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 explain the ending of Joe Wright’s new Netflix thriller, The Woman in the Window. It contains spoilers.
Joe Wright’s The Woman in the Window, based on the 2018 best selling novel of the same name, takes the concept of twists and turns to a whole new level. While the film embraces a number of genre tropes, there is only one real guarantee when sitting down to watch it: you can expect the unexpected.
The film follows child psychologist Anna Fox (Amy Adams), who is intensely agoraphobic, and resultantly refuses to leave her New York City brownstone. Anna rarely sees anyone face-to-face, but when a family moves in across the street, she becomes heavily enmeshed in their personal lives. She receives a visit from teenage Ethan (Fred Hechinger), and the two form an unlikely friendship. Then Jane (Julianne Moore), the woman whom Anna believes to be Ethan’s mother, swings by for a drink and alludes to the fact that her husband Alistair (Gary Oldman) is abusive. Things get even more complicated when Anna sees someone stab Jane to death through the window, and she’s convinced it was Alistair in an angry spell.
Being the anxious character she is, no one believes Anna. In fact, the real Jane (Jennifer Jason Leigh) even shows up at her apartment to assure her that she was imagining the whole thing. Is Anna being gaslit? Was she imagining the whole thing? Or is there a third option?
Ding ding ding. The final, epic twist comes right after Anna resolves to commit suicide when the cops remind her that the root of her agoraphobia was actually a traumatic car crash she had since forgotten about that killed her husband and daughter. That, mixed with the guilt of accidentally screwing with her neighbors lives, is simply too much for her to bear. Anna records her suicide note, but before she can proceed she discovers that Ethan has been hiding in her apartment for almost a week. He’s been watching her live, and he wants to watch her die too. Turns out Ethan is a bit obsessed with death, and, wait for it, a serial killer!
He killed “Jane” who it turns out was his birth mother because he wasn’t a fan. It wasn’t his first kill, either, as Ethan also murdered one of Alistair’s coworkers — a death that, upon discovery, initially made Anna confident that Alistair had a shady past and was more than capable of killing Jane. Anna isn’t crazy after all, and she isn’t really being gaslit, either. Instead, she just had the wrong suspect in mind. Ethan asks if he can watch Anna kill herself, but her self-destructive urge is replaced by her survival instinct, and the two have an epic showdown ending in Ethan taking a long fall to his demise. Even better? It was enough to make Anna go outside for the first time in a long time.
The Woman in the Window ends with Anna saying goodbye to her brownstone and confidently venturing out into the world beyond her window. She is a completely changed person. She is confident that she’s not crazy, and that she can do a whole lot more good for the world outside of her four walls.
To properly understand Anna’s character arc, it is important to first understand agoraphobia and the stigma surrounding it. Agoraphobia is classified as a severe anxiety disorder that stems from a panic disorder, and renders its victims unable to go certain places for fear of having a panic attack – and, in extreme cases, makes them unable to leave their house. All in all, it affects 1.7% of adults.
Scholars have posited that there are many causes of agoraphobia. Some think it is born from a traumatic event – most likely the death of a parent, or an attack. Others believe it is due to a discomfort with not being attached to secure spaces. Some even go as far as to say that it is evolutionary: that, for survival’s sake, we were once programmed to avoid wide-open spaces, and our brains are always fighting that impulse.
When looking at these potential causes, the reality is, whatever leads up to agoraphobia tends to be pretty normal. And yet, characters in the film treat Anna like she is the most abnormal person they have ever met. They continually use her affliction to excuse their own behavior and conveniently get themselves out of sticky situations.
Take, for instance, the insistence that characters in The Woman in the Window have on telling Anna that her medications have been making her hallucinate. The reality is, experiencing hallucinations on the drugs used to treat agoraphobia – namely SSRIs, Benzodiazepines, and antidepressants – is extremely rare. The characters’ obsession with anti-anxiety medication causing insanity is nothing short of a convenient scapegoat that has sinister roots in history.
In the 1800s, physicians finally discovered a “diagnosis” for depression and anxiety in women, and that was hysteria. Victorian physicians widely believed women were more unstable than men, and were prone to nervous breakdowns. Since then, science pertaining to women’s mental health issues has become a bit more reasonable. Still, a woman exhibiting signs of depression or anxiety can often still be cast off as “crazy” or even “hysterical.”
Acknowledging this stigma is pivotal to understanding the end of The Woman in the Window. If it weren’t for the stigma surrounding mental health, particularly in women, Ethan likely would have been caught much earlier. And Anna wouldn’t have had to take things into her own hands.
But she does take things into her own hands in the end, and she becomes a much stronger person for it. For a majority of the film, Anna remains stagnant due to her craving for forgiveness. She wants to be forgiven for inadvertently causing the death of her daughter and husband, and, most importantly, she needs to forgive herself for the struggles that have impaired her ability to live a fulfilling life – even if those struggles are out of her hands. But, when she is forced to confront what happened to her family, as well as the fact that she’s not actually crazy, she is finally able to push herself out into the world and fight for her life. She realizes that no one was truly going to be able to sympathize with her ailments, for better or for worse, and that gave her a sense of newfound freedom. She ultimately learns that it is important to stand up for and advocate for yourself, even when everyone doubts you. And hey, you may just end up solving a complex crime along the way.