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The Ending Of Orphan Explained

There's always something unsettling about films that feature terrifying children. From Stephen King's "Pet Sematary" to "The Omen," the list is extensive. However, 2009's "Orphan" offers a fresh spin on the creepy kid concept, one that goes beyond a youngster becoming zombified or possessed by an evil entity.

"Orphan" stars Isabelle Fuhrman as Esther, a seemingly intelligent, respectable 9-year-old from Russia who's up for adoption. She's taken in by unhappily married couple John (Peter Sarsgaard) and Kate (Vera Farmiga) Coleman, whose third baby, Jessica, was stillborn. Soon after bringing Esther home, Kate starts to believe that the family's newest addition isn't as sweet as she appears.

Eventually, after Esther destroys a memorial plant for Jessica, Kate roughly grabs her arm, and the conniving girl heads upstairs to break her own arm, making it seem as if it had been her adoptive mother's doing. John, who is under Esther's spell and regularly gaslights Kate, doesn't question the situation. Rather, he's convinced that Kate is reverting to her old drinking habits, which almost had dire consequences in the past.

As Fuhrman prepares to reprise her role as the devious, black ribbon-wearing Esther in the forthcoming prequel, "Orphan: First Kill" (via The Hollywood Reporter), it's important for fans to fully grasp the ending of the original. "Orphan" concludes with a shocking plot twist that reveals Esther's true background and identity, as well as her malicious intentions with John.

Esther's actions stem from her abusive father

While digging around Esther's room, Kate uncovers a Bible stuffed with pictures of middle-aged men and the label "Saarne Institute." Upon contacting the facility, Kate learns that it's a mental institution from which Esther, who is actually a 33-year-old Estonian woman named Leena with a rare form of proportional dwarfism, escaped. In fact, the ribbons worn around her neck and wrists are to hide the scars she got while trying to break free of a straitjacket.

After fleeing the hospital, Esther became a sex worker in Estonia. She avoided jail time by using her dwarfism to her advantage and pretending she was a child. Upon recognizing the power of her condition, she began posing as an orphan to seduce unsuspecting adoptive dads. John, whom she attempts to woo while wearing a homemade black dress and makeup, is her latest target.

The big question is, why? Ultimately, inappropriate attention from a paternal figure is the only kind of affection Esther knows. From infancy, her own father sexually abused her. When he eventually stops, it is because Esther would "never be a real woman" due to her condition.

Esther may be at the root of many heinous crimes, but her unnatural upbringing caused her to be trapped in a continuous cycle of insanity. Over and over, she tries to re-create the taboo relationship her father forced upon her. When the adoptive father rejects her in favor of his wife, the insecurities come flooding back. All she wants is to be treated like any other woman, but it's a feat that proves impossible.

Esther's death is a full-circle moment for Kate

Throughout "Orphan," Kate's concerns and fears are consistently downplayed by her husband, with whom she doesn't have the strongest bond. In addition to John's affair and the loss of Jessica, another occurrence put a strain on their marriage. During the height of Kate's alcoholism, she lost track of her daughter, Max (Aryana Engineer), who almost died in the nearby frozen lake.

Despite Max being okay and Kate able to get sober, it's a harrowing event that continues to haunt her. She wants to be a good mother and following the tragic loss of Jessica, is determined to give that love to a child in need.

In the final moments of "Orphan," Kate and Max find themselves fighting Esther at that very same frozen lake. Following an intense struggle, Kate forcefully kicks Esther in the face, breaking her neck and leaving her body to sink into the icy depths of the water. It's clear that Esther is certainly not a child in need and therefore, isn't worthy of Kate's motherly love.

Kate has always felt guilty about Max's near-death experience. She hates herself for it, but John never missed an opportunity to hold the past over her head. Finally, Kate is able to redeem herself. Instead of putting Max's life at risk at the lake, she saves it.