‘The Lesson’ Ending Explained & Movie Spoilers: Whose Novel Is ‘Rose Tree’?

A pretentious patriarch, a dead child, a mysterious novel, and a stranger in the house, Alice Troughton’s The Lesson is a (very) slow-burn psychological drama film; some may even say a thriller about a young and aspiring author. The film is fairly short and intrigues with its beautiful landscapes and alluring home decor, keeping one on the edge (if that’s your thing). Liam Sommers is invited as a live-in tutor to his favorite author’s home (for his son, of course). Overjoyed, Liam takes on the job and finds himself in a gorgeous estate with a lake and a beautiful backyard, where he tutors Bertie, the high schooler that he’s meant to get into Oxford University. The film relies heavily on tropes and ends up being quite predictable by the end.


Spoilers Ahead

Liam And Bertie’s Relationship

A lot of The Lesson goes into building a trustworthy relationship between Liam, our desperate protagonist, and Bertie, his idol’s son. In many ways, Liam probably attempts to be as charismatic as J.M. Sinclair, his idol and Bertie’s father, so he could have a similar influence on him. Additionally, there’s reason to impress his favorite by simply tutoring an already smart child. It’s clear from the start that Sinclair isn’t who he seems to be. He’s ignorant of his family members and only truly cares for his writing (which we’ll get to later). Bertie has some pent-up trauma against his father, which Liam begins to see very clearly. He wants him to get these things out of his system in order to improve his writing and his chances of getting into Oxford. Bertie had a brother named Felix, who was much closer to his father than Bertie. But Felix had died two years before Liam made his way to the Sinclair household. After opening up the curtains to Bertie’s mind, Liam learns that Bertie used to be close to Felix and misses him dearly. But more importantly, he believes their father killed him by pressuring him (not a far-off kid).


The Observer 

Throughout The Lesson, there are times we feel like Liam is a gray character. There are a lot of questionable things he chooses to do that almost make him seem criminal at first. There’s something reptilian in the way he moves around the Sinclair home. Liam’s thesis is on Sinclair himself, but he feels drawn to the happenings of this family more deeply. There’s a voyeuristic obsession, especially when it comes to Sinclair’s wife, Helene. Liam wants the hand of his god (Sinclair) on his work, but it seems more like he wants to embody the guy. “Good authors borrow, great authors steal, etc.,” are some of Sinclair’s most memorable words, which seem to be deeply impactful on Liam, maybe enough to make him want to steal his life or story at least. Liam’s room is positioned in such a way that his window faces Sinclair’s study. While he burns the midnight oil, Liam gets to see how hard the guy works not only on his book but on his love life too (dirty fellow). During the day, when Sinclair isn’t around, Liam spends some time with Helene, becoming “close” to her. At the same time, he helps Bertie learn to deal with his brother’s death by getting him to swim in the lake where his brother died.

Rose Tree And Tower 24

Sinclair is working on a new novel called “Rose Tree.” This is an interesting title because Bertie tells Liam about how his brother Felix always loved the rose tree in their garden, which acted like a weed. There’s definitely something fishy here. While Sinclair is clearly unwelcoming to Liam at first, he warms up to him when Liam helps fix his printer. After that, Sinclair is suddenly buddies with the young man, asking him to help with all sorts of IT things. There’s a second server on Sinclair’s computer that Liam keeps noticing, but Sinclair always tells him to leave it be.


Sinclair learns about a novel Liam’s working on through Bertie, who is trying to act up initially. Later, he suggests that they can proofread each other’s work because Liam isn’t a real writer anyway, so it might be useful for him as a fan’s critique. Liam is obviously thrilled with this idea (oh boy) and immediately agrees. there’s an NDA that keeps him from talking to anyone about Sinclair’s book, even Helene. Liam also has this ability to read something and recall it exactly as it is—an entire novel. When Liam takes a dip in the lake on a whim, Sinclair tells him to never do it again because it’s only been two years since Felix died there.

Finally, when the analysis happens, Liam tells Sinclair that the book is fantastic and he sounds like a completely new person. He’s thrilled about the piece, which is definitely going to shake the world, but he thinks the end, part three, comes across as a different novel. Sinclair is infuriated by this reaction and tells Liam that he’s a terrible writer and his novel is awful. He tells him to go into teaching instead. Liam is devastated, and although he believes at first it’s Sincalir’s ego speaking, he ends up ripping up his handwritten novel, which he worked on for years, and throwing it into the lake just like that.


The Prodigal Son And The Sins Of The Father

In an interview, Sinclair is asked about his son and if he takes inspiration from his own tragedy. According to the interviewer, Sinclair always spoke about writing from one’s own life experiences. Sinclair gets agitated by this question, though, and tells the interviewer that he writes despite his tragedy, not because of it. Nobody quite understands why this is such a trigger for him as he walks away from the interview. Liam, who was in the audience back then, later discovers the man’s dark secret. Helene goes as far as to give Liam Felix’s clothes because he’s around the same age and it may help Bertie. But, when Sinclair leaves town for some work, Liam and Helene take advantage of being alone (oops), even sending Bertie away.

Helene and Liam both want one thing: to know what Sinclair is hiding in Felix’s room. He’s been gone for two years, but the doors are still locked, so Helene knows there’s a secret. Finally, Liam makes his way into the room to find a computer. When he turns it on, there in front of him is the original “Rose Tree” by Felix. It was never his father’s novel; he stole his own son’s unfinished work after telling him he was worthless (despicable!). A broken Liam ends up deleting Felix’s work and corrupting Sinclair’s computer, making it seem like it was a mistake. Sinclair’s entire novel is lost, and he starts to blame Bertie for it. Although it seems like Liam is going to steal the novel for himself, he quotes the novel to stop Sinclair from assaulting his second son.


Helene recognizes the words immediately, knowing it was Felix who wrote them. She secretly makes a deal with Liam to write his own ending for the book. Liam seizes the opportunity within seconds of her asking, coming up with a much better ending than Sinclair. In the meantime, Liam and Sinclair work day and night to write the whole thing again, thanks to Liam’s memory.

What Does Liam End Up Writing About?

After finishing the novel, Sinclair wants to celebrate, so the two writers get drunk. Sinclair tells Liam they should go for a swim as Helene watches from her window. Just as they’re about to enter the lake, Liam tells Sinclair that he’s been with his wife—a deep cut. Sinclair takes Liam into the lake, trying to physically drown him, but Liam manages to escape by the skin of his teeth. Liam kicks Sinclair in the face to escape the lake and runs to the butler, who has been confusing through the whole film, until this point when you know he’s on Helene’s side. Sinclair goes further into the lake and drowns himself, just like his son (out of the blue?).


Liam goes up to Helene like a little puppy, hoping for a treat. Instead, it feels like he’s swallowed poison because Helene tells him his new story. Sinclair’s new novel will be published after the world learns of his death. The stories will read that Sinclair never got over his son’s death and chose to complete his last novel, then end his life in the same lake where his son died. His novel will be published with Liam’s ending, with no credit to Liam, of course. Helene was only ever interested in the truth about “Rose Tree,” so she made this elaborate plan with Liam at the center of it all. Alternatively, since Liam has signed an NDA, if he were to tell anybody about what really happened, it would be revealed that he murdered Sinclair out of spite (smart lady). Liam’s left with nothing at the end of it all, but before he leaves the gates of the Sinclair estate, he begins to smile. At the beginning of The Lesson, we see Liam, who has just published his new novel being interviewed. It’s about a patriarch who terrorizes his own grief-stricken family. Sound familiar? 

Why Is Bertie Happy In The Epilogue?

In the epilogue, we return to that interview, and Bertie is sitting in the audience, looking out at Liam proudly. When the interviewer mentions the success of Liam’s book, Bertie begins to smile, and it seems like Liam smiles back at him before the curtains close on The Lesson. In the end, Liam made it to the top by stealing Sinclair’s life story and writing his own novel, embodying Sinclair’s words. Ultimately, Liam became as bad as Sinclair himself in order to achieve his goals. At the same time, he even got Bertie to feel inspired by him, really coming full circle. We’d think Bertie has actually read Liam’s book and appreciates that he called out his father (not literally, but you know?) because, by the end, it was only Liam who was actually there for him. Bertie never read his father’s novels, but he possibly learns the truth about “Rose Tree” through Liam’s novel. It’s strange that Helene had to do so much just to find out what Sinclair was keeping from her when she could’ve just opened the locked door.


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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