John and the hole is not for the action lover, but the psychological and vague ending enthusiast. The film is an attempt to open a debate about adulthood, freedom, and relationships. The story follows the life of John, a 13-year-old child who seeks meaning in life by trapping his family in a bunker and trying to live an adult life. The film also has one noteworthy subplot which may carry all the answers for the extremely vague ending.
The ending of this film carries more questions than answers, but there are some theories to define this vague ending.
Caution: Spoiler alert!
John discovers an unfinished bunker
The film starts with John (Charlie Shotwell) wandering off to a jungle while searching for his drone. He falls from a tree while recovering his drone and cuts his hands and legs. He later takes a pill from his mother’s medicine cabinet which makes him drowsy.
John uses this newfound pill to dowse their gardener as a trial run for what he is about to do next. The trial becomes a success after the gardener drowsily falls to the floor. That night he manages to drug his father. He places him in a wheelbarrow and wheels the father to the bunker.
The scene cuts off to a young girl called Lilly having an odd conversation with her mother. she wants her mother to tell the story about John and the hole. The opening credit rolls (after 30 minutes have passed), meaning the main plot might be a story Lilly’s mother narrates.
John’s family gets trapped in a bunker
John’s sister Laurie (Taissa Farmiga), his mother Anna (Jennifer Ehle), and father Brad (Michael C. Hall) wake up inside the bunker in the morning. They all start to freak out and scream, but no one hears them.
Meanwhile, John impersonates the voice of his mother and calls the gardener to inform him that his services are no longer needed. He lies to his mother’s friend Gloria (Georgia Lyman), saying his grandfather is in an induced coma and all of his family left to visit him.
John brings his family food and water after driving the car to the ATM. While the parents beg John to help them by bringing a ladder, Laurie realises that it was John who put them here. John doesn’t respond to any of his parents’ questions. The next day John brings the family some clothes. His sister and mother attempt to talk with him, but he doesn’t say or do anything.
John understands the complications of adulthood
John invites a friend over to live with him over the weekend. They play a weird game trying to drown themselves to death. He later gives his friend some cash from the ATM to entice him to spend more time. The friend takes the cash but refuses to spend more time with John.
Meanwhile, Paula (Tamara Hickey) arrives to check on John and he makes her uncomfortable by asking about her age and what it feels like to be 50. He urges her to spend the night and stay out of loneliness. She refuses and calls the police. In a bizarre incident, John manages to hide when the police arrive, and they don’t go inside the house to check.
John rescues his family
Inside the bunker, Anna reveals about John asking her what it means to be an adult, revealing all of John’s efforts are an attempt to experience the adult life.
Meanwhile, in the subplot, Lily’s mother informs her that she is leaving and there is money for Lilly that will last for 10 months. She also tells Lilly that her grandmother was pregnant at 15, and Lilly can stay strong. She leaves the house ignoring Lilly’s proposal to go with her and be her assistant saying;
“You are no one’s assistant”
John goes to see his family after 3 days and gives homecooked risotto and wine. The next day his sister apologises, and John gives them a ladder. They arrive at the house to see John lying in the pool. Thinking he is dead, the father jumps inside, only to realise John had been acting. They all have dinner together while an excavator fills the bunker with sand.
Who is Lilly?
The film ends with Lilly walking along the same Jungle.
The film doesn’t give any meaning or indications as to who Lilly and her mother are and their connection to John. But the film reveals that the main plot about John might be a story Lilly’s mother tells her.
However, there is an alternate fan theory that might put these bizarre scenes in context;
Everything we see maybe Lily’s denial of her parent’s death. Although she is portrayed as a child, she is an adult in real life who cannot cope with her mother passing away. The money Lily’s mother gives her could be a metaphor for an inheritance and the stories she makes up could be a final attempt to connect her inner child with her dying mother. This also explains why the police didn’t bother coming inside and checking the house.
No fan theory is definite. But the vague ending the film provides is always open for interpretation.
The film has been featured at the 2020 Cannes film festival but hasn’t been able to impress both critics and viewers. The physical acting of Charlie Shotwell as John gives some life to the film. The film is watchable for the psycho-thriller enthusiast, but it does not promise any light or wholesome content.