Yale, we observe a tragic story that is constantly occurring even today.
Director Anna Gutto masterfully creates a film embroiled in the earthen road of bare-knuckled truth that battles with a broken system. It exposes cracks glaring us in the face and desperately calling for help. With a justice system that is apathetic to women’s safety and how the economy is making people forcefully search for extreme ways to survive in a system that is broken, hope seems rather bleak. The film does just that leaving Morgan Freeman’s character to be that ray of sunshine that casts the darkness out.
With the stark reality of trucker women, one would be curious about what went into making such a film. Gutto’s research involved understanding intimately how an organization named Real Women in Trucking operates. Sitting in her apartment in New York City, she would thoughtfully engage in conversations with these women as they made their deliveries around different parts of the country. Modern-day technology allowed her to have deep insights into real-life stories they would willingly narrate. Some of them are direct transcripts from those telephone conversations that are present in the film’s script. One true story is like the context of this film. With an active FBI agent consulting her throughout the edits of the film, the film is laced with the dusty and difficult experiences these women must endure making a basic living.
The film’s remnants of abuse are evidence that the American justice system has a long way to go. Its problems do not just lie in its laws, but in many other factors that enable it such as poverty, foster care, policing, schooling, prisons, juvenile centers, etc that still struggle to provide a foundation. Gutto has only highlighted it and Binoche’s hard feminine presence has brought to light a desperate situation by creating a debutant masterpiece.