‘The Unknown Country’ Ending Explained & Movie Summary: Does Tana Find Closure?

Tana is in the middle of nowhere. And so are we as we make ourselves comfortable in the passenger seat of this warm road trip movie. Morrisa Maltz’s second feature, The Unknown Country, would’ve been known as a slice-of-life movie in a better world, a world that’s content with the random magic found in fleeting experiences. Grief and hope go alongside Tana’s car as she transcends a profound sense of loss and sees the light at the end of the tunnel.


Spoilers Ahead

What Happens In The Film?

It’s not estrangement, per se, that’s created this overwhelming gap between Tana and her extended Oglala Lakota family. But when loss came at her out of nowhere and she set off on a road trip through the icy South Dakota roads, an invitation to her cousin Lainey’s wedding opened up a whole new world for her to look through. Courtesy of her urban upbringing, she doesn’t know their ways all that intimately. Yet, the mirth she’s embraced by in Lainey’s modest household, loud with the happy noises of children and her soon-to-be groom Devin, is something Tana didn’t even know she was longing for. The circumstances surrounding her grandmother’s death and why it’s had a transformative effect on her aren’t things we get familiar with until we’re close to the end of the movie. In the meantime, we hear stories, both real and fictional.


How Does Tana Feel Around Her Family?

Lainey’s pretty easygoing. Tana’s reluctance to open herself up to her family, born out of whatever insecurities she may have been struggling with, melts away pretty easily around her cousin and her chirpy little daughter, Jasmine. We don’t know if she’s ever felt this sense of belonging before. But the look of uncertainty does find its way to dim the sparkle in her eyes when she’s around people who come alive amidst their own. She’s new to the joy of knowing that there’s a certain peace in surrounding yourself with kindred spirits. And then there’s that deafening guilt of staying aloof for most of her life. She’s bound to feel a few pangs of that when she’s finally close to her Indigenous roots, welcomed with such ease that it’s as if they’ve known her all along. The Unknown Country seeks out the moments, primarily reserved for something else entirely, to let us in on its take on certain things. Tana lets herself soak in all that Lainey’s grandfather, who’s also brother to Tana’s deceased grandmother, has to impart on the new sapling of hope he recognizes her as. Maltz’s film effortlessly lets out its scoff against ageist stereotypes when the old man catches Tana off guard with his surprisingly empathetic understanding of her grandmother’s alienation from her own people. In a way, it reassures Tana of her own acceptance into her family, despite the distance she’s maintained for a long time.

What Else Does Tana Experience On Her Way To Texas?

Tana’s time on the road, which covers the greater part of the film’s timespan, gives her the time to contemplate and introspect as the background noises get louder. But The Unknown Country doesn’t forget America and its sociopolitical landscape to centralize Tana. It doesn’t forget that Tana, too, especially as an Indigenous woman, suffers the very real side effects of the country crawling with conspiracy theorists and Trump-pushing conservatives. The car radio blares sirens about the alarming state of America, and the creeps on the road that Tana does her best to steer clear of seem to pop up like mushrooms. Yet, there are unexpected moments filled to the brim with hope. And these are real people that this documentary-drama hybrid has asked to serve as reminders that there’s love and magic out there yet. The infectious kindness that the sweet waitress with a house full of cats speaks of is also a sort of good omen for Tana’s road ahead. And that convenience store guy with the unlikeliest love story offers up a bite of his happiness as he turns her frown upside down.


Does Tana Find Closure?

The Unknown Country not so much speaks but whispers through metaphors and changing imagery. Tana’s drive from South Dakota to Texas is the emotional vehicle for her grief. To take her from the coldness of death to the warmth of a place that was witness to someone’s beautiful revolt against the norms. And that someone, the young woman in the black-and-white photograph that makes Tana break into tears, was her grandmother. The icy whites shift to a warmer shade in Dallas, the city that adores and nurtures someone as vibrant as Flo. This dancer, adored by the woman in charge of the dancing hall, is as real as the vibrance on her face as she moves to the groovy beats. 

Tana’s sweet banter with Dallas gradually reveals itself to be the first few miles of her road to healing. It’s a layered metaphor, serving two purposes, each validating the other. It’s here that Tana’s smiles aren’t accompanied by the desolation and emptiness in her eyes. It’s where she’s truly herself, enriched by the love she received closer to her roots. She’s revitalized enough to reclaim her individuality in the kind of space she’s familiar with but has probably never felt fully accepted by.


The woman befriending a group of strangers and going about having the time of her life is someone her grandmother would’ve been the best of friends with, as she herself was not too dissimilar. In retrospect, Tana might someday recognize that she was never as detached from her people as she’d feared. It was the same kindness—the inherent urge to be there for one another—that made Tana put her life on hold so that she could be her grandmother’s sole caregiver. The dress inside that suitcase that belonged to her grandmother fits her well. But so much more of her grandmother is actually in Tana that this journey might as well have been one of rebirth. In the ending sequence, as she stands near the cliff and inhales the vastness of the world ahead, she may as well be just a fleeting speck of experience. But the person she is, the one she’ll now begin the journey of revealing more often, is made up of bits and pieces of her grandmother and everyone else they’ve ever had a loving relationship with.

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Lopamudra Mukherjee
Lopamudra Mukherjeehttps://muckrack.com/lopamudra-mukherjee
Lopamudra nerds out about baking whenever she’s not busy looking for new additions to the horror genre. Nothing makes her happier than finding a long-running show with characters that embrace her as their own. Writing has become the perfect mode of communicating all that she feels for the loving world of motion pictures.

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