‘Drift’ 2023 Ending Explained & Movie Summary: What Happens To Jacqueline?

There isn’t much dialogue in Anthony Chen’s 2023 drama film, Drift. For most of its runtime, it remains extremely quiet—so much so that it tends to get on your nerves to some extent. The big reveal in the end is an absolute gut punch, which practically elevates the narrative. Yet, so many things remain half-baked here, which is not exactly a good sign. There’s nothing wrong with not revealing too much information and letting the audience connect the dots, but the amount of information this film withholds from us is quite frustrating and only leaves us confused. One might argue that Drift is more of a character study of Cynthia Erivo’s Jacqueline than a film focused on finding out what really happened to her, but that doesn’t really justify the really bland narrative that mostly depends on the performance of Erivo and a spirited Alia Shawkat. In fact, despite Erivo’s character being our primary lead, Shawkat is the one who brings life to this film. 


Spoilers Ahead

What Happens In The Movie?

On this very quiet, serene Greek island, Jacqueline wanders around alone. She appears to be a tourist, maybe a bit too reserved in nature, but you soon realize that unlike everyone else who’s vacationing on this beautiful island, she doesn’t have a proper place to stay. And the reason behind that is that she doesn’t have the money to afford one. So she hides in the caves during the night, sleeping on a makeshift bed made out of plastic bags filled with pebbles. An African man seems to be interested in knowing what her deal is, but Jacqueline keeps avoiding him. 


We keep wondering what happened to her. But we don’t get much other than some flashbacks in bits and pieces, in which Jacqueline’s life appears to be much different from now. What we can deduce from those flashbacks is that Jacqueline belongs to an affluent Liberian family, where the dad is some sort of minister. But she lives in London, where she has a British girlfriend, Helen (Honor Swinton is great, but I don’t understand why you would waste her in a role like this), whose family seems to be very much into Jacqueline. In her past life, Jacqueline also looks much different from now; her clothes are clean, and she has longer, braided hair as compared to the current crew cut. All these flashbacks do indicate that something bad must have happened to her, but what could that be?

Who Is Callie, And How Does Jacqueline Meet Her?

The initial problem with Drift is that once it is established that something has happened to Jacqueline and she’s basically dealing with that while hiding on this island, the film keeps dragging on endlessly. However, that changes when Alia Shawkat’s Callie enters the scene. She’s an American travel guide working on this island. Her meeting with Jacqueline happens very randomly—while she’s out with one of her groups showing the scenes around the island, and Jacqueline is sitting alone, quietly. Callie comes off as warm and friendly, while Jacqueline is guarded and nervous, although very polite. Jacqueline lies about vacationing with her husband. When Callie gets a bit inquisitive about the beautiful villa in the south of the island where Jacqueline is living, she somehow avoids the question. I suppose Callie gets the hint here, as she apologizes for being nosy. One might wonder why Callie would take an interest in Jacqueline, and the film doesn’t try much to explain it either. It does show us that Callie is actually lonely and sad, despite her all-bright and sunny shield. I also don’t think there’s a requirement for any explanation behind the chance meeting between two people and them turning into friends, or more than that. 


Do Jacqueline And Callie Become Friends?

Some people have this thing in them where, when they enter your life, it just turns into a bright sunny day. For Jacqueline, Callie happens to be that sunshine. And if you think about Callie’s own life, where she got married to this Greek man and it didn’t work out because she can’t have children, you realize that she’s a naturally good person. Callie is also smart enough to understand Jacqueline is going through something, and she chooses to be there for her, be it helping her with her period or taking her to the hospital when Jacqueline accidentally hits her head. However, Jacqueline still chooses to stay in her cocoon, although she is more than happy to watch Callie swimming and sitting on the beach. Callie has also realized that there’s no point pushing Jacqueline into anything, and she’s okay with that.

But to move this story forward, Jacqueline and Callie both had to open up to each other. Watching Callie drink alone in her apartment from afar is probably what Jacqueline needed to muster the courage to ask her out to dinner. And so it happens—they eat together, and Jacqueline finally tells Callie that there’s no husband in her life. Callie is not surprised, of course, and she also lets Jacqueline know that the husband she talked about has become past tense. 


Everything is good between Callie and Jacqueline, but we still don’t exactly know what brought Jacqueline into this unfortunate life situation. It can be assumed that a big tragedy happened with her family back in Liberia, which has affected her life in a big way. And her relationship with Helen also seems to be quite unclear, but it is clearly something to not fall back on, for sure. Just when you are wondering if Drift would ever let us know what really happened, Jacqueline finally reaches the point where she blurts it all out to Callie. It is admirable how Callie reacts to that moment with the utmost maturity and compassion.

What Happened To Jacqueline In The Past?

A revolution happens to overthrow an oppressive authority, but in this context, it is Jacqueline who fell victim to it. The revolution we’re talking about here is most likely the Liberation revolution of the early 2000s, if we go by the novel on which the film is based on. Is there anything more horrifying than seeing your parents murdered in front of you and then your pregnant sister getting raped and the fetus being cut out of her? And the entire time, Saifa, Jacqueline’s sister, was looking at her in endless agony. The people who did this probably wouldn’t have spared Jacqueline if the military hadn’t intervened. Drift doesn’t quite go into the details of how exactly Jacqueline got out of Liberia and ended up in Greece, but the reveal was more than enough to understand the trauma that she was carrying around for the entire movie.

What Happens To Jacqueline?

Even after telling Callie everything, Jacqueline pulls herself away from her. This is totally my interpretation, but I believe Jacqueline has this stubbornness inside her that makes her not accept any help from anyone, be it Callie or the African man on the island who actually did nothing but try to help her. However, we can’t blame her for this either, considering what she went through in her life. 

Drift was always a film about Jacqueline finding a ray of hope at the end of the endless dark tunnel inside which she was walking. Callie is that light in her life, but Jacqueline was too afraid to accept that. I believe the film could have delved a bit more into what’s going on inside Jacqueline’s head instead of completely depending on Erivo’s acting talent to pull things off.


During Drift‘s ending, Callie does find Jacqueline, who’s now living in an abandoned house. This time around, Jacqueline doesn’t stop Callie from coming close to her. Although the film never states it, there’s clearly more than friendship going on between the two of them. In the final scene, we see Jacqueline taking a swim and Callie watching her—that’s obviously a reversal of roles and also a call-back to the earlier scene when Jacqueline was talking about Callie’s swimming during their dinner. Jacqueline obviously loves to swim, and she just happens to be a great swimmer. Drift ends with Jacqueline doing something she loves, while this new person in life watching her do it is a definite sign of hope. We don’t know what the future has in store for her, but at least this story ends on a positive note after all the darkness.

Rohitavra Majumdar
Rohitavra Majumdar
Rohitavra likes to talk about movies, music, photography, food, and football. He has a government job to get by, but all those other things are what keep him going.

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