‘La Chimera’ Ending Explained & Movie Recap: Is Arthur Dead?

It’s quite a struggle to figure out what’s going on in La Chimera. That’s not a criticism, by the way. In fact, I thought it mirrored exactly how Arthur, the de facto lead of the film, and his colleagues keep digging hard to find treasure, which is quite amazing. Not much happens in Alice Rohrwacher’s latest film, at least story-wise. It’s mostly Arthur wandering around with his dowsing stick, trying to locate buried treasure, and people around him having conversations mainly about how their lives would change if they managed to get instantly wealthy. But underneath the surface of that, La Chimera is a mood piece that is filled with a lot of melancholy and maybe a hint of magic. If you’re familiar with Rohrwacher’s style of filmmaking, which often has an aloofness, lacks a certain kind of structure, and doesn’t quite follow a particular narrative style, then you’ll feel right at home with La Chimera. It might have a Tomb Raider at the center of it, but Arthur is no Indiana Jones. He’s a sad man who can’t get over the grief of losing his love. Does the sadness ever end? La Chimera‘s ending leaves that for us to decide. I’m going to go into that, of course, but before that, a short summary seems like a good idea.


Spoilers Ahead

What Happens in the Film?

The word “Chimera” roughly translates to illusion or fabrication, which seems fitting enough to be the title of the film, contextually. Like most things, the film doesn’t clarify the time period, but I am mostly certain it is the eighties. In the Etruia region of Central Italy, English archeologist Arthur and his friends are involved in the illegal dealing of Etruscan artifacts. They mainly work for Spartaco, whom none of them have ever seen. Arthur is fresh out of jail at the start of the film. He is always in a sour mood, looks really wiry, and is also down with a fever, cough, and cold. Arthur’s girlfriend, Beniamina, is presumably dead. 


Beniamina’s mother, Flora, lives in a decaying mansion, where a young woman, Italia, takes care of her and the household in exchange for music lessons. Although she is a terrible singer, and it’s quite evident that Flora is sort of exploiting her, I suppose Italia also wants shelter. Flora is not aware of Italia’s two kids—a teenage daughter and a toddler son. Somehow, Italia is able to hide them from Flora despite the two also living in the mansion. When Arthur finds out about this, he doesn’t spill the beans. One of the most interesting aspects of La Chimera has to be the relationship between Arthur and Italia. There’s this vibe from the get-go, but it’s not your typical “will they, won’t they” sort of thing. In fact, he kept ignoring her from the start. And she is also not too fond of him. But as the days go by, they start to see through each other’s outer shells. 

Meanwhile, Arthur gets back to work with his group. He’s as reluctant as ever, although his colleagues are very sympathetic about his situation. When the group manages to find some bits and pieces of treasure, they take it to Spartaco and get some money—still without seeing the person. Arthur gives away his share as it would clear his debt, implying Spartaco had something to do with him getting out of jail. The group goes to a bar outside of town to celebrate, and Arthur invites Italia to join. The two of them really hit it off, but when Italia finds out what Arthur and these people do for a living, she bails. In fact, she pleads with the group not to dig at a location Arthur has just discovered. But the group goes on to do their thing, and what they find underneath the ground is everything they were looking for—a hoard of exquisite items that is bound to make them millions. Sadly, the police arrived, and they had to flee. All they could take was the head of a figurine. 


What Happens in the End?

Spartaco, who happens to be a blonde woman, gets hold of the headless figurine and attempts to sell it off to American buyers. Arthur and the group barge in with the head and try to convince Spartaco to cut them into the deal. But Arthur throws the head into the water, surprising everyone. This potentially ruins his colleagues’ chances of getting rich, and they disown him, understandably. Arthur eventually goes to Italia, who now runs a commune of women and children at an abandoned railway station. They makeup, and Italia offers Arthur to stay with them. But Arthur leaves and joins another group of gravediggers. Thanks to Arthur’s skills, the group finds a location with potential gold buried under the ground. Since he’s the one who found it, Arthur gets to go in first. Unfortunately, a large chunk of concrete accidentally falls, and he gets trapped under it. We hear the group calling his name from above the ground before eventually stopping. Arthur lights up a torch and sees a red thread. The thread is obviously similar to the one we see throughout the film—the one from Beniamina’s flowing dress. In the next scene, we see Beniamina pulling the same thread till the end point. And then we see Arthur hugging her, seemingly happy, probably for the first time in the entire film. 

Is Arthur Dead?

Yes, Arthur is dead. At least if we go by logic here, then it’s impossible for him to survive under all that concrete. If you think about it, the people who were with him started to call his name, but then they stopped. I believe they stopped after realizing Arthur couldn’t be saved. 


The obvious question that arises here is: what about the last five minutes, then? Now, the red thread appears quite a few times in La Chimera when we see glimpses of Beniamina. Whatever little of Beniamina we see in the film stems from Arthur’s memory of her. The red thread here is an implication of him still being tied to the past. Throughout the film, Arthur keeps digging into the past, and he’s never quite okay. It is evident that what he has lost is irreplaceable, and nothing can ever make things better. In conclusion, this sounds really heavy, but not everything is supposed to end on a happy note—even in movies. 

One might argue with the fact that Arthur did have something going on with Italia, but in my opinion, that was his desperate attempt to move on from the past. It’s not that Arthur didn’t like Italia; I would even say he did consider a life with her; otherwise, he wouldn’t have made an effort to make up with her. But at the end of the day, the past just didn’t let him go, and Arthur succumbed to that only. That’s why he had to leave the commune, in spite of being welcomed quite warmly by Italia and the people. 


I do believe Arthur died right after the concrete fell on him. From the moment we see him lighting the torch and following the thread, the film slips into the territory of magic realism. In that space, death is not Arthur’s end. In fact, death is the only way that could provide him relief from all the pain. Because only beyond the boundary could he meet Beniamina. La Chimera never explicitly went into explaining what Beniamina really meant to Arthur, but looking at all his activities, it can be understood. His life lost any meaning when she left, and after that, he was just carrying it around. Arthur’s death is understandably a grim ending for the audience, but maybe not for the character. The final scene is the only one in which we see him actually smiling. We would probably never know for certain if there’s any life after death, but for Arthur’s sake, I would like to believe there is.

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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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