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The ending of Brightburn explained

Five For Fighting's hit ballad "Superman (It's Not Easy)" speaks to us from what's supposed to be the perspective of the iconic hero Superman. For any of us worried about the godlike power wielded by the Man of Steel, the lyrics assure us "Well, it's alright, you can all sleep sound tonight/I'm not crazy/Or anything." If you've seen Brightburn, you're going to have a tough time trusting those lines.

While the kindly couple who take in a baby from the stars aren't named the Kents and their town is called Brightburn instead of Smallville, Brightburn is meant to be a reimagining of the origin of Superman. The film asks what would have happened to the family-friendly story of young Clark Kent if the emergence of his powers made him lose his marbles. The answer, predictably, is a lot of carnage with the promise of more to come. 

Brightburn does not end with the problem of young Brandon Breyer (Jackson A. Dunn) being solved. His adoptive parents' attempts to stop his destruction end in both of their deaths, he temporarily hides his crimes by destroying a passenger jet over his own home, and by the time the credits roll we learn he's left Brightburn, Kansas far behind and is murdering on a larger scale all across the globe.  

While Brandon's continued lust for blood is clear, Brightburn still leaves us with some unanswered questions. Keep reading to learn our best answers.

What's the meaning of the symbol?

In 2013's Man of Steel, Superman (Henry Cavill) tells Lois Lane (Amy Adams) the S symbol on his chest stands for "hope" in Kryptonian. As you watch Brightburn, remembering that detail from Man of Steel makes it particularly chilling to consider the possible meanings of the symbol Brandon leaves at the scene of every murder.

We learn the first and most obvious answer from Sheriff Deever (Gregory Alan Williams), who's one of the first people outside of Brandon's family to realize something strange is going on with the boy. While investigating the horrific death of Brandon's Uncle Noah (Matt Jones), Deever shows pictures of the symbol to Brandon's mother Tori (Elizabeth Banks), commenting that it looks like two letter Bs back-to-back, possibly standing for "Brandon Breyer." It could also stand for the town's name, "Brightburn," which will eventually become the superhero-like name Brandon is known by. 

The symbol also serves two less obvious purposes. First, it hints that Brandon's instability isn't necessarily as new to him as the emergence of his super powers. We see the symbol scrawled all over his notebook, suggesting he's been drawing it for a long time. Second, it acts as homage to the old comic book trope of giving characters first and last names starting with the same letter — or in the case of Clark Kent, the same consonant sound: characters like Lois Lane, Lex Luthor, Bruce Banner, Peter Parker, Stephen Strange, Reed Richards, and so on. 

Why does he wear a mask?

While Brandon's story is a dark reflection of the story of Clark Kent, the young alien wears a laced mask whenever he commits a murder. Naturally, you might wonder why Brandon wears a mask since mask-wearing is one of the few superhero tropes you can't trace back to Superman. The Man of Steel just trusted in the deceptive powers of his eyeglasses. Not to mention that while Brandon does take some compulsory precautions to conceal his identity, eventually that seems to have little to do with the mask. When murdering his uncle Noah, his father Kyle (David Denman), and his mother, Brandon dons the mask even though it's clear his victims know who he is.

There are a few reasons for the mask. First, the most obvious, it's creepy and looks cool as hell. Second, Superman didn't wear a mask and that may be the point. Visually, the mask sets Brandon apart from the Man of Steel and lets you know this isn't the story you've already heard. 

Third, and arguably most importantly, it sets Brandon apart from us. One of the most telling moments in Brightburn comes when Brandon tells his aunt Merilee (Meredith Hagner) that he's "superior." He sees people as insects and doesn't feel any remorse for stepping on them. His mask is his way of telling his victims that even though he doesn't look like an alien, he is something different — and something much better.

Why does the ship tell Brandon to 'take the world?'

As the ship that brought Brandon to Earth calls to him from his parents' barn, it speaks in a deep and alien tongue. At first, Brandon can't translate it any better than the rest of us. Eventually, word by word — presumably simply because he's a member of the species using the language — he translates the phrase "Take the world." Assuming this is really what the message is telling him and it isn't just part of Brandon's mounting insanity, why is the ship sending him the message? Why do Brandon's people want him to conquer the Earth?

One possibility is that the planet Brandon comes from, like Superman's Krypton, was destroyed and his parents specifically sent him to Earth knowing he would be safe because he was more powerful than anyone else. Leaving him an instruction to "take the world" could be another safeguard — making sure he ensures his survival by conquering the world before anyone can find a way to hurt him.

It could also be that the reasons for Brandon's journey to Earth were nothing like Superman's. He could have been sent to Earth by a people still very much alive, and he may have been sent specifically to conquer. He could be one of many super-powered psycho babies blasted across the galaxy with instructions to become the rulers of all they surveyed. 

Why does Brandon kill his mother?

Brandon's murder of his father isn't much of a mystery. Deciding there's only one solution to the problem of Brandon, Kyle takes his son on a hunting trip. While Brandon is examining deer tracks and has his back to his father, Kyle loads his rifle and shoots Brandon in the head. Unfortunately for Kyle, Brandon is as bulletproof as his Kryptonian inspiration, and you can guess what follows. 

The death of Brandon's mother is different. She tries to kill him with a piece of the ship that brought him to Earth, but he threatens her long before that. What's most telling about Tori's death is the way Brandon kills her. He carries her above the clouds and lets go, allowing her to fall to the ground and die. 

Throughout Brightburn, Tori defends Brandon in spite of mounting evidence of his crimes. Even before she tries to stab him, her words about loving him and knowing there is good in him ring true. Tori is the last human Brandon has any faith in. Even though he knows he is literally a different species, on some level he wants Tori to be like him. When he flies her into the sky and lets go, it's a test. He wants her to fly on her own to prove that she truly is his "real" mother who he can trust and love. When she predictably falls, it's the final confirmation of how deeply alone he is. 

Why couldn't he see or hear like Superman?

We see Brandon display a lot of the abilities we associate with Superman, but there are a few powers that are noticeably absent. We don't see Brandon use any of Superman's extra-perceptive abilities like X-Ray vision or super hearing. Tori is able to hide from Brandon a number of times, and all in instances when X-Ray vision would have allowed him to find her. Likewise there are conversations his parents have in other rooms while he's home — like when Kyle angrily yells "He's not our son!" — that he doesn't react to as if he heard them. 

One possibility is that he simply doesn't have the abilities. There's no rule saying he has to be a carbon copy of Superman, after all. Perhaps more likely is those powers haven't manifested yet. His more aggressive abilities seem to emerge with puberty, so the preceptive powers may simply need more time to "cook."

It's also possible he uses those abilities but hasn't revealed them — meaning he did see Tori when she thought she was hidden, and did hear Kyle say he wasn't their son, but kept it to himself. It doesn't seem likely considering his character. While he's certainly capable of lying, he isn't very good at hiding his emotions. He can lie about murdering with a straight face, but if he were to hear his father say he wasn't his son, his emotional response would be impossible to hide.

Why doesn't Brandon kill his aunt?

We're led to believe Brandon's second victim will be his aunt Merilee. She's also his school's counselor, and he's forced to have sessions with her after he hurts another student. When Merilee sees no remorse in him, she warns him she's going to be forced to report that to Sheriff Deever. Brandon shows up at her house late at night and threatens her, telling her it would be "bad" for everyone if she did what she said.

He sneaks into her house but never kills her. His uncle Noah comes home and he becomes the boy's second victim. Brandon never kills his aunt, as easy as that would be. One reason could be that as his mother's sister, she's one of the few people he'd be at least a little hesitant to kill. He may assume Noah's death will be enough distraction that he won't need to silence her in a more permanent way.

Another possibility may be a bit more disturbing. Early in the film Kyle finds anatomy pictures, including shots of exposed organs, mixed in with shots of scantily clad women tucked under Brandon's mattress. When it comes to sex and violence, it seems like Brandon's wires are crossed. His first victim is a woman. Forced to choose between Noah and Merilee, Brandon might choose Noah simply because he knows how it feels to kill a woman and wants to know what it's like to kill a man.

Why does he destroy the jet?

Right after murdering his mother, Brandon causes a passenger jet to crash, killing everyone aboard. We never see exactly what he does to it. First we see the jet heading toward him, and then we cut to the next morning, when FBI agents are picking through the wreckage — which mostly lands on his family's property– and Brandon is eating a chocolate cookie while resting in the back of an ambulance.

The obvious and practical reason for destroying the plane is to hide his crimes. As we see the wreckage we hear a news report of the crash, and it's made clear it's being blamed for the deaths of Brandon's family and the destruction of their house. 

But there's a more symbolic reason – Brightburn begins with a crash and ends with a crash. Brandon's spaceship crashes on the Breyer property in the beginning of the film. Kyle and Tori save his life and raise him as their own. Brandon causes a crash on the same property and not only doesn't save anyone, but makes sure everyone dies. He's letting us know that the mercy his parents showed him when he was a baby will not be reciprocated.

What happens to Caitlyn?

We are left to wonder about the fate of Caitlyn (Emmie Hunter). Brandon scares her when he sneaks into her room one night and watches her from behind a curtain. Later, during a trust-fall exercise at school, she lets him fall because she refuses to touch him. When the P.E. teacher demands she help him up, Brandon takes the opportunity to get back at Caitlyn by crushing her hand. The last we see of Caitlyn, she's in her bed with her hand in a cast. Brandon comes to her room again with flowers for her and an assurance he's going to "take care" of her mother Erica, the waitress who becomes Brandon's first victim. 

Brandon gives the impression he intends to return to Caitlyn and court her, even though she's clearly terrified of him. But the question of whether or not he ever comes back to her remains open. 

In most likelihood, Brandon won't forget Caitlyn unless he finds another girl to fixate on. Caitlyn is his version of Superman's Lana Lang, his hometown crush. She's only safe if he finds his Lois Lane. Otherwise, Caitlyn will likely live in fear of him for the rest of her days — which, if he returns to her, probably won't be long.

How do they know to call him Brightburn?

After the jet crash, we see more news reports from the not-too-distant future showing that Brandon's not done with his path of destruction. We see huge buildings falling from his assaults, and interestingly, the anchormen and women refer to him as "Brightburn." It suggests that at some point between the jet crash and his future assaults on Earth, Brandon's crimes in Brightburn are discovered. The question is how that happens.

If we take time to consider it, it makes sense. While Brandon's crashing of the passenger jet could protect him in the short term, unless he went through a lot of hard work in hiding bodies (which is possible, but we never see it) what he did and what he is will be exposed. When Tori goes to the alien ship so she can pull a piece off of it, she finds Erica's body pinned to a wall, naked and eviscerated. A jet crash isn't going to explain that. It also won't explain the deaths of Sheriff Deever, Deputy Aryes, or Brandon's father, who was killed in the woods far from home. The exposure of what he's done is just a matter of time.

Why does he continue to kill?

With his parents dead and his enemies in Brightburn gone, why does Brandon not only continue to kill, but kill on a larger, grander scale?

Brandon's job isn't done yet. He may have gotten back at everyone who "wronged" him in his hometown, but he still hasn't taken the world as the ship from his home world instructed him. Brandon feels utterly alone. Perhaps he thinks once he's conquered the planet, he will be rewarded with a reunion with his true people. 

Not to mention that clearly Brandon enjoys the destruction he causes. The world is just one big sandbox to Brandon Breyer. He can kill anyone, he can destroy anything, and unless someone finds a way to take him down, there aren't any consequences anyone on Earth can make him suffer for what he does. The airline industry is going to go straight in the toilet. No one's going to want to fly anymore. Dude's going to be batting those out of the sky like a cat in a room full of bouncing mice.

The Justice League of Horror

Brightburn ends with an online video broadcast from a conspiracy theorist called the Big T (Michael Rooker), who shows footage of Brightburn's destruction and urges his viewers to wake up and take these threats seriously. But Brightburn isn't the only threat he mentions.

At first sounding like he's got some true crazy mixed in with his true facts, the Big T starts ranting about other monsters like Brightburn. He tells us about a half-man, half-fish taking out boats in the South China Sea. He shows us a scary picture of a choking woman, and tells us about a "witch woman" who's reportedly strangling people to death with her rope. Once we think about it, we realize these aren't the Big T's fantasies. Brightburn isn't as alone as he thinks. There's a whole Justice League full of horrors in his world. The "witch woman" is with her rope is Wonder Woman. The half-man, half-fish is Aquaman. If he kept going we'd probably hear about a half-man, half-bat and a man who moves so fast no one can see him. 

This could be a setup for a sequel, though it could also just be a nod to the comics that inspired the film. Regardless, it helps Brightburn do what it's already done so well — teach us how, in a different light, we can see our greatest heroes as our worst nightmares.