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The Ending of Netflix’s ‘Awake’ Explained

What happens when you’re fighting for your life without having slept for a week? Not good things.
Awake explained
By  · Published on June 9th, 2021

Ending Explained is a recurring series in which we explore the finales, secrets, and themes of interesting movies and shows, both new and old. This time, we’re up to talk about and explain the ending of the Netflix movie Awake.

Don’t you hate it when you just can’t fall asleep, for the life of you? Well, that’s basically the plot of Mark Raso’s Awake — but magnified just a little bit. The film (reviewed here) begins with a catastrophic event that wipes out all electronics and renders all of humanity unable to sleep. Once disaster strikes, retired soldier Jill (Gina Rodriguez) jumps into action to protect her family from the growing chaos. But when her daughter Matilda (Ariana Greenblatt) reveals that she can sleep, the child becomes a target of the crazed masses, and Jill must protect her at all costs.

Desperate for answers, Jill brings Matilda and her son Noah (Lucius Hoyos) on a road trip to a military base called the Hub. There, she says, she’ll let Matilda help scientists find a cure to the medical anomaly that is slowly killing everyone. But once Jill arrives at the Hub, it becomes clear that she never intended to give Matilda away in the first place. Instead, she approaches an old woman whom scientists are conducting tests on — the only known person, besides Matilda, who can sleep — and begs for her help. At this point, Jill is working under the assumption that everyone except Matilda and the old woman will die of sleep deprivation within days or even hours. So, she asks the old woman to take care of Matilda once everyone else is gone, knowing her daughter will not be able to fend for herself. 

Since the whole world has been awake for a couple of weeks now, things aren’t exactly going smoothly at the Hub. The security guards begin to hallucinate an invasion, and all hell subsequently breaks loose. Noah attempts to cut the power to make it easier for him and his family to hide, but he’s electrocuted and briefly dies in the process. The next morning, he wakes up and tells Matilda he had been asleep. The two quickly discover there is a similarity between them — they both died and came back to life after the catastrophic event as Matilda had briefly drowned in a river at the start of the catastrophe — and now they can both sleep. Coincidence? I think not.

And so, they have discovered the cure. Well, they’re hopeful they have, or else they’re about to drown their mother for no reason. Matilda and Noah drag a near-dead Jill to the river and submerge her head underwater. She struggles, but they’re confident they’re right here. They pull her lifeless body out of the water, perform CPR, and as the screen goes black, we hear a gasp. Jill is awake. 

Though some viewers were likely disappointed by the fact that Awake ends before what will presumably be some major action, (if you consider killing the entire planet and bringing them back to life action, that is), Raso’s choice to leave the film off on an ambiguous note should be viewed as a clever one (for a filmmaker hoping to secure a multi-picture deal with Netflix). 

There are three real options as to what could happen after the credits roll. One, Matilda and Noah successfully bring their mom back to life where she’s now able to sleep, and the three of them proceed to share the cure with others. Two, the kids bring Jill back, but far too many people are already dead from sleep deprivation. Or, if you’re really cynical, they fail at reviving Jill and are left to fend for themselves in a messed up world. Now, the first option ties everything off neatly, albeit with a long road ahead involving convincing people to die if they want to live, but the other two are perfect sequel bait. Who wouldn’t want to see those two movies?

If Netflix decides to expand the Awake Cinematic Universe, the momentum of the high-stakes survival mentality of the film will undoubtedly continue in a sequel. Perhaps we’ll get to see characters we’ve grown to root for as they attempt to weather the elements alone in an Omega Man type situation. 

In addition to potentially setting up a killer sequel, the ending of Awake comes with some surprising deeper meanings. Christianity is present from the beginning of the film. Noah and Matilda’s grandmother (Frances Fisher) routinely take them to church, so Christian ideals are embedded in the kids’ psyches. But when Matilda accidentally reveals to churchgoers that she can sleep, they immediately demand she be offered up as a blood sacrifice. In their sleep-deprived minds, this is the cure. This young girl must be sacrificed, just like Christ on the cross. 

But in the end, the answer to the problems is not sacrifice; it’s resurrection. And even though death is involved in the cure, it is not the killing that is important, but the bringing back to life. This can be interpreted as an earthly cleanse, or perhaps it is merely a different interpretation of the Bible, one that emphasizes the importance of life over bodily and spiritual sacrifice. 

Whatever the answer is, it is safe to say that Awake ends on a positive note. It emphasizes the importance of family and suggests that good things happen if we stick with the ones we love. It also praises strength, perseverance, and bravery, and allows us to reflect on this past year — a year where we all endured a real-life catastrophic event in our own way. 

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Aurora Amidon spends her days running the Great Expectations column and trying to convince people that Hostel II is one of the best movies of all time. Read her mostly embarrassing tweets here: @aurora_amidon.