Ending Explained is a recurring column in which we explore the finales, secrets, and themes of interesting movies and shows, both new and old. This time, we consider the ending of the new Netflix action thriller Carter. Yes, prepare for spoilers.
Jung Byung-gil’s Korean action thriller Carter is the kind of film that gives its viewer no choice but to take everything with a colossal grain of salt. It begins with a young man, supposedly named Carter Lee (Lee Sung-jae), waking up in a room with no memory of who he is or how he got there. The only information he has to go off of is relayed to him by a mysterious voice in his head – a voice he must obey, or else a deadly explosive will detonate inside his mouth.
So Carter has no choice but to follow the voice’s instructions, which command him to retrieve a young girl named Ha-na (Kim Bo-min). He learns that Ha-na is being hunted by both the North and South Korean governments, as she possesses the necessary antibodies to fight the lethal DMZ virus, which is rapidly spreading around the United States and North Korea.
After a lot of gunfights and epic stunts, Carter successfully gets a hold of Ha-na, her father, Dr. Jung (Jung Jae-young), North Korean officer So-ri (Han Jung-hee), and her young daughter Yoon-hee. Shortly after, Carter finally regains his memory and recalls that So-ri is actually his wife and Yoon-he is his daughter. It also turns out that, before he had his memory wiped, Carter had requested to be sent on the mission to find Ha-na because Yoon-he had been infected with DMZ. The group then manages to board a train to China and narrowly escape the North Korean coup trying to kill them and keep Ha-na for themselves. After all the chaos, this seems like a happy ending. Right?
Well, as with any good ending, it’s not quite that simple. Before he is able to fully rejoice in finally being reunited with his family, one of Carter’s opposers asks him if he really thinks he can trust that his new memories are his own. After all, a chip was implanted in his brain when he woke up at the film’s beginning. Who’s to say these memories aren’t the same thing?
These themes of trust and mind control bode well for a Carter sequel, which could explore the answer to questions such as: What would be the purpose of these false memories? Could they have just been a way for the government to appeal to Carter’s pathos and thereby convince him to rescue Ha-na? Could So-ri be working for the other team and merely pretending to be Carter’s wife?
Throughout the course of the film, a couple of people refer to Carter as a US citizen and CIA agent named Michael Bane. This muddies the question of his identity even further, especially as Bane was allegedly killed in Syria years earlier. Carter, on the other hand, was a South Korean spy posing as a journalist. Could “Carter” have stolen someone’s identity? Why?
Also teasing the possibility of a sequel is the final shot of Carter. After Carter and his (maybe) family board the train to China, all seems hunky dory in the world. They are finally safe and off to save the world from DMZ using Ha-na’s antibodies. But then the camera zooms out, and there is an explosion on the bridge train tracks. This kind of attack would be nearly impossible for a train to survive, but one can’t help but think that the choice to cut to black before showing the train meeting the broken tracks is intentional.
Now, the fate of the characters is intentionally open-ended. Occam’s razor says that the family fell to their deaths; but then again, Carter performed a number of improbable stunts throughout the film. He’s come this far, so it’s not totally out of the realm of possibility that the stunt-pro would actually be able to save his family from a falling train.
And if the family does end up surviving, everything that happens during Carter’s two-hour runtime hints that it isn’t exactly going to be smooth-sailing from that point onward. The explosion at the ending suggests some nefarious activity from Carter’s enemies, whether they be from the virus-ridden North Korea, the United States, or elsewhere. And if they keep stalling her delivery, then DMZ will undoubtedly continue to run rampant, and we will perhaps get to finally see some of the zombie-virus action that Carter hinted at — basically a World War DMZ. But regardless of whether Carter’s potential sequel leans into government conspiracy or a full-on zombie pandemic, there’s no question that it will be a wild (and exhausting) ride.