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The Ending Of Birth Explained

The 2004 mystery film "Birth" stars Nicole Kidman as Anna, a widow who meets a 10-year-old boy (Cameron Bright), claiming to her dead husband. Although Anna initially doesn't make much of the claim, the boy (who is also named Sean) is insistent in his pursuit. He becomes more difficult to ignore after divulging intimate details about Anna and her extended family. Anna's family members have a generally hostile attitude towards the child and his outlandish claims. Her mother Eleanor (Lauren Bacall) is outwardly combative and afraid the situation could escalate to something criminal. Meanwhile, other family members are also highly skeptical, including Anna's sister Laura (Alison Elliott), Laura's husband Bob (Arliss Howard), Sean's brother Clifford (Peter Stormare), and his wife Clara (Anne Heche).

Over time, Anna becomes convinced that the boy truly is the reincarnation of her husband and plans to leave her fiancé Joseph (Danny Huston) and run away with him to get married when he is of legal age. However, the truth is eventually revealed that young Sean is, in fact, not the reincarnation of Anna's deceased husband, but just a confused individual living inside a fantasy. 

Here's the ending of "Birth" fully explained. 

Anna didn't really understand her real husband when he was alive

The movie never really gives the audience a strong impression of Anna's husband Sean. We simply hear his voice and glimpse his silhouette jogging through Central Park before he collapses due to a fatal heart attack. Sean's minor presence in the film parallels his wife's ignorance of his true nature during their marriage. The only time he speaks is as a disembodied voiceover expressing his views about reincarnation, stating, "I'm a man of science. I just don't believe in that mumbo-jumbo." This indicates his pragmatic outlook, which is in stark contrast to the kind of unwavering faith young Sean displays. If the boy truly was her husband, and he had memories of a past life, he would most likely dismiss them, or seek out a logical explanation given his practical sensibilities. Instead, the youngster hounds the family with his claims, which is in opposition to the kind of reaction her husband's only statement in the film might imply. 

Anna's blindness within her own marriage is further demonstrated with the revelation that Sean was having an affair with his sister-in-law Clara before he died. Clara confronts young Sean with this information and tells him, "If you had been Sean ... you would've come to me first." The fact that he didn't do so is what proves he isn't the real deal. This secret affair exemplifies that Anna's view of her marriage was a mirage, and young Sean's claims are just another illusion she is duped into believing. 

Young Sean truly believes what he is claiming

Young Sean learned the personal details of Anna's life after finding discarded love letters she had written to her husband. Clara was given the letters by Sean and planned to gift them to Anna in order to shatter her delusional view about their marriage. But she changes her mind at the last moment and discards the letters, which young Sean then finds. The truth is that the young boy does genuinely think that he is in love with Anna and upon finding the letters, he begins to believe that he must be her late husband. Although he is misleading the family about how he knows the intimate details of their lives, he justifies that it is simply a way to convince them of the truth.

Once Clara reveals the affair to young Sean, he is distraught because it proves to him that Sean didn't love Anna the way he does. The irony of the whole situation is that since the boy is genuine in his affection, that means he can't possibly be her husband, who never truly loved her. Although he doesn't explain the whole situation to her, he does confess, "I'm not Sean because I love you." 

Anna simply never moved on from Sean's death

Anna's reticence to move on from the death of her husband is hinted at numerous times. In the speech her fiancé Joseph gives at their engagement party, he recounts how she continuously turned him down for a date when they met, and then describes her numerous rejections of his marriage proposal before finally conceding. Clearly, Anna does not love the new man in her life but is doing what she thinks is the proper thing to do. She even confesses to Sean's brother Clifford and his wife Clara that she has been unable to move on with her life, professing, "It's taken me this long and I can't get him out of my system. I can't. It's not gotten any easier for me."  

The reason that young Sean was able to convince Anna that he was her husband wasn't just because of what he knew, but because it was something they both desperately wanted to be true. They indulged in a shared fantasy where their love transcended all obstacles, including death. Young Sean has unwavering child-like faith in his beliefs — when things like Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy seem completely plausible. Anna's faith, however, comes from her desperate desire to reclaim the idyllic life she thinks she had. It's not the real Sean she can't let go of, but the version of him that she has created in her mind. Imaginary people rarely have any faults, and so she clings to the specter of her perfect husband rather than accept someone real with their inevitable faults. 

The last scene of the film is heartbreaking as we watch Anna wade into the sea in anguish, still in her wedding gown after marrying Joseph, clearly unable to let go of Sean's memory.