Calling the plot of Sebastian Silva’s Rotting in the Sun engaging would be a huge understatement. The ingenious crime mystery film puts you in a pressure cooker and makes you hold your heart while you wait for it to explode any minute. That is how I would describe the experience, and I am not even exaggerating a bit. Rotting in the Sun‘s ending is heartbreaking and fascinating at the same time, but most importantly, it leaves a lot hanging in the balance. I thought it was a genius move by Silva, as an ending like that is bound to make the audience talk about the film for ages. Quite naturally, an explanation becomes mandatory, and I am going to try my hand at that in this article. However, there’s going to be a lot more speculation than explanation, if I have to be completely honest.
Plot Synopsis: What Happens in the Movie?
Life is a minefield of dread for ketamine sniffing director Sebastian Silva. From the very first minute, it is evident that everything in life is futile to this man, who keeps having suicidal thoughts and searching about this drug called “Pentobarbital”. The drug happens to be a poison that is used to put down dogs and is easily available in Mexico. As a matter of fact, people actually visit Mexico to get a hold of pentobarbital in order to end their lives. Sebastian does have some semblance of hope in life, though, in the form of his dog, Chima, who is extremely attached to the man. And his best friend, Mateo, who actually pays the rent for Seb’s apartment along with handling everything else, seems solid enough.
Why does Sebastian go to Zicatela?
Despite being on the brink, Seb is not completely done with life. In a desperate attempt to find something to live for, he travels to this nude beach called Zicatela. The plan is to relax for the weekend and come back home rejuvenated. However, for someone like Sebastian, this is obviously something that is easier said than done.
Initially spending his time minding his own business, Sebastian finds himself in an ironic situation when he goes for a swim and sees a man drowning. Not only does his attempt to save the man go in vain, but he himself gets caught in a riptide. Hearing Sebastian’s cry for help, a man bravely gets into the water and saves him from drowning. As fate would have it, this man, Jordan, happened to watch one of Sebastian’s films the night before, and he is enthralled to meet the director in such a strange situation. Jordan himself is an internet sensation, thanks to his profession as an Instagram influencer who subtly preaches the “live-love-laugh” hogwash along with doing impressions. Even though Jordan comes off as insufferably clingy, Sebastian interacts with him out of gratitude. However, when Jordan randomly pitches his idea of doing a “Curb Your Enthusiasm”-esque show, Seb flatly rejects the idea. Jordan also happens to take a physical and romantic interest in Seb, which also makes the latter feel awkward.
In spite of all that, Seb ends up at a party that night after being invited by Jordan. However, they soon have a falling out when Jordan casually posts a story of Seb doing K on Instagram, which makes Seb lose his head. Erupting in anger, Seb blurts out a lot of mean things to Jordan, which basically translate to Jordan meaning nothing and his work having no artistic value or significance.
Why does Seb contact Jordan again?
Life doesn’t get any easier for Sebastian after coming back from vacation. His alternative career as a painter fails to take off. His meeting with HBO executives, where he pitches some ideas, doesn’t get anywhere until he brings up Jordan and mentions that he is planning to do something with the IG influencer. This suddenly makes the HBO people excited, which effectively leads Seb to contact Jordan and propose that they work together. Jordan is unsurprisingly over the moon, and he can’t wait to bunk with Seb for a week and start the project.
With Jordan coming to his apartment, Seb decides to bring in a sofa from the rooftop with the help of his maid, Veronica, aka Vero, a middle-aged woman. Vero gets slightly annoyed at Seb for constantly taking phone calls while moving the heavy sofa, as she is in a hurry to attend a family event. Even though he is about to work with Jordan, Seb tells him on the phone that Jordan’s idea for the show is quite vapid, and he doesn’t appreciate it at all. At the same moment, Vera asks him to hurry. But right after cutting the call to Jordan and putting the phone in his pocket, Seb’s phone rings again, and he tries to take the call while standing at the edge of the rooftop. Unfortunately, though, Vero gets a little distracted and ends up pushing the sofa towards Seb, who accidentally trips and falls over the edge and dies instantly.
Does Jordan Manage To Uncover The Truth About Sebastian?
From the very moment Sebastian dies, in the worst possible manner, Rotting in the Sun becomes a very different movie. Up until now, Vero was only a minor supporting character. But being the one who witnessed Sebastian’s death and then tried to cover it up automatically makes Vero the central character of the story. Rotting in the Sun also transforms into a tale of evolution for Jordan, who becomes obsessed with finding out what really happened to Sebastian.
Before getting into all that, let us talk a bit about the suspense versus shock narrative structure. In the suspense format, you, the audience, see a certain incident unfolding—a murder or a crime in most cases. And then you wait for the characters in the movie—one of whom should ideally be a detective—to discover all about it by the end. In shock format, the film doesn’t reveal the secret to you. Often, the characters are hiding things, and you only find out about the main deal at the end. “Rotting in the Dark” had a brilliant narrative that would have worked in both of these structures. For example, if we hadn’t seen Sebastian dying and the scene was cut right after Sebastian finished the phone call with Jordan, and then Jordan came to Seb’s place, only to find he wasn’t around anymore, we would have seen things from Jordan’s perspective only. Instead, Rotting in the Sun chooses to give us the information and let us see Jordan trying to uncover the truth in an anxiety-ridden second half, where taking a bathroom break becomes an impossible thing.
Earlier in Rotting in the Sun, Vero accidentally ruins some of Sebastian’s paintings. While Seb doesn’t get mad at her, Mateo doesn’t take this lightly. Scared of getting fired, Vero pleads with Seb to talk to Mateo; even though we, from the perspective of an audience, can clearly see that despite what he says, Mateo doesn’t really care about it either. He neither has the time nor the energy, and he knows for a fact that those paintings wouldn’t have changed the world for Sebastian. But for Vero, it’s a matter of her job, which is very essential for her to get by and take care of her family. So we see her in a constant state of anxiety, repeatedly begging her employers, and promising to do better. Before unintentionally causing Seb’s death, all Vero does is take care of the dysfunctional household, trying her best to make sure everything goes well while some repairing work goes on in the apartment, and also looking after Chima when Seb goes to Zicatela.
There is one particular scene where Vero even tries to have a conversation with Sebastian regarding his drug abuse. This only proves that Vero does care about Sebastian, but given that he is her employer, she obviously can’t do much about him ruining his own life. What Vero does after Seb’s death is basically a chain of events caused by the panic reaction of a frightened woman. Hiding the body inside the storage room of the same rooftop from where Sebastian fell is not exactly a wise choice for covering up, especially given that Vero tells Mateo that Sebastian went out right after his death. But Vero, with the help of this man named Lalo, who could be a friend or relative, does exactly that. In a moment of confrontation, Vero and Lalo both come to the conclusion that the police would definitely hold her responsible for Seb’s death. This is a fear that comes from the fact that Vero is, after all, from the weaker section of society, and the poor are always held responsible when the victim is rich.
By the time Jordan arrives, Vero has already gone too far with her botched job of covering up Seb’s death. So she does exactly the kind of things you would expect an ill-fated middle-aged woman to do. In her first meeting with Jordan, she claims to not know anything, including who Sebastian is, when Jordan shows Seb’s photo on his phone. Jordan finds that off-putting, and thanks to Vero’s behavior in the subsequent hours, Jordan’s suspicion only increases.
Although Jordan initially believes that Seb has deliberately ghosted him and Vero actually knows where he is, this thought most likely stems from the fact that Jordan has abandonment issues, and deep down, he is indeed a vapid soul who is looking for a meaningful human connection. And Sebastian happens to be that one real connection for him, as he was the only one who told Jordan the truth, unlike his millions of followers on Instagram. So, he keeps frantically searching for the only person who made him actually feel something real. He eventually drops the idea he’s getting ghosted once he comes across Seb’s cell phone, wallet, and journal. This is also a result of Vero’s sloppy cover-up job, where she should have gotten rid of the phone and the wallet, especially when she had lied about Seb going out in the first place. Anyway, Jordan takes the stuff to Mateo, who, up until this point, was still thinking that Seb was probably on a bender somewhere.
Despite Jordan showing him the phone, wallet, and journal, Mateo asks him not to worry, as Sebastian has done things like this before. However, what Jordan fails to see is the apprehension in Mateo’s face, who is clearly freaked out by seeing the word “Pentobarbital” in Jordan’s journal. I really liked how Rotting in the Sun cleverly puts little things in the narrative that eventually become very important. For example, we see Mateo joking about the drug and literally asking Sebastian to take it and die. He obviously doesn’t mean it and loves his friend, but seeing the mention of “Pentobarbital” in the journal after Seb has gone missing tips Mateo off, as we see him having the private conversation with his wife where he pretty much holds himself responsible. In a stroke of luck, Vero, who still hasn’t managed to move the body, overhears Mateo talking to his wife and finds a lifeline. This is another genius narrative move that adds another layer to an already fascinating story. Not only does Vero get a bottle of “Pentobarbital” and carefully put it inside Seb’s trash, but she even tells Jordan about overhearing Mateo talking about it. This is probably the only devious move Vero makes, which effectively makes Jordan ask Seb’s twin brother Juan to come visit, as Jordan fears that Seb is probably dead.
Vero’s plan of staging Seb’s death as a suicide works out, as the police buy that narrative. But it results in Matro firing her. It can be assumed here that Mateo has realized that Vero has something to do with Seb’s disappearance because it was she who planted the poison in the trash right after hearing Mateo talk about it. However, it can also be that Mateo is just paranoid; he never really seemed to like Vero, and now that there’s no Sebastian around, there’s no need to keep the woman appointed.
It was a nice touch to make Juan a twin, which has quite an impact on both Jordan and Vero. While it ignites a fountain of emotion in the former, the latter acts like she’s seeing a ghost, which is only natural as Vero keeps getting haunted by her guilt, and now she literally sees the manifestation of that in front of her. However, Vero does manage to get away until she decides to confess everything to Jordan. I feel the reason she does that is because Jordan turns out to be the only person who shows her some empathy, and she also realizes that Jordan actually cares about Sebastian. Unfortunately, though, her confession gets lost in translation. Making Jordan only speak English and Vero only speak Spanish is another very effective tool the film uses, which effectively makes Jordan rely on his translator application to decode everything that Vero says.
So, does Jordan manage to find out what happened to Sebastian? We don’t really know that, as Rotting in the Sun ends with the sight of a perplexed-looking Jordan, who is trying to figure out what Vero has just said. This is a simultaneously brilliant and frustrating ending, which will keep us thinking about what could possibly happen after this. I am going to leave you with the theory I have. I feel the truth will come out eventually. Even if Jordan fails to decipher Vero’s confession right away, he will find out about it after all. We have already seen Chima scratching the door of the storage unit inside, where Sebastian’s body is still rotting in the sun, giving perfect justification to the title of the film. It is very likely that Mateo, who lives downstairs, is going to find out as soon as the body starts to smell. It is another matter whether anyone will ever actually know how Sebastian has really died other than Vero, who is now out in the wind. You are all welcome to share your theories, if you have any.