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The Ending Of X Explained

Indie genre director Ti West did it again: "X" is a dirty movie and a horror masterpiece. Set in the 1970s, the film follows a group of young adults who rent a cabin from an elderly couple, so they can shoot a pornographic film. Unfortunately, they picked the wrong property to rent. When Pearl, the old woman who owns the cabin with her husband Howard, learns what they're doing, she begins killing them off in spectacularly violent fashion.

"X" is sexy, shocking, and enthralling from beginning to end. It's a movie that demands your eyes stay glued to the screen even when what's taking place is incredibly difficult to watch. Its prequel film, "Pearl," is a horror gem in its own right, while the sequel "MaXXXine" continues the story of the only surviving protagonist from the first film.

"X" takes a while to really get going, building up a memorable atmosphere and an admirable amount of tension, but once all hell breaks loose the film speeds along right up to the credits. From sickening kills involving pitchforks and alligators to surprising hints at a long and violent history for Pearl and her husband, the back half of the movie is packed with details that are easy to miss amidst all the action that's taking place on screen. If the film's fast-paced conclusion left you scratching your head, this can help you piece together the ending of "X."

Why is the house rented out in the first place?

Wayne and his actors need a quiet, secluded location to film their movie, and Pearl's extra cabin seems like the perfect spot. The movie explains that Wayne spoke with Howard over the phone to organize the rental, but as soon as the crew arrives, it's clear that Pearl and Howard aren't the most welcoming hosts. Pearl's murder spree doesn't begin until after she discovers what Wayne and his friends are doing, so the question of why she and her husband rented the cabin to them in the first place goes unanswered.

Clearly Pearl and Howard aren't newcomers to the murder business (more on that later), but it's not entirely apparent that they spend their time plotting their next attack. The way events play out in "X" make it seem like Pearl's murders are crimes of opportunity rather than a pre-planned outcome from the beginning.

Pearl and Howard might give off creepy killer vibes from the get-go, but it's unlikely that the two of them kill everyone who comes to stay at their property. Instead, it seems reasonable that the two genuinely want to rent their cabin for a little bit of income. But when guests — for one reason or another — upset Pearl, all bets are off.

Pearl herself is a victim

In many ways, Pearl is the real protagonist of "X." The film appears to be centered on Maxine and her story, but it's impossible for audiences not to feel their focus being pulled to Pearl. Why does she live in such an isolated place? What causes her to lose it and start killing all her guests? How many times has she done this before?

Pearl may be a murderer, but she's also obviously suffering. She seems to long for her youth and for opportunities that she missed when she was younger. She craves more attention and physical connection with her husband, and all these pent-up energies and disappointments eventually erupt, causing Pearl to go on her killing spree. It's easy to be horrified by what Pearl does, but it's also hard not to sympathize, at least a little bit, with the suffering that she's going through.

Ti West and Mia Goth immediately understood that Pearl would be the stand-out character in "X." They began writing the prequel film "Pearl" before even beginning to film "X," and West convinced A24 to let them produce the films back-to-back. The prequel really lays out Pearl's tragic story, though it doesn't make any attempt to gloss over the horrific nature of her violent actions.

Howard demonstrates toxic love

"X" doesn't reveal many facts about Howard and his life. By the end of the film, the audience knows little more than that he's Pearl's husband, and his heart isn't all that healthy. Solid facts may be few and far between, but Howard's actions reveal plenty about his character.

Howard loves Pearl deeply. He's willing to help her kill, and he's willing to kill for her. Besides the homicide, Howard also proves his love by putting his life on the line and risking having a heart attack to have sex with Pearl one last time near the end of that film.

It might seem like Howard's love is something to be admired, but by allowing Pearl to indulge her every violent desire, Howard actually proves that he's a toxic partner. He lets Pearl have everything she wants, even when what she wants is deeply unhealthy and downright deadly for the people around her. On its own, "X" may give some viewers the impression that Howard is also Pearl's victim, caught off guard by his wife's violence and forced to stay with her out of fear, but the ending of "Pearl" shows pretty clearly that Howard has known about Pearl's tendencies for decades and done nothing to help her.

Pearl and Howard have killed before

"X" makes it clear that Pearl and Howard have killed before, possibly many times, without the film ever giving into the pressure of showing flashbacks or otherwise explicitly exploring their past. The film's hinting at their murderous history is a great example of the subtle storytelling that makes "X" such a fantastic film.

The first hint that Pearl isn't new to all of this is the expertise with which she approaches her murders. RJ is the first character in the film who dies by Pearl's hands, and she brutally stabs him in the neck more than a dozen times. It's one of the hardest scenes to watch in "X," but it perfectly demonstrates Pearl's lack of fear and familiarity with murder. Pearl approaches every kill that follows with a similar level of expertise.

Later, when Maxine makes it into Pearl's basement, she sees the brutalized body of another of Pearl's victims. The man is a total stranger to Maxine, which immediately tells the audience that this particular murder fest isn't a first-time deal for Pearl and Howard. Thanks to the prequel film, we now know just how far back Pearl's violent streak goes, but the extent of Howard's involvement in the killings is still something of a mystery.

Living a rural lifestyle saved them

"Pearl" reveals that the murderous couple at the heart of "X" have been living in their rural home for basically their entire lives. Pearl's first murders took place near the end of World War I, just before Howard came back from Europe. She presumably picked up the pace of her killings after her husband returned from the war, so that means there's been a regular series of murders in the area for roughly five decades by the time "X" begins.

How, in all that time, did no one discover what Pearl and Howard were up to? It seems likely that they were saved by the very thing that drove Pearl insane. In "Pearl," it's clear that she hates living in the middle of nowhere and longs for life as a beloved film star in some big city. The isolation of living in the country wears her spirit down, and all that pent-up longing leads into her murder spree in "X."

That said, it also seems pretty likely that if Pearl had escaped to the big city, she still wouldn't have been able to stop herself from committing some kind of violence. Pearl's internal struggle with her darker intentions is at the heart of the drama in both "Pearl" and "X." Living in such an isolated location helps her explore her violent desires for decades without being caught.

What's the deal with the alligator?

One of the most memorable moments in "X" is when Bobby-Lynne (Brittany Snow) gets eaten alive by the alligator that's been lurking in the swampy shadows of the film since the very beginning. The scene is fantastic, although director Ti West described it as a "hassle" to Bloody Disgusting. The crew used three different versions of an alligator prop to perfectly capture its menace throughout the film, as well as its violent capabilities in that climactic moment.

The prequel film "Pearl" reveals that the alligator has been a mainstay in that swamp since World War I. Pearl nearly feeds her father to it in the first half of the movie. The alligator certainly seems more like a wild animal than a trained pet, but Pearl's affinity for the creature says a lot about her inner self.

Like the alligator, Pearl is quiet and keeps to herself. She moves through her life slowly and always keeps an eye on others. In "X" she's seen lurking just where the other characters can't see her, observing everything that they do. Also like the alligator, when Pearl sees the opportunity to strike, she doesn't hesitate — and her attacks are ferocious.

Pearl doesn't really care that Howard dies

We've talked about Howard's feelings for Pearl and how, as loving as he may be, his affection is ultimately toxic and part of Pearl's downfall. How does she feel about her husband, though? Judging by everything that "X" reveals, Pearl has very little love for Howard at all.

Throughout the film, all of Howard's actions and desires revolve around Pearl and what she wants. The opposite is true of Pearl, who spends the entire movie doing nothing but pursuing her own desires. She starts killing the film crew that's on their property. She pressures Howard into having sex with her, even knowing the risks of his heart condition. At no point does Pearl show any concern for Howard, and even his death doesn't distract her from attempting to kill Maxine.

"Pearl" complicates this narrative, but only slightly. In the prequel, it seems like Pearl has some genuine feelings for Howard before he gets sent off to war. The longer the two are separated, however, the more Pearl feels the pull of her ambition and the more she worries about being trapped in her rural home forever. At the end, it feels more like she's staying with Howard out of pure desperation, and need of a collaborator, more than anything else.

The police might catch Maxine

By the end of "X," Pearl's home is a bloody mess. The entire film crew, minus Maxine, have all been brutally murdered on the property. Howard is dead of a sudden heart attack, and Pearl herself has had her head split open by a car tire during Maxine's escape. Plus there's still that unknown body in the basement.

Naturally the police arrive on the scene, though the movie doesn't exactly make it clear how much time has passed between the night of the murders and the beginning of the investigation. The film closes out with the officers at the farm discovering the tape of Wayne's unfinished film. Whenever they get around to viewing the tape, they're bound to realize that there's only one person on it whose body wasn't found on the farm.

With no living person to interrogate about what happened, it seems likely that the police will assume the mystery woman on the tape is the murderer. Unless there are other hints hidden in Pearl's home, the police probably won't assume the elderly couple were the cause of all the violence and destruction. There wouldn't be an easy way for the police to track Maxine down in the 1970s, but the potential for Maxine being caught and having all the murders pinned on her looms over the sequel, "MaXXXine."

Pearl and Maxine are the same person

The best film characters have layers, and there's plenty happening beneath the surface for Pearl and Maxine. The two are much more alike than either would probably admit. In real life, of course, the characters are both played by Mia Goth – though with all the makeup she wears to play Pearl in "X," it's understandable if viewers miss her their first time through the movie.

Within the world of the film, though, Pearl and Maxine are still almost identical characters. Maxine dreams of having a life bigger than her own. She wants to be a famous movie star, known all around the world, and she runs away from her domineering preacher father in order to pursue those dreams. In the prequel, it's revealed that Pearl herself wanted to be a star when she was younger. She, too, dreams of something bigger, and she has to go up against her overly controlling mother in order to pursue her dreams.

Those similarities don't bode well for Maxine's future. Pearl is willing to kill for her dreams, and she still doesn't achieve them. Maxine kills Pearl at the end of "X," and even though the murder is done in self defense, it could still be the beginning of a violent path for her moving forward.

What is Maxine's father's role?

Maxine says that her father was a preacher. He didn't approve of his daughter pursuing a career as an actress, and he certainly wouldn't approve of her being in Wayne's pornographic film. It seems that Maxine's interest in acting and pornography is driven by her desire to rebel against her father.

At the same time, "X" also reveals that Maxine's father's sermons, which get televised, are regular viewing inside Pearl's home. Early on, it seems like his evangelical message might be what convinces Pearl she needs to kill the adult film actors on her property. Later it becomes clear that Pearl, with her history of violence, probably isn't a Christian convert. Perhaps Howard tunes into the broadcasts, hoping that the message somehow gets through to Pearl and persuades her to stop killing.

The sermons likely do the opposite. In a way, Maxine's father is the driving force behind the entire film. His views motivate Maxine's and Pearl's actions from afar. His message does not have the effect that he intends, nor one that he would like to know about, but that's just part of what "X" is trying to say.

Where will Maxine go now?

Maxine doesn't have too many good options available to her when the credits roll on "X." Her friends are all dead, and she's just committed murder herself. She's driving away from Pearl's property in a blood-covered car that will certainly incriminate her if anyone sees it. The best thing she could do would be to abandon the car and hide herself away, but that's not what's going to happen.

More than anything, Maxine is driven by her ambition and her desire to be a star. Her violent night on Pearl's property isn't going to change that overwhelming urge. When she makes her escape, Maxine still has every intention of making her dreams into a reality, and one way or another that means breaking back into the movie business. Wayne seemed to be her main tie into the industry (though the legitimacy of his connections can certainly be called into question), so after "X," Maxine will need to start again and build her potential career from the ground up.

The teaser trailer for "MaXXXine," the sequel to "X," implies that Maxine goes on to make some headway in her pursuit of fame. The trailer shows the film's title in place of the Hollywood sign, hinting that she finally makes her way out west to California — while demonstrating just how overwhelming Maxine's fantasies are for her.