The Ending of Anatomy of a Fall, Explained


Summary

  • Anatomy of a Fall captivates with an engaging courtroom drama, leaving us questioning the complexity of truly knowing another person.
  • Director Justine Triet leaves the ending open to interpretation, highlighting the struggle in understanding the morally gray nature of people.
  • The film is a coming-of-age story for Daniel, struggling to reconcile the image of his parents amidst a bittersweet conclusion.



The last few months have been incredibly kind to Anatomy of a Fall, winner of the Palme d’Or at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival. In addition to immense critical and audience acclaim, the film had a phenomenal awards season run, getting multiple wins at various critics groups around the country, and capped it off with an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. It’s easy to see why — the film, focused on a writer accused of murdering her husband and trying to clear her name, is a thoroughly engaging courtroom drama and contemplation on the difficulties of trying to fully know another person.


So in the wake of its Oscars success, and in honor of its Hulu debut this month (it begins streaming on March 22), we’re revisiting one of 2023’s best films and breaking down the implications of its mysterious ending.


Did Sandra Kill Her Husband?

Anatomy of a Fall

Anatomy of a Fall

4.5/5

Release Date
August 23, 2023

Director
Justine Triet

Cast
Sandra Hüller , Swann Arlaud , Antoine Reinartz , Jehnny Beth , Saadia Bentaieb

Runtime
2hr 31min

Writers
Justine Triet , Arthur Harari

At roughly the midpoint in Anatomy of a Fall, things look dire for Sandra Voyter (Sandra Huller). While she insists that her husband Samuel’s death must have been a suicide, evidence the court prosecutor presents only seems to point increasingly to her guilt, especially since the death echoes a plot from one of her novels. Although nothing implicates her more than a secretly recorded conversation Sanda had with Samuel the day before his death. Played in court, the tape details a vicious fight between the couple, in which Samuel accused his wife of infidelity and plagiarizing his work to further her career before the argument then turned violent.


Simultaneously, Sandra’s blind son Daniel (Milo Machado-Graner) requests to give testimony before the court makes its closing arguments. Since he’s spent most of his life unequivocally accepting his mother as a loving and compassionate woman, the trial throws his perception of her into question. Not wanting to believe that she’s capable of murder, but also uncertain about whether his father would kill himself, Daniel tests a theory of his own after hearing his mother testify about how Samuel deliberately overdosed on aspirin after going off antidepressants.

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Remembering that his beloved dog Snoop (the incomparable Messi, already in the Hollywood dog pantheon) had fallen sick after accidentally eating his father’s vomit, Daniel deliberately feeds Snoop aspirin. His test works — Snoop briefly falls sick in exactly the same way as before, confirming to him that his mother’s testimony about Samuel’s depression was likely true. Knowing he can’t know for certain what happened, Daniel admits during his testimony that it’s easier for him to believe that Samuel committed suicide than the alternative of Sandra being a murderer.

Additionally, he recalls a conversation he once had with his father, where he was told that he needed to prepare for the inevitability of losing a loved one. While Samuel was specifically talking about Snoop’s short lifespan, Daniel concludes that this probably reflected his father’s own suicidal thoughts. Daniel’s testimony works, and Sandra is acquitted.

What Does the Ending of Anatomy of a Fall Mean?


Director Justine Triet (who got a well-deserved Best Director nod) wisely leaves her film’s ending open to interpretation, as we’re never given any definitive evidence of Sandra’s innocence or guilt. Triet isn’t interested in answering this question; her ultimate interest in the film is exploring just how difficult it is to truly understand another person. In her worldview, we are all fundamentally morally gray, and the only way to make a conclusion about a friend, a loved one, or an acquaintance, is to draw on what we know about them to be factually true and to come to our own conclusions.

The fact that the film is structured entirely around courtroom testimony is not an accident; what is a trial if not attempting to make an argument about what kind of person they are? Throughout the film, Sandra’s defense and the prosecutor offer conflicting narratives about who she is. Her defense claims that she’s a depressed widow unhappy living under her husband’s thumb and feeling isolated in a country not native to her; the prosecutor asserts that she’s a vindictive liar unconsciously admitting her guilt in her novels. The film’s tension lies in seeing which of these narratives wins out.


But there’s another more emotional, personal dimension to the film, and that’s Daniel’s perspective. Anatomy of a Fall is a weird sort of coming-of-age story for him, as he begins the movie with an idyllic view of his parents. He hears them sometimes argue, but he figures that’s normal for any loving couple. Everything he once thought he knew about both of his parents is completely thrown into flux when Samuel is found dead. On one hand, he wants to believe that Sandra is every bit the loving mother he once grew up with, but he can’t comprehend the possibility that Samuel is depressed.

Thus, the film’s ending is every bit as much an attempt for him to understand his parents as it is for the audience. Since he’s literally blind, he has no objective evidence about what actually unfolded the day of Samuel’s death. All he can do is draw on what he knows about both of them and form a coherent narrative around that. The one he forms (and that ultimately wins out) is that his father was depressed and that his mother did not murder him.


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A Bittersweet Wrap-Up

Anatomy of a Fall by Justine Triet
Le Pacte

The film’s closing scenes detail Sandra’s return home and reunion with her son, who remains distant from her, still shaken by the emotional ordeal of the trial. Daniel doesn’t feel much resolution, the idyllic image he once had of his parents has been forever shattered, and even while he’s emotionally concluded that his mother can’t be a murderer, there’s no way for him to know that definitively. It’s a bittersweet and fascinating conclusion to a captivating film, one of 2023’s best, flawlessly illustrating that life’s greatest mystery of all may actually be other people, and how what we believe to be true may conflict with what’s actually true.


Anatomy of a Fall starts streaming on Hulu on March 22.



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