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The Ending Of Netflix's Rebecca Explained

It's never easy living in someone's shadow. That's a lesson the second Mrs. de Winter (Lily James) begins to understand in Netflix's Rebecca after her whirlwind romance with the dashing and wealthy Maxim de Winter (Armie Hammer) ends with her becoming his new bride and moving into his home, Manderley. Like any grand British estate worth its salt, Manderley is haunted. Its ghost, however, is not a supernatural one.

Maxim's first wife, Rebecca, died in a boating accident a year before the second Mrs. de Winter arrived. Rebecca may be gone, but she's not forgotten. Everyone at Manderley comments on her charms and wit and skill at running the house, no more so than the manor's housekeeper and Rebecca's longtime personal maid, Mrs. Danvers (Kristin Scott Thomas).

Once she is living amongst the belongings and memories of her predecessor, the second Mrs. de Winter begins to feel that Maxim is not only still deeply in love with Rebecca, but also harboring regret over his decision to marry again. Mrs. Danver's constant reminders that the second Mrs. de Winter will never compare to the first wear on the young woman and she feels alone, unwanted, and unable to escape Rebecca's influence from beyond the grave.

Rebecca isn't the first adaptation of Daphne du Maurier's classic gothic thriller, but if you missed Alfred Hitchcock's celebrated 1940 version (which some viewers find superior), you may have been gobsmacked by the unexpected twists in the film's final act. We're going to break them all down and explain everything you need to know about the ending of Rebecca.

Mrs. de Winter is pushed to the brink

After having a difficult time adapting to life at Manderley, the second Mrs. de Winter sees the manor's annual costume party as an opportunity to prove to Maxim that he didn't make a bad decision in marrying her so quickly after Rebecca's death. On the advice of her personal maid and Mrs. Danvers, Mrs. de Winter has a dress made in imitation of one worn by the subject of one of the portraits in the main hall, believing it to be a favorite of Maxim's. When she debuts the look at the party, however, it's met with an uncomfortable silence, followed by an angry outburst from her husband. Unbeknownst to Mrs. de Winter, Rebecca had once worn the very same dress to the costume ball.

The second Mrs. de Winter is at her lowest point, and it's clear now that Mrs. Danvers is working to psychologically torture her into leaving the house because of the woman's devotion to Rebecca, and that she might be succeeding.

Everything changes dramatically, however, when the boat on which Rebecca died is dredged out of the ocean. Despite Maxim identifying and burying what everyone believed to be his wife's body a year ago, Rebecca's corpse is still on the boat. Mrs. de Winter decides she must confront Maxim about what actually happened to the first Mrs. de Winter, and get to the bottom of Manderley's secrets.

The real Rebecca is revealed

Maxim tells Mrs. de Winter that Rebecca was not the devoted wife and charming lady of the house that she was made out to be. She was a conniving and underhanded woman who manipulated those around her into thinking she was someone she was not. She knew that because of their position in society, Maxim was powerless against her, so she didn't bother hiding the fact that she regularly had affairs and did not actually love him. He tells the second Mrs. de Winter, "I hated her ... I hated her cruelty, I hated my cowardice. Knowing that I wouldn't divorce her. Knowing I could never do that to our name."

Maxim's previous moodiness around the subject of Rebecca was not because he was unable to get over his love for his dead wife, but because he couldn't forget the cruelty she inflicted upon him. It also becomes apparent that the person working to keep Rebecca's memory alive in the house has been Mrs. Danvers, who is loyal only to her long-time friend.

And the twists keep on coming. Maxim tells Mrs. de Winter that the night Rebecca died, she implied that she was pregnant with the child of her cousin and lover, Jack Favell (Sam Riley), but that Maxim couldn't do anything about it because nobody would believe the child wasn't a product of their marriage. During their heated discussion, she put a gun to her chest and goaded Maxim into pulling the trigger. He did in a moment of rage, putting a bullet through his wife's heart and later staging the boating accident to cover up his crime of passion.

Maxim faces scrutiny over Rebecca's death

There is an inquest into Rebecca's death after her body is discovered. Now realizing that her husband doesn't regret their marriage, Mrs. de Winter works with Maxim to try and clear his name and convince the inquest that Rebecca's death was a suicide. Things become incredibly complicated, however, when Jack Favell comes forward with a damning piece of evidence.

He has a letter from Rebecca asking him to meet her at Manderley on the night she died. Not only does this cast doubt on the theory that Rebecca killed herself, but it also provides a clear motive for Maxim to kill his wife.

Things get even worse for the de Winters when Mrs. Danvers testifies that Rebecca was experiencing pregnancy symptoms shortly before she died, and secretly went to see a doctor in London. Presumably, this secret visit was to confirm her pregnancy, and the meeting she tried to arrange with Favell was to tell him about the baby so they could run away together. This casts an incredible amount of suspicion on Maxim, who now looks all but certain to be charged with Rebecca's murder.

When Mrs. de Winter breaks into the office of the doctor Rebecca saw in London, however, she discovers one more shocking twist to the story.

The revelation of one final secret clears Maxim's name

Mrs. de Winter finds Rebecca's file at the doctor's office and learns that she was not, in fact, pregnant. She had terminal uterine cancer, which is what was causing her symptoms. It also presumably explains her decision to egg on Maxim to kill her. She may have been afraid of dying a painful death from cancer and saw Maxim's anger as a tool to end her suffering more quickly.

When the truth of Rebecca's condition comes to light, Maxim is cleared. He and Mrs. de Winter return to Manderley, only to find that it has been burned to the ground by Mrs. Danvers, who then throws herself off a cliff into the ocean in despair. Her final acts reveal just how deep her love and admiration for Rebecca was. In the midst of the inquiry, she defends Rebecca's many affairs and tells Mrs. de Winter, "She lived her life as she pleased, my Rebecca. No wonder a man had to kill her." Although the story primarily casts Rebecca as a villain, in this moment the viewer is allowed to see an alternate take, wherein she's a woman who was punished for rebelling against the constraints of the time in which she lived.

In this movie, however, the de Winters are our protagonists. After Manderley burns, the film flashes forward in time and we see the couple waking up together in a hotel room in Cairo. We then circle back to the beginning of the film, and revisit the voiceover that started it all: "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again."

That dream is no longer a reality. Both of the de Winter's are now far away from the manor and the influence of Rebecca, happy and in love.