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 head to Ireland to make sense of a poorly written rom-com from a filmmaker who really should know better… it’s time to explain Wild Mountain Thyme.
Here’s the thing. The vast, overwhelming majority of movies do not need to be explained. If the filmmakers do their job right, and if the viewer pays attention to what they’re watching, all of the details and answers are right there on the screen. To be fair, sometimes those answers can be obtuse and actually benefit from an outside interpretation, but more often than not the onus is on the viewer to simply pay attention to what they’re watching. Other times, though, a movie like Wild Mountain Thyme comes along that defies reason, logic, and the rules of good screenwriting to deliver less of a wild twist ending and more of a stupid one.
Writer/director John Patrick Shanley has enough experience with romantic comedies, both traditional (Moonstruck, 1987) and absurd (Joe Versus the Volcano, 1990) that one celebrating the quirk and pluck of Irish farmers should be an easy stab at success. He’s adapting his own play here, but while “Outside Mullingar” may work on the stage, it’s a head-scratcher of a movie that’s at turns dull, silly, questionable with its accents, and ultimately unforgivable. The film leaves viewers with questions, from “did no one notice the lack of chemistry or laughs in this supposed rom-com?” to “did she just slip into a Jamaican accent?” to “who blackmailed Emily Blunt into starring in this?,” but there are no answers coming.
Everyone’s a buzz, though, with chatter and furrowed brows about Wild Mountain Thyme‘s end reveal — I hesitate to call it a twist — but first, a quick recap of what brings our two hopeful lovers to that point.
Rosemary (Blunt) has loved her neighbor Anthony (Jamie Dornan) since they were wee tykes, but he never showed the slightest reciprocation. Now single adults still living at home on their respective farms with their surviving parents, it’s clear by the rules of rom-coms that the two are destined to be together. At least, they should be, but Anthony’s hiding a secret that has kept them apart and threatens to do so going forward. His father (Christopher Walken, with his own choice Irish accent) thinks he’s odd and incapable of running the farm in his absence, rumors swirl about him proposing to a donkey, and no woman can land him for marriage or even a night. Add in the threat of an American cousin (Jon Hamm) who swoops in with the intention of claiming both the land and the woman, and the situation becomes dire. What is Anthony’s issue, and can love triumph over his pain?!
From an early scene where we see him as a child asking Mother Nature “Why did you make me so?” to later interactions as an adult where he whispers his secret to a bar floozy only to have her laugh aloud, it’s clear he’s hiding something his small Irish community just won’t approve of — and if you think you know what it is, you’re probably wrong. Gay? Asexual? From the future? Disinterested in farming? Sympathetic to Northern Protestants? Nope. Ready?
He thinks he’s a honey bee.
Go ahead, I’ll give you a second to soak that in before I continue.
To repeat, Anthony thinks he’s a honey bee. I’m guessing your two immediate questions (that don’t involve the letters WTF) boil down to this — is there literally any indication of this before it’s revealed in the final ten minutes, and is there something, anything, relevant about him thinking he’s a goddamn bee?
They’re far from cogent hints, but Wild Mountain Thyme does tease the reveal in some obtuse ways early on starting with Anthony as a boy sniffing a flower so close that he ends up with pollen on his nose. Does he rush off after and “pollinate” some nearby crops? No, don’t be silly. We see him capture a bee in his house and release it into the wild, but as he’s also kind enough to the farm animals that it hardly stands out as a specific kindness towards bees. He’s seen at one point at a distance “talking” to the air and swatting at it with a boat’s oar, but it’s unclear if he’s trying to murder his fellow bees? Some scenes also feature a very faint buzzing sound that could be anything from nearby flies to a whimsical clue offered up by a very drunk Shanley in the editing room.
It goes without saying, but I’m saying it all the same, that none of this is even remotely enough to suggest to viewers that our dude thinks he’s a honey bee. That’s especially the case as, hints or no hints, Anthony never in the slightest way acts like a honey bee either. He doesn’t buzz or flap his arms, he’s content being on his own rather than live in a high-energy hive, and at no point does he even don a striped shirt.
While Anthony’s peculiar affliction is only revealed in the film’s waning minutes — after ninety minutes of build-up — two other characters are more openly identified as animal-themed. Anthony’s long-dead uncle apparently believed himself to be a fish before subsequently drowning one day, and Rosemary thinks, quite openly, that she’s a white swan. The former is never explored, but the latter occurs when her father comforts her broken heart as a child. He tells her she’s a white swan after she’s spurned by young Anthony, and even as an adult she occasionally breaks into ballet moves from Swan Lake. That said, Rosemary doesn’t *actually* think she’s a swan.
So, is there relevance to Anthony thinking he’s a bee? Honey or otherwise? A connection, maybe, to Irish farmers who live in what appears to be the 50s but is actually modern-day? A metaphor, perhaps, for finding your own identity in a world of lookalikes? A reason, possibly, tying honey bees to a purple flower best known for being the main food source for the Large Blue Butterfly? A thematic nod, hopefully, that explains why the film’s final minutes see Anthony singing a song in a pub with the best seats occupied by all of the people who’ve died throughout the film?
There is not. And so the mystery of Wild Mountain Thyme lives on…