‘Reality’ (2023) Ending, Explained: Why Was Reality Winner Sentenced To Prison?

Sydney Sweeney’s new movie, Reality, is a story straight out of reality about a former American intelligence specialist who made an inescapable mistake and now faces the consequences for it. The movie is a direct interpretation of the FBI’s recorded transcripts from June 2017, when Reality Winner was held up in her own home by the FBI. The movie is an in-depth representation of how FBI agents may communicate with people who are about to be in trouble, along with telling Reality’s story and why her voice was important. It’s a really short movie with a run time of under 90 minutes that, for the most part, takes place in a room in Reality’s home. Let’s break it down a little bit.

Spoilers Ahead

Plot Synopsis: What Happens In ‘Reality’?

Reality Winner is driving home after a grocery run and having a decent day until, when she drives into her parking lot, two FBI agents knock on her window. She seems unsurprised to see them and behaves calmly when they show her their IDs. They tell her that they have a warrant allowing them to search her home, car, and person, and she agrees to comply. For the first 30 minutes or so of the film, we don’t quite understand what the agents are really here for. They bring up Reality’s animals; she has a dog and a cat, both of which do not really do well with men. Along with the two agents, Garrick and Taylor, there are many other male agents who arrive in big black cars, appearing very intimidating at Reality’s home. Garrick continues to ask trivial questions like if her dog needs water, if she needs to keep her cat on a leash, what CrossFit program she follows, and how many languages she speaks, among many others. There is an extremely uncomfortable quality in the way Garrick speaks with Reality and also in the way Taylor and he appear to be towering over her, making her seem small and out of reach.

When she brings in the groceries, we can really gauge the number of people that may be in this one tiny house where she lives alone. When the agents ask Reality if she has any weapons, and she names three very fancy ones, it feels like she may have committed some massive crime, and that’s why they’re interrogating her, but soon the thought is lost. Earlier, Garrick had asked Reality if she would prefer to talk in the house or in their office, and she had said the house. In the house, there’s a back room that she doesn’t like to go to much because it’s dirty. Garrick needs a room where he and Taylor can speak to Reality calmly, so she suggests one for them to have their discussion in. Even in the room, Garrick and Taylor wonder if she needs water and if she’s comfortable, and Reality seems just fine. Taylor suggests they show her the warrant, and Garrick asks her if she would be interested to see it. Reality looks very keen on knowing what’s in the warrant. She makes jokes about it and even comments that she has a sense of humor. At the same time, the other agents photograph everything in the house. Reality has left the Air Force because she wants to be deployed to use her language expertise for something more than translating graphic documents. She speaks Farsi, Dari, and Pashto. Her current job entails translating information from Farsi to English, but she doesn’t enjoy it very much. Finally, when Garrick asks her if she knows what they’re there for, she guesses it’s because she accidentally almost took home some intelligence printed out on a piece of paper.

Considering Reality’s long-term goal, she has been actively seeking out an extension for her top-secret/SCI clearance. This allows her access to a lot of information that actively seeks out an extension for her top-secret/SCI clearance that cannot, under any circumstances, be leaked to anyone. At first, when Reality is asked if she leaked classified information to anyone outside of her office building, she denies it vehemently. Then she talks about having a Tor browser, and things begin to fall apart for her. Garrick is quick to ask if she ever printed out information that wasn’t related to her work, and Reality admits it after some time. She’s very disoriented at this point, and we can understand that she knows exactly what the agents are here about. She mixes up the dates for when she may have printed out a document that she was interested in reading and thought it was “cool” to have on her table. She claims she wanted to read the article because she heard about it in the news and kept it on her desk for three days. After which, she says she put it in the “burn box” so that it could be taken care of within the office and not get out anywhere. Garrick points out that Reality might’ve been frustrated with everything going on in America at the time and that she might’ve been really angry about it. Garrick estimates that Reality may have just made a mistake because she was frustrated, not because she was a spy leaking out precious information to destroy America. Reality makes a big goof-up when she says she folded the printed article in half and placed it in the box, which prompts Garrick to point out that this is how it got out of the building. It is interesting to see how disoriented and unsafe she starts to feel in the presence of law enforcement officers. After a lot of back and forth, Reality finally admits that she did indeed leak that information out by mail.

How And Why Did Reality Leak The Information?

Of course, this all looks terribly bad for Reality, who didn’t just have an anonymous internet browser but leaked classified government information to a media outlet, especially after being a person with high-security clearance. Even though the agents think Reality isn’t a huge threat as a spy or something massive of that sort, they are convinced there is some deep reasoning for her “mistake.” Reality admits that she was frustrated and having a terrible time at work because all she could see on the TVs around her was Fox News, and the information was too overwhelming for her. We need to know that at the time, FBI Director James Comey had been fired about 25 days before the agent entered Reality’s home. The information Reality had leaked was about the interference of Russian government in the 2018 US elections. She had leaked this information to an address for “The Intercept,” and according to many, the media outlet’s handling of the information was the reason for Reality’s arrest.

She was not only called out for whistleblowing but she was also put under the bus with the longest sentence ever for an unauthorized leakage in US history. Reality’s disoriented mindset and the frustration she felt were palpable by the end of the session, which lasted over 2 hours, most of which was just about if Reality wanted water and how the FBI are all dog people. It is interesting to note that there may be many such intelligence officers, health care workers, and law enforcers who may be in disgruntled positions because of the environment they work in, leading them to such outcomes. This way, a lot of sensitive information could potentially cause more damage than expected, especially if handled this way. Reality’s story is that of a woman who was frustrated and later claimed to want to do something for her nation. In the end, she believed the document would help her country, so she leaked it. The last thing Reality says to the agents is how her animals must be taken care of if she is going to get arrested because she knows how bad it all looks for her. Reality never showed any signs of non-compliance, and she quietly got arrested. 

Later, the prosecution believed she knew what she was compromising and what damage it could’ve done to the government, leading her to receive the longest sentence for the leakage. Supposedly, she even claimed to hate America and was used as an example of an insider threat, but at the end of the movie, we see a quote from her that says she wanted to keep her pledge to the American people, and that’s why she leaked secret information. Many argue that it was mishandling by “The Intercept” that allowed Reality, their source, to be found out. Additionally, it became clear that people were more interested in knowing about Reality than what she had leaked, which was Russian interference with the democracy of America. We also hear a voiceover from Reality where she talks about telling herself that she needs to feel like she did something bad, but intrinsically she feels otherwise. Maybe, if she hadn’t done it, she would’ve been deployed to Afghanistan by now to fulfill her dreams.

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Ruchika Bhat
Ruchika Bhat
Ruchika, or "Ru," is a fashion designer and stylist by day and a serial binge-watcher by night. She dabbles in writing when she has the chance and loves to entertain herself with reading, K-pop dancing, and the occasional hangout with friends.

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