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The Ending Of 28 Days Later Explained

It seems almost unthinkable that Danny Boyle silenced London nearly 20 years ago and terrified the rest of the world with his incredible zombie movie, "28 Days Later." Boasting a cast that became major stars in their own right, the film sees Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris, and Brendan Gleeson journey through a city overrun by a lethal virus turning any infected individuals into enraged monsters that run with the same vicious tenacity as customers at a Black Friday sale.

Of course, like many of the moaning, groaning zombie greats, the final act of Boyle's bloody affair most likely ends with the future of humanity left to the unknown, but the way it gets there is — like so many aspects of the film — unique for the genre. In what might be one of the director's most nail-biting finales, "28 Days Later" depicts a showdown in an old abandoned house by one man against many other men, as Murphy's former bike messenger faces off against Christopher Eccleston's deranged and power-hungry Major. 

There's carnage, chaos, and a vital rule finally being broken, leading to a brighter — but uncertain — future, and an eerie echo of Jim's past.

The Lonely (British) Islands

At the end of "28 Days Later," Jim's hopes of a safe haven are shot to hell when he learns Major West's plan (Christopher Eccleston) is to lure women back to his mansion and use them to repopulate, putting Selena (Naomie Harris) and Hannah (Megan Burns) in grave danger. Refusing to fall in line, Jim escapes execution by running for the woods. After seeing a plane fly overhead, he realizes that possibly the rest of the United Kingdom has been cut off from the world to avoid infection, further meaning that there's still hope that the rest of the world hasn't been contaminated. 

This moment turns the assumptions of the zombie movie-loving audiences upside-down, because while it means the characters are stuck with the familiar isolation you expect to be present in post-apocalyptic tales, their situation is given the gut-wrenching twist: Jim is stuck in a living nightmare, and it takes only a look up to realize the rest of the world is ignoring it completely.

Vastly outnumbered, Jim returns to save his friends using infected soldier, Private Mailer, to cause a distraction. This reflects the classic trope of a villain's plan backfiring, as Major West has kept Mailer to "try and understand them," not realizing he's quite literally kept the demise of his operation in his own backyard. From here, we move to "Day of the Dead"-style territory, as the presumedly controlled threat shows that, in fact, it can't be tamed. Even more intriguingly, though, Jim's actions from here on show that he's capable of being as vicious as the infected. He's no longer the clueless newcomer to a world gone mad, but a savage willing to do anything to survive. In the end, it's clear even a bit of natural rage can be as lethal as one that's wiped out a country.

"That was more than a heartbeat"

Jim sneaks through the halls as soldiers buckle under the terror they've tried so hard to keep at bay, and the sequence is made all the more unsettling thanks to a hallucinogenic perspective Boyle applies through one of his characters. Before the invasion, Selena drugs Hannah for fear of what the soldiers have planned for them both, with the effects kicking in just as chaos unfolds. Her reaction leads to her floating in and out of scenes and getting lost in shadow, changing the tone of panic and dread plaguing the film to something equally scary. This may be a zombie movie, but with ghostly images of Hannah in a flowing dress running down hallways, Boyle drops what feels like part of a haunted house movie right on top of the final act, and it works brilliantly.

While Hannah wanders through trap doors and hides behind full-length mirrors from the infected (smart move, by the way), Jim tracks down Selena, who is being held hostage by one of the soldiers. Thankfully, Jim gets the upper hand and proceeds to brutally murder him with eye-popping efficiency as Selena looks on in horror. Unable to determine if her savior is a monster or still the man she knew, she raises her machete, ready to strike, before Jim runs at her and stops at the last second. "That was more than a heartbeat," Jim says in a great close-up, reminding us that Cillian Murphy hasn't aged at all.

Jim's Wake Up Call

After fleeing the scene, the trio finds Frank's (Brendan Gleeson) taxi and they try to drive off with the carnage in their rearview mirror. However, their plans are halted when they find Major West in the back seat, who shoots Jim without hesitation. With the hero hanging on for dear life, Hannah quickly decides to drive the cab back into the mansion, only for the infected to grab the Major and pull him out to his doom. From there, the good guys drive away, with Jim's fate hanging in the balance, followed by a flicker of a nightmare.

In a collection of quick cuts, we see Selena rush Jim into an abandoned hospital, where she desperately tends to his wounds. From there, Jim has a dream of an inverted hillside with "HELL" in giant bedsheet-stitched lettering outside a cottage, suggesting that this may be our hero's view of the world he now calls home. 

Flash-forward another 28 days later, and the bike messenger that originally woke to chaos is now living in a tranquil spot with Hannah and Selena. The film ends with them rushing out of the house with sheets in tow to unfurl the "HELLO" message as a fighter jet swoops by just in time to see it. The last shot is a sign of relief on Jim's face, as the future for our three heroes finally looks a little brighter. 

Thus, "28 Days Later," for all the pain it puts its characters through, has a happy ending. However, it almost could've ended very differently.

The other endings of 28 Days Later explained

While the characters we've followed on this harrowing journey escape in the real ending, a collection of suggested alternative endings differed drastically from the one we got. 

Firstly, there was one ending — a rather morbid closer — where Jim is taken to the hospital, dies from his wounds, and the two women leave him behind for a future unknown. Boyle described it on the DVD commentary (via YouTube), saying, "so he ends up back in the hospital where it started as the cycle," with writer Alex Garland adding, "yeah, it goes full circle. It ends as it begins, really."

After that, there was a hybrid of the two endings, with it simply showing Hannah and Selena being the only ones rescued from the oversized hillside message. Finally, the DVID also shows that there was a storyboarded ending (per Screen Rant) with Brendan Gleeson's character Frank being taken alive by the heroes all the way to the mansion, instead of killed, following his infection — in the hope that he can be cured. After our heroes escape the mansion, they transport Frank to a medical lab where a full-body blood transfusion from Jim cures Frank of the disease.  However, the transfusion also leaves Jim infected, in place of his friend.

While each of these endings is intriguing in its own right, it's also safe to say that the one we got was simple and effective, leading to an uncertain but brighter future for Jim and company. This ending also left the door open for a sequel, which we eventually received in the (predictably titled) "28 Weeks Later."