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The Ending Of The Inspection Explained

Writer-director Elegance Bratton delivered one of the most beloved debut films of 2022 with his first full-length feature "The Inspection." The film, based on Bratton's own experience of becoming a marine, follows Ellis French (Jeremy Pope), a homeless young man who seeks to join the Marines to improve his life and fractured relationship with his mother (Gabrielle Union). However, upon arriving at boot camp, Ellis becomes the target of his demented drill instructor Leland Laws (Bokeem Woodbine) and homophobic fellow recruits after they find out about his sexuality. Thus, he's forced into a battle of wills to prove his worth and find the life-altering changes he seeks. 

With "The Inspection" having ties to Bratton's real life, it comes off like a personal tale of perseverance and self-discovery led by Pope's outstanding breakout performance. Some parts of Ellis' story can leave you on the verge of tears; other parts could render you legitimately shell-shocked by the intensity of the boot camp atmosphere. It's one of the strongest films from 2022 and could spark great futures for both Bratton and Pope. It's very much worthwhile to take a moment and delve into the film's powerful finale that sees Ellis confront his fears and find inner solace.

Meaning something to someone

After suspecting that Ellis is gay, both Leland and a group of recruits led by Harvey (McCaul Lombardi) start to haze him and treat him poorly in the hopes that he'll quit. From beating him in the shower to terrorizing him during drills, Leland subjects Ellis to so much brutality that it's almost like he's on the battlefield already. When Leland nearly drowns Ellis during a rescue exercise, some start to feel like Leland has gone too far, especially instructor Rosales (Raúl Castillo). 

Rosales, the only instructor who shows some genuine compassion towards Ellis, takes Ellis back to the barracks, but not before talking to him so he can regain confidence. It's a key moment in Ellis and Rosales' dynamic, because it's not just the first time that we see them interact in a meaningful way, but also because it causes Ellis to open up. In a tear-jerking realization, Ellis talks about wanting to become a marine just so he can find meaning in his life. He even goes as far as to say that if he dies in this uniform, then at least he's a hero to somebody rather than just a nameless homeless person on the street. It's a big moment for Ellis' arc, as it establishes his journey as being about finding self-worth and wanting to mean something to anyone — especially his mother. 

A common bond

While Ellis' personal journey is the centerpiece of "The Inspection," there's also another important story thread happening throughout that focuses on another cadet, named Ismail (Eman Esfandi). Like Ellis, Ismail becomes targeted by his fellow recruits and Leland, but not for being gay. Rather, Ismail is targeted for his Muslim beliefs and Leland and Brooks (Nicholas Logan) aren't afraid to show how much they dislike him. Ismail's prayer sessions attract some harsh stares, and he's also forced into the not-quite-literal line of fire when Brooks drags him in front of the other cadets while they're holding their rifles. 

Worse yet, he's nearly forced into attending Catholic masses with the group just to further make him feel like his identity is being stripped away. This leads to Ismail reaching his breaking point and Ellis comforting him. While it's not too surprising to see Ellis come to his aide since he does that at the start of the film by sharing his food with Ismail on the bus, it's a defining moment for these two. While they both seek self-growth, this boot camp atmosphere seeks to destroy parts of them that make them who they are. That's why Ellis and Ismail's dynamic is so important to both of them, as it allows them to find a common struggle and the strength to overcome it together.

Scars that don't go away

The film's post-9/11 atmosphere has a major influence on the story and on Leland's motivations. In a conversation with Rosales and Brooks, Leland talks about serving in Operation Desert Storm and feeling like there was nothing to show for it other than the thousands of men lost. This sense of failure and grief is what drives Leland's demented action towards the recruits — he even refers to the process as "making monsters," not marines. Alongside homophobia and Islamophobia, it's one of the driving forces behind Leland's poor treatment of Ellis and Ismail, since he just views them as a cancer in his platoon. 

With Ellis, Leland views his sexuality as a weakness and doesn't want that weakness to taint his platoon. As for Ismail, all he sees is the people he fought during the previous Iraq war, and that gives him a rationalization for painting Ismail as the enemy. He even calls Ismail "Osama" at one point. "The Inspection" encapsulates post-9/11 bigotry through Leland's disgusting actions and rhetoric. 

Giving strength to others

Rosales is more compassionate towards Ellis than most of the other people in his orbit throughout the film and is certainly less domineering than Leland and Brooks. Now, he still has a toughness of his own and can certainly belt out orders in a way that'll make you stand at attention. However, there's a compassionate side to him that helps break the toxic mentality that Leland tries to establish. While Leland often tries to break Ellis through force, Rosales tries to give him strength by reaching out to him on a more personal level. 

The conversations they have allow Ellis to feel comfortable expressing his fears and desires. When Ellis is at his lowest, Rosales is always able to be by his side and give him the kind of advice he needs in that moment. He even gives Ellis some tough truths in the film's final act that allow him to move forward; he's really a life-altering guide that Ellis has likely needed for quite some time. Rosales' motivation to make the weak strong is what makes him stand out in Leland's ranks and is a subtle force that allows the group to find the strength to rebel against Leland's tyranny. 

Caught in the act

In order to become a marine, the recruits must pass a shooting test that requires them to earn a certain number of points by shooting at a target. With Ellis practicing often and improving his shot, it seems like he'll easily pass the test. However, his improvement only gets Leland to try and rig the test with the help of Harvey. After Ellis shoots his target right on the mark during the test, Harvey pulls down the target to mark his hits, but covers up Ellis' shots and replaces them with false marks. 

If things stayed as they were, Ellis would fail and his journey to become a marine would be stopped short. However, Ismail speaks up, saying that Harvey cheated, which causes some strong commotion within the platoon. It's a tense sequence that also sees Ismail correct Leland about his name, which just adds to the intensity of the moment. Thankfully, when Ismail calls out another recruit who saw everything that happened, their half-hearted response outs Harvey's cheating and Ellis is granted a retry. It's an incredibly low moment for both Leland and Harvey, but their underhanded tactics are unsuccessful largely thanks to Ismail and Ellis' bond.

Respect earned

Before going through the titular inspection, Ellis and his fellow recruits are tasked to go on a retreat with Leland and the sequence shows how Ellis' self-confidence has grown. His special war paint for the retreat adds some levity to the intensity and shows how he's no longer afraid of Leland. He's once again able to show his strengths in obstacles and physical tasks, which makes him feel truly integrated into the group. Best of all, Ellis is able to take on Harvey in one-on-one combat and win.

With the great music attached to the sequence and Leland's version of a prayer playing over it, there's a deeply harmonious feel to Ellis' moment of finally coming into his own. This retreat acts as an incredibly strong step forward in his arc and there's even a moment where he's shown to have the respect of his other troops. In the group's final conversation together, they're all chatting about their assignments post-boot camp. Ellis is assigned the position of filmmaker — a fitting nod to Bratton himself. However, what's more noticeable is that both Ellis and Ismail feel accepted within the group. 

Not feeling the same way

From the first second that Ellis lays eyes on Rosales, he harbors a major crush on him. Throughout his time at boot camp, Ellis has plenty of fantasies about them having sex and fulfilling romantic desires. This unfortunately leads to him to his involuntary outing since he has a fantasy while in the shower, which leads to other recruits noticing his physical arousal. There's even a moment where Rosales has a call with his girlfriend that goes badly and gives Ellis an opportunity to comfort him. 

It's at the retreat, though, where Ellis attempts to act on his fantasies while Rosales is taking a shower. Not long after Ellis enters the shower, the situation doesn't pan out the way he hopes for. As Ellis begins to put his hand on Rosales' shoulder, Rosales rejects his advances and yells at him to go outside so they can talk. It's shocking turn in this story arc, but it doesn't completely ruin the strong companionship between Rosales and Ellis.

What it means to be gay

After his failed attempt to romance Rosales, Ellis is left fearful of what this could do to his chances of becoming a marine. Thankfully, his fears don't become reality as Rosales simply gives Ellis some advice about being gay in the marines and what that really means. Rosales talks about how Ellis is far from the first gay person in the military and how it doesn't really matter to him or the Marine Corps if he's gay; all that matters is that he has the courage to protect the marines beside him and that he has the strength to fight. 

However, there is one aspect to Rosales' advice that's a grim reminder of the danger Ellis faces. He can be a marine just like anyone else, but he can't show that he's gay; Rosales even tells him to just disappear, signaling that it's better if he just blends in. It's a truthful punch to the gut that's a little too much for Ellis to take in the moment, as he's crying in the next scene. It's definitely a rough patch for Ellis' personal journey, but Rosales still acts as a grounded mentor for Ellis and helps him realize that his dream is still intact.

Passing the inspection

When the film finally arrives as the titular inspection sequence where Ellis and his fellow recruits are inspected by higher-ups to be approved for graduation, Ellis' sense of triumph and fulfillment for making it this far feels downright palpable. It's hard not to get invested in his story after seeing what he's sacrificed and persevered through. 

Then, without a moment to spare, Ellis is seen at graduation getting his final pins and becoming a marine. There's definitely something satisfying about seeing Leland have to be a part of pinning him, considering the fresh hell he put Ellis through. Even better is that Ellis' mom also arrives to see her son accomplish something neither thought would be possible. It's a genuinely tender moment that's totally the opposite of what we saw at the start of the film, which makes it even more heartwarming. Unfortunately, the good times don't last.

No love

Although it's never disclosed, the film leads us to think the reason behind Ellis and his mother's fractured relationship has something to do with his homelessness. When she lets him into her apartment to get his birth certificate, she nearly laughs at the idea of him becoming a marine and throws a lot of doubt his way. Based on the situation, it just seems like she doubts Ellis' competency due to his years of homelessness. 

However, when the two of them are sitting together after Ellis' graduation, the real reason for her disdain towards Ellis becomes clear. After a comment about Ellis attracting lots of girls now that he's a marine, Ellis reminds his mother that boot camp didn't make him straight, which sends shockwaves through her body. It's not too long until her anger boils over and she threatens to expose Ellis to the rest of the room. Ellis' mother's homophobia becoming clear is a swift reveal in the final moments of "The Inspection" that feels like a stab to the heart.

A change of heart?

With how vicious and cold Leland is towards Ellis throughout the film, to the point where he nearly drowns him, it's surprising to see him come to Ellis' defense in the film's final moments. Just as Ellis' mother causes a commotion over her son still being gay, Leland steps in to check to see if there's a problem. When Ellis' mother turns towards Leland and berates him for letting her son go through the program as a gay man, he quickly responds by saying that it doesn't matter to him at this point if he's gay or not. 

In his eyes, Ellis is a marine and that's all that matters. This causes Ellis' fellow recruits to salute him with a celebratory "hoorah" further symbolizing how they accept him. It's actually a very telling moment that shows how this group of men is connected in a way that extends beyond their prejudices and ideologies, since they need each other in combat. Leland's defense is incredibly surprising, though, and while it's not a total change of heart, it likely symbolizes a new mentality these men have and a deeper meaning to being a marine.

Persisting love

With the room clearly not taking her side, Ellis' mother storms out with Ellis quickly following. As they stop in the middle of a hallway, the two are forced to come to terms with their feelings towards each other. As much as we might hope for Ellis' mother to show some compassion in this moment, it doesn't happen. Instead, she talks about wondering if she should've left Ellis on some doorstep and how his sexuality ruins the dream that she had for him. It's clear that her love for Ellis has diminished, but the same can't be said for him. 

Ellis' final words to his mother reflect his persisting love for her and his desires to never give up on their relationship. These words are immensely fitting for the personal journey he's had at boot camp, and how it taught him to not give up. This sequence probably leaves audiences with heavy hearts, but also the knowledge that Ellis has found new strength — not only does he have a clear sense of his own self-worth, but he also wants to improve all aspects of his life, including this fraught relationship with his mother.

Two big breakouts?

"The Inspection" is undoubtedly a major breakout moment for both Elegance Bratton and Jeremy Pope that could set them up for bright futures. Pope has already had a great career on Broadway, earning awards nominations for performances in "Choir Boy" and "Ain't Too Proud" in 2019. He's also played a recurring role in Season 3 of Ryan Murphy's "Pose," and his performance in "The Inspection" could be the start of a great film career. He's already received a very worthy Golden Globe nomination for his performance in the film. 

As for Bratton, he's also put himself on the map with "The Inspection." His delivery of his own personal story has touched both critics and audiences alike and he has started to make a strong name for himself. Plus, his excellent use of the film's score from Animal Collective and direction in bringing these highly emotional performances to life showcases some great strengths for his style of deeply personal storytelling. "The Inspection" definitely signals a promising future for breakout forces both in front of and behind the camera.