Ending Explained is a recurring series in which we explore the finales, secrets, and themes of interesting movies and shows, both new and old.
Uncut Gems is two hours of anxiety-inducing mayhem that forces viewers to spend time with an obnoxiously selfish character. Then again, Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler) is strangely charming, which makes his self-destruction difficult to watch. There’s no denying that he’s flawed, but he’s easy to root for all the same.
Throughout the film, Howard makes a series of terrible decisions that stem from his gambling addiction. He puts his loved ones through hell, racks up debts all over town, and never learns his lesson. Every time he lucks his way to another fortune that could clear up his mess, he finds a way to make the situation worse. It’s almost like an art form.
The film’s closing moments see Howard squirm his way to another unlikely victory. His bold NBA prediction pays off, but it proves to be his final bet. While he’s at the height of his euphoria, one of Arno’s men puts a bullet in him. Howard subsequently dies with a huge smile on his face, knowing that he won in the end.
Wealth and riches don’t motivate Howard as much as the thrill of the chase. He’s impulsive, and the dopamine hits that arise from high stakes situations fuel his soul. In his eyes, it’s all a game, and part of the fun is proving people wrong. They call him crazy; he disagrees.
There are a couple of factors that make Howard’s death oddly satisfying. For a start, death is the only way to stop him from digging more holes for himself. If he escaped with his life intact, the chaotic cycle would repeat itself, causing him and others to suffer in the process.
Howard’s death also frees Julia (Julia Fox) from her infatuation with him. Howard uses her as a pawn whenever it suits him. He turns to her when he wants sex. He sends her to the bookies to place his dangerous bets. Howard’s death means that Julia can take the money and start over. She deserves it after all of the drama he put her through.
It’s even a happy moment for his killers, as Howard never took their threats seriously. Nor did he pay off his debts. In this case, murder is entirely justified as Howard received multiple warnings prior to his execution. It’s Howard’s inability to think sensibly that causes problems for almost everyone associated with him. Taking him out of the equation restores some semblance of order to Uncut Gems’ loud and messy universe.
More than anything, though, the ending is Howard’s ultimate moment of bliss. He dies under the illusion that he’s the king of the world. The master of his destiny. His final bet is perhaps the foremost example of the gambler overcoming insurmountable odds that only he would ever attempt to conquer in the first place.
Howard is an empty human being who is always looking for the next fix. However, passing on to the next plane while experiencing the ultimate rush sent him out on a peaceful note. In those brief moments, the insatiable hunger that led to his countless bad decisions was temporarily satisfied.
Howard’s selfish traits make him an off-putting character, but he’s too complex to flat-out dismiss as being undeserving of a happy ending. Uncut Gems is a story about living in a state of perpetual unfulfillment. While that can lead to making some questionable decisions, it’s more complicated than the concept of being either good or bad.
The ending perfectly encapsulates Uncut Gems’ themes about the complex nature of humanity. Howard is an uncut gem: rough around the edges, but not devoid of value. Some people may look at his death as getting what was coming to him, while others will see it as a tragic person ultimately finding peace and fulfillment. I think it’s a combination of both, but more so the latter.