‘The Animal Kingdom’ Ending Explained & Movie Summary: What Happens To Emile?

Thomas Cailley’s 2023 thriller drama, The Animal Kingdom is indeed a very rare film. The symbolism hidden in the narrative represents countless themes that sweep us into the thought-provoking ideas behind them. People might call it science fiction, except it’s not just sci-fi; The Animal Kingdom is an amalgamation of creature-feature, fantasy, sci-fi, and drama. It is also a commentary on xenophobia and the fear of change. The narrative highlights how people from younger generations are more open to identifying injustice and the steps required to make a change. 


Spoilers Ahead

What Are The Themes Addressed?

The Animal Kingdom brings together themes hinting at the complexities of mental health, society’s attitude towards LGBTQ+ individuals, and the challenges of neurodiversity in a world that often fails to accommodate their needs. Furthermore, the movie’s candid portrayal of ADHD stands out for me the most. It challenges misconceptions and fosters empathy towards neurodivergent people. This film also explores the relationship between a father and his adolescent son. Lastly, the movie presents viewers with an environmentalist message regarding human encroachment on Earth’s flora and fauna and how Mother Nature always has an answer to combat the destructive nature of human intervention.


What Is The Story About?

Set in modern-day France, The Animal Kingdom presents a fictional world hit by a strange genetic disorder that causes some humans to randomly mutate into animals. As society struggles to comprehend it, the cause of this condition remains elusive. Despite the gradual transformation, those afflicted ultimately lose their humanity. The general population holds divided opinions about this phenomenon, with many struggling to accept the affected individuals and adopting the use of derogatory terms such as ‘creep.’

Two years after the onset of the mysterious illness, the story focuses on 16-year-old Emile and his father, Francois, as they come to terms with Emile’s mother, Lana’s, diagnosis. Lana has been put in therapeutic care, a standard procedure for those afflicted with the condition. Emile struggles to accept his mother’s situation, feeling both fear and uncertainty, especially as her appearance begins to resemble that of a bear. 


The facility where Lana resides decides to relocate her and other patients to a rehabilitation center in southern France. In response, Francois and Emile opt to move to a nearby town, necessitating Emile’s mid-term transfer to a new school. However, tragedy strikes when the bus transporting the patients is involved in an accident during a hurricane, scattering them through the nearby forest. The incident leaves some townspeople apprehensive of their safety, while others express empathy toward the patients, recognizing their humanity despite their condition. In the chaos following the accident, Lana goes missing, prompting Francois to fervently search the local forest while Emile struggles to adjust to his new surroundings.

Why Is Emile Suddenly Acting Strange?

As Emile begins to settle into his new classroom, he finds himself making new friends and even developing a potential romantic interest in his classmate, Nina. During their physical education class, he is unexpectedly thrust into a game of tug-of-war. Despite his team being on the verge of defeat, Emile displays astonishing strength, single-handedly pulling his opponents over the line and leading his team to victory. This surprising feat leaves him shaken, and he rushes home, only to notice alarming physical changes: his nails are transforming into claws, and his spine appears to be altering its shape. 


At a party hosted by a classmate, Emile’s anxiety becomes noticeable, prompting Nina to offer him a pill to calm his nerves. In a moment of distress, Emile instinctively licks the pill off Nina’s hand. Later, during a biology lesson, Emile experiences sensory overload due to his heightened hearing, further adding to his growing sense of confusion and unease. It turns out he is gradually turning into a wolf. 

How Does Emile React To His Transformation?

Emile, like many others, had been terrified by his mother’s transformation, viewing it as unnatural. When he finds himself facing a similar predicament, he is in disbelief. The thought of losing his freedom and even his humanity, like that of his mother, fills him with dread. In response to his physical changes, he attempts to conceal them by pulling out his claws and shaving off the growing fur on his skin. However, as his transformation progresses, he finds himself increasingly behaving like an instinctive wolf, losing touch with his human consciousness.


When Emile discovers his mutation, the foundations of his prejudiced beliefs about mutants are shattered. The realization also takes a toll on his psyche. These moments in The Animal Kingdom show his challenges in self-acceptance. However, his father’s opinion of the mutants, especially his mother, helps Emile forge a new perspective. As he gradually starts to accept his condition, he secretly trains himself to live in the forest.

How Does Emile Make Friends With Fix?

Introduced at the beginning of the movie, Fix is a patient afflicted with the illness, mutating into an anthropomorphic falcon with a bandaged white mask covering his face. Emile encounters Fix for the first time while on his way to visit his mother at the facility. During this encounter, Fix breaks free from a containment van, killing a staff member before fleeing. After relocating to southern France, Emile crosses paths with Fix again as he and Francois search for Lana. In this subsequent encounter, Fix severely injures Emile but stops his attack upon realizing that Emile is also a mutant. This display of intelligence both intrigues Emile and evokes empathy for Fix’s plight.


Seeking to understand Fix better, Emile catches a fish to offer as a gesture of goodwill. Approaching Fix’s nest, Emile observes Fix’s inability to fly, hindering his ability to catch prey. Emile attempts to communicate with Fix, who eventually introduces himself, revealing he has no memory of his life as a human. Despite Fix’s initial skepticism, Emile’s persistent efforts to help him learn to fly foster a friendship between them. On one such occasion, Fix allows Emile to replace his bandages, revealing his true face. Fix had undergone forceful facial reassignment surgery to prevent his beak from emerging, a poignant revelation that deepens the audience’s understanding of his suffering and resilience. Fix’s predicament hints a lot at the treatment of queer individuals during the early 20th century. People were prosecuted for being queer and were subjected to chemical castration and other invasive procedures to ‘cure’ their homosexuality. 

How Does Francois React To Emile’s Condition?

Francois had already been dealing with the grief of losing his wife to the mysterious illness. Prior to Lana’s disappearance, her mutation had been controlled by medical intervention. However, Francois’s anxiety worsens when Lana goes missing, fearing that she may have succumbed to the mutation by now. The prospect of losing his family compels Francois to become more stringent with Emile upon learning of his son’s mutation. Francois’s heightened anxiety leads him to adopt a stricter stance towards Emile, urging him to prioritize his studies and avoid social interactions to prevent any suspicions regarding his mutation. Additionally, he imposes daily grooming routines on Emile, insisting on trimming his nails and shaving his fur.


Initially, Francois had attempted to maintain an open-minded approach when Lana began to mutate. He even expresses his frustration about how countries like Norway have been treating the illness differently, emphasizing coexistence rather than taking away the liberty of the mutants. Despite his ideology, discovering Emile’s mutation exacerbates his fears. It’s not that he wouldn’t have accepted the changes his son is going through; rather, he is terrified of being left alone once Emile is also taken away from him. This enforced strictness eventually leads to a violent confrontation between father and son. During the midsummer festival, observing Emile’s indifference toward his instructions, Francois forcefully attempts to trim Emile’s claws, triggering Emile’s instincts as he reflexively bites his father.

How Is Emile’s Secret Revealed? How Does Fix Die?

Throughout his time in the new town, Emile grows closer to Nina. Nina shares a sensitivity towards Emile because of her ADHD, associating his behavior with her own from when she was still undiagnosed. At the Midsummer festival, Emile and Nina sneak away into the fields for a private moment, leading to an intimate encounter between them. Meanwhile, their friend Victor discovers them, identifying Emile as a mutant upon noticing the mutation on his back. Victor, harboring feelings for Nina and resenting Emile for both his relationship with her and his mutation, uses a supersonic sound emitter on Emile, causing him to instinctively scratch his face in defense before fleeing, triggering chaos at the festival.


Upon hearing Victor’s cries suggesting the presence of a mutant at the festival, the local adults arm themselves and set out to hunt Emile. However, their pursuit is interrupted by the sudden appearance of Fix, who flies overhead, killing Emile’s attackers one by one to protect him. During their escape, Fix gets caught in the gunfire. Emile rushes to his side, and Fix smiles at him as he passes away in Emile’s arms.

Fix’s death serves as a poignant symbol, shedding light on his own humanity despite being labeled as a mutant. The circumstances surrounding Fix’s sacrifice highlight humanity’s tendency for segregation and xenophobia. It shows how a being deemed non-human by society ultimately sacrifices himself to save a friend, while humans regress to a more animalistic state in defense of their own misunderstandings.


Does Emile Finally Meet His Mother?

Following Fix’s tragic death, Emile flees into the forest to evade his pursuers. The news of the incident prompts the dispatch of an army battalion to the region to hunt down the escaped mutants. The following evening, Emile seeks refuge in a cave, where he unexpectedly reunites with his mother, who has fully transformed into a bear by now. In this poignant moment, despite her mutation, Lana shows signs of recognizing her son. Her maternal instincts remain intact as she lovingly embraces Emile before wandering off into the wilderness. This touching encounter highlights the enduring bond between mother and child, transcending the barriers of mutation. 

What Happens To Emile?

As Emile steps into a forest clearing, he finds himself surrounded by mutants who have integrated seamlessly with nature. Suddenly, military units launch an attack on the mutants to capture them. Emile is also apprehended by army personnel, but his human appearance spares him from being identified as a mutant.


During The Animal Kingdom‘s ending, Francois and Emile are finally reunited at the police station, where an officer files a report stating that Emile was merely present at the scene by chance and not involved in disrupting the army operation. When the officer offers a copy of the report for Emile to sign, his inability to do so reveals his true identity. Before the officer can react, Francois intervenes, knocking him out, and they make their escape from the station. During their getaway, Francois realizes that he must accept his son’s condition and set him free. He drives into the forest and encourages Emile to embrace his true nature. With resolve, Emile runs off into the forest, symbolizing his acceptance of himself and his newfound freedom.

At its core, The Animal Kingdom talks about identity, acceptance, and the fragility of human life. By its portrayal of this genetic condition and how society reacts toward this mysterious illness, I feel, it explores how we struggle to embrace our true selves because of prejudice and fear. Emile comes to terms with his identity as a mutant, facing discrimination and alienation, mirroring the real-world experiences of marginalized communities. The film also subtly explores the idea that children, while often more open-minded and accepting, are still susceptible to the ideologies and prejudices of the world around them. The relationship between Emile and his father, Francois, depicts the complexities of family bonds and the lengths to which we can go to protect our loved ones. Against the backdrop of nature and humanity, the film highlights how all living beings are connected to each other.


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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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