‘Lovely, Dark, And Deep,’ Ending Explained & Movie Spoilers: What Does The Deer Mean For Lennon?

Fear is a basic human emotion that is key to ensuring self-preservation, especially if you look at it from an evolutionary perspective. All species in the animal kingdom feel fear as a psychological mechanism to ensure their own safety. Well, not only the animal kingdom, but even plants have defensive reactions to external stressors to prolong their own lives. We often underestimate our own prowess as humans to deal with the things that scare us. Perhaps, what people call a gut feeling during unfavorable situations might indeed be our subconscious selves warning us against the outcomes of these circumstances. I do not believe in supernatural entities, but I do think that there has to be a logical explanation as to why people feel off about certain places or even certain people that they know nothing about. I think the ambiguous nature of how the human mind apprehends fear is a major theme portrayed in Lovely, Deep, and Dark by Teresa Sutherland. Why do I think that the portrayal of fear is ambiguous in this film?

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Well, Sutherland’s vision in this movie was about oblivion, or, in other words, the lack of knowledge of what makes us feel fear. It could be the fear of failure, fear of death, fear of the dark, or even fear of the supernatural. But, in the end, it doesn’t matter if it does ensure our own safety. Lovely, Deep, and Dark’s convoluted narrative gave me a mild headache, but I was also compelled to wonder about what actually went on through the events of the movie.

Spoilers Ahead

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What Is The Story About?

Set in a backcountry forest reserve in the United States, Ranger Lennon is a forest ranger. From afar, her new job seems quite carefree, but her motives to actually start this job are something else. She lost her sister Jenny a few years ago, like numerous people over the years. The reasons for the disappearances are rather mysterious, as the victims do not even scream or argue with each other. As Ranger Lennon further explores the incidents in the forest, she is plunged deeper into her own distorted perception of the real world. Driven by her guilt over not being able to find her sister and the toll it took on her parents, Lennon bears a lot of emotional baggage as well. 


What’s The Deal With The Forest?

The backcountry forest in Lovely, Dark, and Deep is a rather mysterious place where Lennon starts working. Since the beginning of the movie, her superiors have seemed intrusive about how the rangers follow instructions. During one of the nights at her lodge in the forest, Lennon encounters a stranger knocking on her door. This man pleads with her to help find his friend, Sarah Greenfield. Even though she is eager to find the missing woman, Lennon is disallowed from exploring the forest by her supervisor. Despite that, she ventures out into the forest at night to find Sarah, who is covered in blood and seems to be asking if Lennon is real. Lennon reports these events to her superiors, who give her a warning for not complying with their explicit orders. 

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It is believed that the forest might have a supernatural presence that takes its toll on the rangers, making them forgetful and paranoid of their reality, a condition shared by the people who have disappeared in the forest. Forests all around the world have been known for disappearances, but this one, in particular, has had its fair share, which further makes it a notorious place for hikers to get lost in. As a matter of fact, this is another reason why Lennon’s employers, being concerned for her own safety, wanted to send her away from the park. 

That indeed brings me to the question: How does one justify the paranormal shots of humans climbing trees and whatnot? That’s the thing; we cannot entirely dismiss that the forest is indeed haunted. In a way, the forest is a sort of purgatory that people with troubled pasts unconsciously seek. It may be likely that Lennon entered this realm when she hit her head thus triggering her hallucinations. However, Sunderland’s portrayal of these scenes kind of gives it away. We all can admit that, as children, we have been afraid of the dark. Well, at least I certainly was. Often, walking in the dark all by myself would make me feel like something sinister was lurking behind my back. Perhaps Sunderland’s directorial vision has tried to capture that very primal fear through the way that these paranormal events unfold around Lennon. 

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What Happened To The Rest Of Lennon’s Family?

The more time Lennon spends in the forest, the more she loses touch with reality; riddled with hallucinations. It is unclear if the forest indeed has a bloodthirsty entity manipulating people. However, from a strictly psychological perspective, Lennon does exhibit signs of psychosis stemming from the countless traumas associated with the forest. 

Following her sister’s disappearance, her family, including her parents, tried their best to search for their missing daughter but had no success in the end. The grief of losing Jenny drove her mother to insanity, leading her to take her own life. But that was not the end of Lennon’s troubles. Shortly after, Lennon’s father took his life as well, leaving young Lennon to fend for herself. Whether a supernatural entity actually exists or not, I suppose it does not matter for Lennon since the forest did take everything from her. 

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What Does The Deer Mean For Lennon?

I suppose the actual meaning behind the motif with the deer comes from the phrase ‘deer in the headlights.’ It means an uncontrollable panic or fear that makes it impossible for a person to act rationally. This symbolic motif is actually depicted right at the beginning of the movie when Lennon is driving to the park after dark and stumbles upon a deer. Lennon’s past trauma attached to this forest causes the failure of her judgment, leading to her current predicament, and that is what the deer signifies. Throughout the events of Lovely, Deep, and Dark, she sees glimpses of this deer in passing. Perhaps the deer is a stark reminder of the fears that trouble her, even though she is now an adult trying to do her job efficiently. However, during the abstractly constructed scene in the second half of the movie where Lennon revisits her past through her hallucinations, she sees the deer’s dead remains in the casket at her mother’s funeral. Maybe this scene also signifies that she is learning how to move forward from these scenarios.


What Is The Meaning Of Zhang’s Sacrifice?

I think people are going to have a tough time understanding what Sunderland means when Zhang expresses her lack of knowledge about the presumed entities that live in the forest and says, “Who knows?” For strange reasons, it reminds me of that one ‘Doctor Who’ episode when the Doctor travels to the end of the universe and sees something that he never discloses. I think there are things out there in this world—perhaps a cosmic entity of sorts—that the three-dimensional human brain may never actually be able to grasp. Maybe humans are afraid of not knowing things, and that fear can take different shapes and forms. 

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Near the end of Lennon’s grim hallucinations, she encounters Zhang, her supervisor, who reveals that she had to let “them” take the people away, including her sister. Perhaps the collective isolation has also led to mass hysteria among the workers. To understand how hysteria works here, we must first know what backcountry actually means in a North American context. These regions are known for their inhospitable and rugged landscape, which are prone to yearly human casualties. The rangers live isolated lives in this part of the world, and it’s only fair that they have started to see the fragility of human life and have created a false god responsible for these deaths. The fear of perishing under this god’s wrath makes them sacrifice the people who visit this park as a form of bargain. This god takes a life to spare a life. This is why Zhang sacrifices herself over the guilt of letting so many people die, believing that it will, maybe, clear her of that guilt. 

At the end of Lovely, Deep, and Dark, Lennon assumes the same attitude for her life as a forest ranger at the park. When she receives a transmission about a missing person, she tracks down the man, but when he asks if she is real, Lennon says no and walks away. Perhaps this reminds Lennon of her own journey of getting over her delusions, leaving his fate to be decided by the false god that they had made. 

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Shrey Ashley Philip
Shrey Ashley Philip
A teacher, photographer, linguist, and songwriter, Shrey started out as a Biotechnology graduate, but shifted to studying Japanese. Now he talks about movies, advocates for ADHD awareness, and embraces Albert Camus.

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