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The Ending Of Pearl Explained

The popularity of slasher movies has ebbed and flowed as this horror genre has evolved, particularly since the release of John Carpenter's 1978 seminal slasher, "Halloween." Considering how long the slasher has been around, it can be hard for modern filmmakers to subvert the genre or explore it in unexpected new ways. In 2022 though, director Ti West reinvented the wheel not once, but twice with his critically acclaimed postmodern slashers "X" and its prequel, "Pearl."

Set in 1918 during the First World War, "Pearl" follows the eponymous character — played by an exceptional Mia Goth — over 60 years prior to her villainous appearance in "X." A young farm girl who dreams of a bigger life for herself, Pearl fantasizes about one day becoming a movie star and leaving her boring life in Texas behind for Hollywood. 

The only thing standing in her way are her parents: Her ill father (Matthew Sunderland) needs to be taken care of, while her strict mother (Tandi Wright) orders Pearl to stick to the reality of the farm. But no one can crush Pearl's dreams and she heads down a path of violence and insanity to get what she feels she deserves.

As had been the case with "X," there is a lot to unpack in regards to "Pearl" — most especially that hallucinatory, largely ambiguous ending. What's the meaning behind Pearl's haunting smile as the credits roll? Why does she reposition her parents' bodies around their shared dinner table? And what the heck can we expect from "MaXXXine," the upcoming final film in the trilogy (via Deadline)? All these questions and more are answered below.

Warning: spoilers for "Pearl" and "X" below.

Pearl's climactic murder spree

Pearl's killing spree and the subsequent murder of her parents can be attributed almost entirely to her desire for fame. Believing her parents are the reason for her boring life, she is torn between her desire to pursue a career in dancing or whether to continue living on the farm with her family. Halfway through the film, we see her finally make a decision about her future: She opts to kill her parents and essentially eliminate the one thing she believes is standing in her path to stardom.

Once she gets rejected by the talent scouts at her audition, however, Pearl begins to regret her horrific actions. Now that her family is dead, the best she can do is simply pretend that they're alive, dressing them up for dinner and posing them around the table. Throughout the movie, we've seen that Pearl has an active imagination, as she pictures herself dancing in front of dazzled crowds while performing her menial chores on the farm. Her trying to pose her parents' bodies around the dinner table is just one more illustration of her ever-active imagination. 

Her arrangement of the bodies also suggests that she's feeling guilty over her past actions, and once again desires to be surrounded by her parents (even if they're dead). In the end, she wants only to be loved by others: hence, her Hollywood aspirations, her regret at losing her parents, and her decision not to kill Howard when he returns home since Howard is the only "audience" she has left to rely on for praise and affection.

Pearl's decision to kill Mitzy

After her unsuccessful audition near the end of the film, a devastated Pearl confesses all of her past crimes to Mitzy and launches into an emotional tirade about her ambivalent feelings towards Howard. As she reveals her psychopathic nature to her sister-in-law, she also confronts Mitzy about the results of her audition and pressures her into admitting she landed the part that Pearl so desperately wanted. When a fearful Mitzy reluctantly confirms Pearl's suspicions, an enraged Pearl chases Mitzy from the farm and brutally kills her with an ax.

There is some ambiguity about whether Mitzy actually did receive the part Pearl auditioned for or not. Sure, she seems to have a more level-headed response than Pearl after her audition. But whether that's evidence she earned the role or simply took her rejection better than Pearl is up for interpretation. However, the fact that Pearl forces her to admit she landed the part just further illustrates Pearl's own troubled psyche.

As we've seen through the movie, Pearl truly believes that she is special and destined for greatness outside the limited world of her Texas homestead. Rather than facing the possibility that she isn't special — that she lacks the "X factor" that most need to become famous — she instead attributes her shortcomings to others instead of acknowledging her own flaws. 

The idea that Pearl wasn't good enough in her audition doesn't even cross her mind. Like her hatred of her parents or Howard for forcing her to stay on the farm, she now blames Mitzy for her unfortunate lot in life, which culminates in Mitzy's murder.

Pearl's hatred for blondes in X is established here

In "X," Howard and Pearl begin systematically killing off the pornography crew that have shown up to film on their property. Shortly after Pearl pushes Bobby-Lynne (Brittany Snow) into the pond where Theda the alligator is lying in wait, Howard asks her whether Bobby-Lynne was the girl that caught Pearl's attention. In reply, Pearl tells her husband, "You know I don't like blondes."

In "Pearl," we see the reason for Pearl's distaste for blondes. Pearl is rejected at her audition for her physical appearance, as the casting agents tell her that they want someone younger and blonde. Because of this, she jumps to the conclusion that Mitzy was cast in the role in her place, which leads her to murder Mitzy out of homicidal jealousy.

In looking at her later appearance in "X," it seems that Pearl's hatred for blondes ties into her anger towards Mitzy and the fact that she blames her sister-in-law for the fame and fortune she hoped would come out of the audition. 

Her hostile response to Bobby-Lynne as the younger girl tries to help her back to the house further illustrates this fact. She openly lashes out at Bobby-Lynne for her physical beauty and Bobby-Lynne even defends herself by saying, "It ain't my fault you didn't live the life you wanted."

Judging from this exchange, it seems almost certain that Pearl sees blondes as a reminder of her own failure at the audition scene. It also shows that her hatred for Mitzy hasn't dissipated over the years, with Pearl seeing all blondes as essentially the same.

Pearl essentially becomes her mother

Throughout Ti West's film, it's shown that Pearl is continuously mistreated by her domineering mother, Ruth, which is partly what pushes her into her psychopathic rage. Halfway through the movie, Pearl confronts her mother about her abusive treatment, blaming Ruth for now allowing her greater freedom to explore the world outside the farm. 

In response, Ruth lashes out at Pearl, revealing that — like Pearl — Ruth similarly blames her ungrateful child and physically disabled husband for her trapped position in life. The argument soon turns violent and starts Pearl down the homicidal path we see during the movie's climax.

After her killing spree ends, Pearl seems to come to terms with the fact that her place in the world is there on the farm, rather than on a stage. She makes herself and the house presentable for Howard's return and decides to settle down for a long — albeit unhappy — marriage to Howard. Ultimately, the possibility of becoming a star and having an adventurous life on her own is dashed by her obligation to her family.

Ironically, Pearl's epilogue in the film mirrors the path of her mother's. Like Pearl, Ruth came to America with the dream of accomplishing something and making a new life for herself outside of Germany. 

After her young husband's sickness and the birth of Pearl, she soon realized that her fantasized view of the American dream was just that: a dream. And because of that, we see her treat her family with cold resentment and hostility, as Pearl herself is guilty of doing.

Pearl's parents' relationship mirrors Pearl's life with Howard

Decades after the events of "Pearl," we see how Pearl and Howard have settled into an uneventful life on the farm in "X." Taking place in the 1970s, the film shows the now elderly Howard essentially runs the farm on his own and cares for Pearl, whose mental state seems to have declined over the decades. Interestingly, their relationship in "X" seems to directly mirror Pearl's parents' own relationship during the events of "Pearl."

As we see in "Pearl," Pearl's mother, Ruth has to take care of her physically disabled husband and often delegates that work to Pearl. This is largely the same dynamic Pearl eventually has with Howard, as she becomes physically and mentally unable to care for herself by the 1970s.

The one notable exception between Pearl's parents and Howard and Pearl is that Howard doesn't seem to hold any resentment towards Pearl for her physical and mental state. Instead, he performs his duties faithfully to Pearl, ensuring she's as happy and healthy as she can be — even going so far as to assist her in her murder sprees in order to appease Pearl's more psychopathic side as well.

Pearl hushing almost all of her victims

In "Pearl," we see the eponymous character place her finger to her lips and gently hush her victims as they die. It's a minor detail that makes Pearl's murders and her entire character that much more disturbing and also ties into a similar trait shown in "X." Whenever Pearl kills someone in "X," she repeats the same hushing motion, having carried this tick over from her early killing spree in the 1910s.

Interestingly, at the end of "X," Pearl's younger counterpart Maxine (also played by Mia Goth) makes the exact same hushing motion shortly before killing her. Along with the fact that they are played by the same actor, this hushing action by Maxine is meant to invite further parallels between herself and the now elderly Pearl. Like Pearl in her youth, Maxine believes she's destined for great success on the silver screen and her confident attitude and aspirations in "X" mirror Pearl's own dreams in "Pearl" in virtually every way imaginable.

The meaning behind Pearl's smile

The closing moments of the film see Pearl reunite with Howard, who's just returned home from his service in World War I. Pearl has put together a dinner party of nightmares: Her deceased parents sit around the table, "ready" to eat the maggot-coated roasted pig. Howard walks in on this scene and Pearl turns to him, greeting him with a massive, unnerving smile that lasts well into the end credits. If you pay close attention to the final moments of the credits, you can see Pearl's smile continuously waver, as tears cascade down her cheeks.

Pearl's smile seems to underline all of the conflicting feelings she's had throughout the movie. Outwardly, she's forcing herself to smile for both Howard's and her own sake. It's an attempt to fool herself into feeling happy about his return. However, seeing him enter through the door makes her realize that she will never be able to pursue her dreams. It's a shock to her system and so, as she smiles, she comes face to face with the fact that she is now doomed to life on the farm with Howard. It's essentially her worst nightmare, which is why this one seemingly simple gesture — a smile — is able to say so much.

The strained smile juxtaposed with the tears also ties into one of the main themes of "Pearl" as well. Like the overly-sensationalized, "Wizard of Oz"-like presentation of the film, Pearl's smile and her inner pain illustrate the idea of something darker hiding behind the idyllic glamor of the surface.

Mia Goth's smile over the end credits was not in the script

Despite the violence and gruesome imagery of the film (we'll never look at a pig in the same way again), perhaps the most unsettling moment in all of "Pearl" is that final shot of Pearl's massive, pained smile that greets Howard's return. 

As the credits roll, the viewer sees Pearl's smile last for an uncomfortably long time. The screen finally fades to black and the initially upbeat music subsides into a flat, string-heavy minor key. It's an incredibly creepy moment in the film — perhaps the most chilling scene in all of "Pearl" — and amazingly, the film crew thought it up on the fly.

At a Q & A at the 25th SCAD Savannah Film Festival, Mia Goth revealed that her smile over the end credits didn't appear anywhere in the script but instead, Ti West suggested she try out a smile and ""we just hold on your face for a while and see what happens" (via MovieMaker). Confident in her abilities, Goth joked, "I was like, 'Yeah, okay, Ti... leave it with me.'"

If the scene didn't work out or they were dissatisfied with the finished takes, West told Goth he had a contingency plan in place: They would use a freeze frame of Goth's smile instead. However, his desire was for her to "play around with it" and have fun with the moment, so Goth went with that directive. 

It's clear now that the pained and uncomfortable reaction on her face over the end credits is largely genuine, with Goth holding the smile for as long as she could while waiting for West to yell cut.

The X on the floor

During her fateful audition, Pearl takes to the stage and prepares for her song and dance number. As she positions herself in front of the assembled scouts, she's seen looking down and stepping onto a large X marked on the floor, where prospective talents are expected to stand for their audition.

On the surface, this seems like an obvious throwaway nod to "X." However, it also ties into a key theme that threads throughout both movies. At the end of Pearl's audition, she's rejected on the basis that she isn't exactly what the talent scouts are looking for — the producers instead are looking for someone younger and blonde for the part. Put bluntly, she lacks that special quality that people need to become a star in the film industry.

The X on the floor, then, can be seen as an allusion to a statement made in "X." In that film, Maxine's boyfriend Wayne (Martin Henderson) tells her that she has that essential "X factor" that makes her special. It's an asset that few people have, which will help her one day achieve fame. 

Though the term "X factor" is never used in "Pearl," its bearing on Pearl's unsuccessful path to stardom is plain, as Pearl lacks that same quality that makes women like Mitzy or Maxine destined for success.

Pearl's crying scene

After she's rejected by the talent scouts following her song and dance number, Pearl uncontrollably weeps outside the church where the auditions are being held. The next few minutes in this scene see her completely overwrought. Her emotions pour out of her without any end in any sight until Mitzy comes out to comfort her, believing Pearl's devastated reaction is simply because she's been rejected by the scouts.

In this particular scene, the audience is aware that there are a few different reasons as to why Pearl is so upset following her failed audition. Mitzy is partially correct in assuming that Pearl is hurt from hearing the scouts tell her she lacks the special quality that they're looking for. Throughout the entire movie, we've seen Pearl repeatedly convincing herself that she is a truly one of a kind woman destined for greatness. Discovering that she lacks these qualities unsurprisingly breaks her heart and forces her to confront the idea that maybe she isn't as special as she previously believed herself to be.

Added to that is the knowledge that all of Pearl's past crimes — including the murder of her family — have been committed for nothing. In her mind, Pearl could justify her parent's death by telling herself that they were holding her back and preventing her from pursuing her dreams of becoming a star. 

Now that she has been rejected, she faces the blunt reality of what she's done and realizes that she killed her parents (whom she does love in her own complicated way) for no reason.

The rotting pig

Time and time again in "Pearl," audiences repeatedly see a roasted pig that Pearl's in-laws tried (and failed) to give Pearl's family as an act of charity. Not content to accept the pity of others, Ruth refuses to take the pig into her home. Instead, she lets it rot and gather maggots outside on her stoop. Every time this roasted pig is seen during the second act, it's shown in an increasingly rotted state, as more and more maggots devour it from the outside in.

Comparing the pig to the overall narrative of "Pearl," viewers might be able to draw a line of comparison between the rotting pig and Pearl's own sanity. As the pig languishes at the mercy of the elements outside, it continues to deteriorate and break down. This could be a reflection of Pearl's changing mental state with the maggots likely standing in for her growing malevolence or mental illness.

Further tying into this idea is the fact that the pig's rotting state can be directly blamed on Ruth. The stubborn and proud Ruth refuses to embrace the kindness of her in-laws and leaves the pig alone outside rather than taking it indoors. One can argue that she treats Pearl in a similar way by holding her at an emotional distance and treating her daughter coldly, which partially contributes to Pearl's mental deterioration as the film draws on.

Ti West's exploration of the film industry

Director Ti West tackles a number of similar topics in both "X" and "Pearl," in part because he filmed them back to back and created strong "connective tissues" between the movies, as he told Looper in an interview.

One of the most significant themes of both movies is the idea of stardom and within that, the changing ideas of fame and fortune on American consciousness. From the 1910s to the 1960s, the way to become a star was to move out to Hollywood, be discovered, and become a famous actor in the studio system.

With the advent of the independent film movement in the 1970s, however, the possibility of becoming a star was a more distinct possibility than ever before — all you needed was a camera rather than that "X factor" that made you special and worthy of being seen or discovered. 

This evolution of stardom is reflected in the different styles of "X" and "Pearl:" "X" displays the aesthetic of a low-budget '70s film, while "Pearl" takes on the style of a film from the Golden Age of Hollywood like "The Wizard of Oz." In an interview with Bloody Disgusting, West described "Pearl" as "a movie about dreams and wonder and looking at the glitz and glamor of a showbiz life that would fix [Pearl's] life and turn it into the one she wanted."

It can be argued that Pearl's homicidal rage towards the young film crew in "X" is borne out of jealousy that their access to film gives them an unfair advantage in achieving fame, the likes of which she was never afforded in her youth.

The post credit scene

If you stick around for the end credits of "Pearl," you're treated to an interesting post-credit scene that reveals the title and setting of the third and final entry in West's horror trilogy. A camera pans over the Hollywood Hills and settles on a sign reading "MAXXXINE" in large white letters in place of the iconic Hollywood sign in Los Angeles.

While not much else is revealed in this short post credit scene, the footage does reveal the new movie's title, setting, and historical time frame of 1985.

Ti West has been reluctant to discuss more specific details about this upcoming horror film "MaXXXine." But judging from its location and the themes of "Pearl" and "X," "MaXXXine" will also certainly deal with the topic of filmmaking and fame and how these things shape individual characters. 

The movie will likely also touch upon how the film industry changed in the 1980s, which marked the proliferation of home movies and the new technology that came with it, as seen in the VHS icon that appears in the beginning of the scene.

One of the few things West has revealed about the movie, though, is that — like each film in the trilogy so far — "MaXXXine" will be stylistically different from "X" and "Pearl," which he hopes audiences warmed to and perhaps now expect after seeing "Pearl." As West told Men's Health, "Everyone had to adjust with 'Pearl,' being like, 'Whoa, it's really different.' And so when you go into 'MaXXXine,' now you're like, 'I'm prepared for it potentially being really different.'"