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The Ending Of The Guilty Explained

Over the years, there have been quite a few inventive thrillers with unique locations, from elaborate made-up worlds to films shot mostly in a single location, such as the quirky cult film "Snakes On A Plane" that takes place — you guessed it — on an airplane.

One of the most recent films to take place in one location is the tense thriller "The Guilty," starring Jake Gyllenhaal. In the heart-pounding film, Gyllenhaal plays a Los Angeles police officer named Joe Baylor who's demoted to working as a 911 operator as a temporary punishment for a previous unknown infraction. The majority of calls Baylor receives are not very interesting to him — until he gets a call from a woman who reveals she's been kidnapped.

"The Guilty" is a race against the clock as Baylor tries to find out who the woman is, where she is, and just how much danger she's really in before it's too late. Oh, and the entire film takes place at Baylor's work desk as he speaks on the phone to various personnel in an attempt to track down the victim. While a movie that mainly focuses on a man in front of his computer may not seem all that interesting, Gyllenhaal delivers an electrifying performance, and the film's many twists and turns will leave you scratching your head at the end.

Here's the ending of "The Guilty," explained. 

What really happened to the kidnapped woman?

At the beginning of "The Guilty," Baylor receives a call from a woman (voiced by Riley Keough) who he almost hangs up on due to her lack of coherent responses. Eventually, he's able to piece together that her name is Emily and she's in the car with a man who abducted her. Throughout most of the film, Baylor tries to pinpoint Emily's location via the information he can see on his computer.

At one point, Baylor calls Emily's home phone number after finding it in the police records, and her daughter Abby (Christiana Montoya) explains what happened — Emily and her estranged husband Henry (Peter Sarsgaard) had a fight, and Henry took Emily away in their car, leaving Abby and her baby brother Oliver home alone. The tension builds as Baylor becomes convinced that Henry is the bad guy in the story, and Baylor does anything he can to save Emily.

In a shocking twist right before Emily attacks Henry (at Baylor's urging), Emily reveals that she cut baby Oliver open to "save" him from snakes that were in his stomach and hurting him. Henry then reveals the full extent of the situation: Henry and Emily agreed to take Emily off of her medication because the price went up — which obviously resulted in a tragedy when her mental health deteriorated, and she hurt Oliver. When Henry "kidnapped" Emily, he was really trying to take her back to the mental health facility she'd previously been to for help.

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

Joe Baylor has a secret of his own

While the truth of Emily's situation was surprising enough, it also turns out that Baylor had a huge secret as well. During Baylor's frantic mission of trying to find Emily, he enlists the help of his work colleague Rick (Eli Goree), and also manages to drop a mysterious clue — Baylor urges his friend to get it together for an impending trial, and reminds him to stick to their story. It sounds like Baylor and Rick are plotting to lie under oath, though we don't learn more until the end of the film.

When Emily starts to realize what she'd done, she stands on an overpass and tells Baylor she's going to jump. Baylor becomes panicked as he tries to get through to Emily and talk her out of jumping, and out of nowhere he reveals his own dark secret: He killed a 19-year-old while on the job. He admits that while the teen had hurt someone else and that angered him, he didn't deserve to die. He uses his story to illustrate that while he purposely hurt his victim, in his words, "because I could," Emily hadn't intentionally hurt Oliver.

After succeeding in talking Emily down and getting her in police custody, Baylor has a moment of clarity. He vomits, sobs, and calls Rick, instructing him to tell the truth in court about what he saw on that fateful day. Baylor then calls a news reporter and confesses to killing the teen, and the last scene of the film features a news report that the police officer Joe Baylor has pled guilty to manslaughter.

The Guilty is a thriller with deep messages

Part of what makes "The Guilty" so enthralling, despite its static setting, is the fact that we never quite know what the truth is. The initial mystery about Emily's whereabouts is exciting enough, then we get twist after twist, and our whole sense of reality is challenged — much like Baylor's.

The twists in "The Guilty" also bring up several important questions about real-world issues. Yes, Emily did something completely awful to her baby (thankfully, it's revealed the baby is alive and in the ICU). But in a country where the cost of healthcare is so exorbitant, is she the only one to blame? Surely people should be able to afford to pay for medication to help keep their brain chemistry at a healthy level, and "The Guilty" shows the harsh consequences of unattainable healthcare. 

Additionally, Baylor and Rick are prepared to lie under oath to shield Baylor from being sent to jail, even though they both know he's definitely guilty of murdering someone while on duty. This part of the film sheds a light on the major, ongoing issue of police brutality in the country.

"The Guilty" is available to stream on Netflix.