“The Turning Ending Explained: What Happened To Kate?”
Warning! Major spoilers for The Turning below.
The Turning carefully adapts many elements of Victorian and Gothic horror, as it’s based off The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, and updates the tale for a ’90s setting but leaves the ending wide open for audience interpretation.
Directed by Floria Sigismondi, the film stars Mackenzie Davis (Terminator: Dark Fate), Finn Wolfhard (Stranger Things), Brooklynn Prince (The Florida Project), and Joely Richardson (Red Sparrow). The Turning released on January 24, 2020 from DreamWorks Pictures, Amblin Entertainment, and Vertigo Entertainment. While Sigismondi updated the setting of The Turning to tell a more modern story, many of the traditional supernatural elements of Gothic literature are present, including the film’s prime setting at a stately manor in the countryside, surrounded by wilderness. Then, at the centerpiece, are two creepy children that Kate (Davis) has signed up to care for.
While the film’s approximated $17 million budget was enough to give it style, many early reviews for The Turning have criticized its lack of substance and the choice to leave the ending open for audiences to figure out with little – if anything – concrete to suss out as far as closure or resolution goes.
Once Kate (Davis) takes on her job as a live-in nanny for Miles (Wolfhard) and Flora (Prince), things instantly take a turn for the strange. From the mannequin that Flora claims is her dead grandmother to the recurring violent dreams Kate starts to have every night, it’s constant turmoil for the young governess. As Kate discovers more about the manor’s history, including the death of a riding instructor, Quint, it’s implied that Quint’s ghost might be the root of all Kate’s suffering. In life, he was a cruel man who had an inappropriate fondness for Miss Jessell, Flora’s previous nanny, who died suddenly of causes that were undetermined. However, it was implied that he might have been murdered by Mrs. Grose (Barbara Marten), the family’s housekeeper who has been with them for generations.
After hearing about Quint and Miss Jessell, Kate starts to see him, specifically, throughout the house. First, he seems to appear to Miles and Flora as an imaginary friend in a mirror. Then, he starts to visit Kate in her bedroom after she discovers Miss Jessell’s diary, which details some of the disturbing behavior she experienced from the man, including photographs he took of her while she was sleeping. All this culminates in Kate trying to protect the family from Quint’s ghost; he attacks Kate and Mrs. Grose, sending Grose over the edge of a bannister, and she tumbles to her death. However, the final sequence implies that none of this actually happened. Instead, it was all in Kate’s head (or was it?), and she could just be crazy like her mother (Richardson), whom she visited at a facility in the beginning of the film.
After opening up to Mrs. Grose about what she’s been experiencing – which the children chalk up to “bad dreams” – the housekeeper implies she’s going insane, citing the “inevitable”. This could mean everyone who stays in the house goes crazy, or it could be a commentary on Kate’s state, specifically, given that she received an envelope of paintings from her mother that seem to be black emptiness. Kate interprets something else in the paintings, which could be another clue she’s gone mad. Throughout the film, she contacts her old roommate and discusses feelings of isolation and loneliness, which could be what triggered her descent into madness. Kate’s responsibility to care for the children also speaks to the social aspect of privilege, which Grose addresses as a necessity given their status as “thoroughbreds”. While ghosts and possession could be partly at play in The Turning, it’s heavily implied that Kate’s sacrifices to isolate herself in a new environment and put her own needs secondary to the children drove her mad.
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