Asteroid City (2023) Ending Explained – Who is Conrad Earp?

Asteroid City Plot Summary

Asteroid City by Wes Anderson is a meta-film that sheds light on the world of theatre as well as the old-school, stop motion, sci-fi nostalgia that has been replaced by smooth CGI and action-filled plots.

Premiering at the Cannes Film Festival 2023 as part of the main competition, it has a starry cast of Anderson regulars and new faces like Jason Schwartzman, Tilda Swinton, Bryan Cranston, Willem Dafoe, Adrian Brody, Edward Norton, Tom Hanks and Scarlett Johansson.

Two stories run parallel, one of Conrad Earp, a playwright who struggles to write a good play and the second is of his play – Asteroid City. Set in the 1950s, in a town situated in the middle of the desert, visitors arrive to attend the stargazing convention only to get stuck after a shocking incident.

asteroid city

What is Asteroid City?

Asteroid City is a city in the middle of a desert, modelled after the 1950s idyllic American town. Its name comes from the asteroid that crashed in the town and created a crater.

While the locals are few, they have a science program that encourages young minds from all over the country to work on technological inventions. Vending machines consist of drinks and land as Steve Carrell as the manager tries to welcome guests who have arrived for Asteroid Day.

But Wes Anderson’s Asteroid City breaks the fourth wall as it is revealed that the movie is actually about the playwright, Conrad Earp who is writing a play called Asteroid City set in its namesake town. Set in September 1955, the play has 3 acts with a satirical premise that keeps getting absurd as Earp starts resonating with one of the male characters, Augie.

asteroid city

Who are the multiple characters in Asteroid City?

Most of the actors in the movie play dual roles. They play actors who are working on Earp’s production and they also play the characters of the play Asteroid City. Edward Norton is the brilliant but fading writer, Earp. His lover and best friend, Jones Hall is played by Jason Schwartzman who acts as Augie, a war photographer and a widower with four children.

Scarlett Johansson plays Mercedes, the actress who has a tiff with the play’s director, Schubert Green (Adrian Brody) and Midge, a single mother and popular actress in the play. In the play, Jeffrey Wright is General Gibson while Tilda Swinton is Dr. Hickenlooper who organises the stargazing convention. Jake Ryan is an understudy who convinces Mercedes to return to the play on opening night and gets cast in the role of Woodrow, Augie’s son.

Fun little cameos are also done by starry names such as Bryan Cranston who breaks the fourth wall as he narrates the story and inner thoughts of Earp to the audience. Jeff Goldblum is the alien while Margot Robbie is the actress who was supposed to play Augie’s wife before her role was cut.

Tom Hanks is Zak, father-in-law to Augie who loves his grandchildren and Liev Schreiber is the father to one of the stargazers. Maya Hawke plays June, a teacher who leads a field trip with elementary school kids while Willem Dafoe plays Saltzburg, an acting teacher who attaches himself to Earp’s production.

asteroid city

What is Conrad Earp’s story?

Conrad Earp, portrayed by Edward Norton is a complicated but talented playwright who struggles to put out the play Asteroid City and his tale is narrated by the Host (Bryan Cranston). As he writes the play, he starts resonating with Augie, who is portrayed by Jones Hall. But no one can understand Earp, not his lover or his cast. 

Jones tries to understand the grief that a widower like Augie may have but he cannot as he tries to authentically play him. Incidents like wanting to know why Augie burns his hand have him breaking the play’s fourth wall to question Earp. On the other hand, Earp becomes Augie and understands his pain, but this limits him from exploring the rest of his play.

When he gets writer’s block while trying to create a sleeping scene that embraces the celestial mystery of the asteroid, he asks his cast and crew to help him. As they improvise, he writes the scene on the spot, showcasing the different writing and production styles of putting on a play. Six months later, after the successful performances of Asteroid City, Earp dies at the age of 50 in a car accident.

asteroid city

Why do the visitors get stuck in Asteroid City?

On Asteroid Day, the day the asteroid landed, the town holds an annual stargazing convention. They invite several aspiring kid scientists to honour and award them for their inventions. The group includes kids like Augie’s son, Woodrow and Midge’s daughter, Dinah. Along with them, arrives a group of elementary school children led by the enthusiastic young teacher, June who loves everything science. 

On the day of the event, as the locals and the guests get ready to watch the meteor shower, they are shocked to see a UFO land. An alien sneaks out, takes the infamous meteor of Asteroid City and disappears.

General Gibson, the military officer stationed in Asteroid City and tasked with awarding the young stargazers is ordered to place a quarantine to control the media, deny the existence of aliens and interrogate the witnesses – a satire on all the UFO sightings and conspiracies.

asteroid city

How does the world find out about the alien?

General Gibson and his men do their best to keep the alien and UFO a secret but they do not take into account that in their presence are 5 exceptionally smart children who are being awarded for their inventions. The Kellogg kid tricks one of the soldiers to put a coin in the phone booth citing that he owed the operator from a previous call.

But unbeknownst to the soldier, the kids have connected the phone booth to a secret radio which they use to contact Skip, a journalist friend. It cuts to the whole world finding out about the alien. Of course, to capitalise on it, Asteroid City monetizes the sighting, selling merch and opening up other carnival attractions for visitors who want to see the site of the UFO landing.

At one point, Woodrow also uses his invention to project the US flag on the moon to send a message to the alien while the city tries to change its name to Alien Landing. Gibson tries to interrogate the kids but it is futile as the world already knows. The quarantine is raised and they allow everyone to go home. But it doesn’t seem to be that easy as another incident occurs.

Previously, when the kids asked, Dr. Hickenlooper had no idea what the pulses in their observatory meant. Woodrow reasons that it might be a date. But after the alien sighting, it is understood that the pulse signals when the alien is coming. Right after the quarantine is raised, the alien returns the asteroid and goes away. This again leads to another pointless quarantine which frustrates everyone.

asteroid city

How does it end for Augie and Midge?

Amidst the absurd reactions to alien sightings and how relationships are impacted under certain circumstances, Wes Anderson also portrays a dark but humorous romantic story between two single parents, Augie and Mitch.

Having been widowed just 3 weeks ago, Augie has no idea how to tell his children including Woodrow, that their mother is dead. Carrying her ashes in Tupperware, he gives them free rein to process the news their way while he tries to push it down and enjoy the sights of Asteroid City. 

In comes the charming actress Midge who is accompanying her daughter, Dinah to the convention. She approaches pain in a ludicrous manner, choosing to use her ex-husband’s violence as inspiration for her next role or being apathetic to the scenes expected from her like that of being nude or dead in a bathtub. 

But when Augie takes her photograph without her permission, citing that he is a war photographer who does not have the luxury to take permission, she starts relating to him in a twisted way.

Enamoured by her, even though he doesn’t fully understand her, Augie too starts showing interest, and they strike a tentative friendship. He helps her practise her lines while she turns into a muse for him. It develops into something sexual, but it is never shown onscreen, only inferred by those who walk in on them.

In the epilogue, after the second quarantine is lifted, everyone leaves including Midge. The only ones left are Augie and his family. He doesn’t show his disappointment but he is glad when he learns that Midge has left her post box address for him.

Read More: Asteroid City Movie Review

Feel free to check out more of our movie reviews here!

Leave a comment