Barbarian (2022) Ending Explained – Why does The Mother hunt Tess?

Barbarian Plot Synopsis

Barbarian might just be the internet’s next grand, short-lived love affair. Ever since it made its way through to OTT platforms, the hype has been unreal. People have rightly been calling it one of the scariest films of the year and at its core, a tragic tale of grief, torture, and immeasurable agony. Well, I am calling it the latter but the consensus on the former is duly intact.

Zach Cregger, the director, and screenwriter has come up with a fascinating story with layered sensibilities about society, an ode to classic horror films, and first-rate entertainment that gets you hooked.

One could even call it a “suburban nightmare” but perhaps with a twist here that the neighborhood itself has become a dreaded place There are a lot of questions that went unanswered in the first viewing so we have seen the movie again to iron out any doubts you might have about the story. Be sure to watch the film before coming here as this article definitely contains a lot of spoilers! Happy reading.

Explaining the timelines

This little segment is for those who could not understand the sudden change in scenes after The Mother absolutely shatters Keith’s skull in the basement. So, here it is. Taking the timeline where Tess meets Keith as the present one, the one with AJ the actor is about two weeks apart. We are not sure how long it is exactly, but that is what we could glean from the conversations we hear him having with his friend at the bar.

Now, there is also a third change when we meet Frank. The aspect ratio changes and we see the neighborhood in its prime as a pristine family destination, the likes where people didn’t even lock their doors.

The community setting is the same neighborhood the house is in a few decades back. We do not have specifics as to how long back it goes, but a good guess would perhaps be three decades or something. Maybe even more. But that should be treated as the past, and the one where we meet AJ should be treated as the future, the one where Tess and Keith meet is the present.

What did Frank do to his captors in the dungeon?

The big question is what did he not do down there? Through the flashbacks and Andre’s night tales, we understand that Frank was a predator in the neighborhood when it was still a functional one. He used to abduct young women with no discernible family or children, hold them hostage, and as it is discovered through the various recorded tapes that AJ finds in Frank’s room, he used to violate them and record the events.

The room that Tess first discovered with the bed, bucket, and bloody handprint on the walls, is where Frank used to keep the women and use force against their wills.

From what Andre adds, we understand that Frank used to impregnate the women and then have the babies himself. He went to the convenience store to pick up supplies for the kids and mentioned how “the babies are still not there”. He also said how he will not “use a midwife” and give “home births” himself. All of these details and what Andre confirms as well point to the fact that Frank used to abduct the women, violate them, had their babies in the dungeon itself, and raise them in cages.

Who is The Mother?

As it turns out, The Mother is not a demonic creature. Yes, she looks like and behaves like one, but internally, she is just a grieving mother wanting her child back. The lack of specificity about her condition allows some reasonable assertions from the clues provided to us. The Mother is one of Frank’s daughters, perhaps even his granddaughter, who is a result of incest. She might have even been his sexual partner as we do not exactly know how long Frank went on impregnating the women. One thing that we do know is that she was scared to go into Frank’s room, despite his immobility and old age. You could imagine the kind of psychological trauma she must have gone through to be this scared.

It is important to note that Cregger does make an attempt to humanize her through the last scene and she definitely has our sympathies that way. It is quite possible that The Mother lost her child or miscarried. This conclusion stems from the fact that she wanted Tess and AJ to “behave like her babies”. She even offers them a bottle of milk. And when AJ refuses to drink it, she takes him to the room with the television and forcefully tries to breastfeed him. This psychological dementia made her “the monster” we see today. And because she lived in those rough terrains all her life, she also developed with time this remarkable physical ability.

Was Keith really a predator?

This is an interesting one given that he dies virtually without hurting Tess in the first act. This particular question is left unanswered by Cregger. And it seems like this is done purposely. He talked in an interview about the supposed difference between how men and women perceive threats in similar situations. We even see Tess and Kieth talking about how if the roles were reversed, she would never let him in. That is how fer psychology works for the genders in the current times. The setting in the first act itself was enticingly set up to make the viewers think and dissect every choice that Tess made from there on.

The subconscious red flags in a dangerous situation owing to modern sensibilities are carefully crafted.  Whether it be not drinking the tea that Keith made for her, or clicking a picture of his ID in the wallet, or even deciding to go ahead and have that wine with him. You’d think there is something wrong whenever you see Bill Skarsgard play someone. There is just something in that face that arouses fear and suspicion.

It has indeed taken him places and in this particular case, we are all left to wonder about his character’s nature. We do not spend enough time with him to arrive at a clear answer and hence it is difficult to say. Perhaps, he was not a predator after all as he had the opportunity to take advantage of Tess on the first night itself. We will never know.

Who is “the worst thing in the house” according to Andre?

Andre was referring to Frank, who was in an almost vegetative state in the other room which AJ discovered later on. We do not exactly know how Andre knew Frank. It is never made clear. But a reasonable assertion here would be to presume that he saw something on one of the occasions when Frank abducted a young girl. Frank is the creator who made The Mother. The analogy is something like Frankenstein’s monster where the eventual monster was not what we all assumed him to be. This is why the real monster in the story is Frank. He is “the barbarian” whose indifference and vile tastes led to the lives of so many young women wreaked.

Why does AJ push Tess from the water tank?

There is still some confusion among viewers about AJ’s character. Although he seemed like someone with a good heart trying to help Tess in a difficult situation, his actions spoke otherwise. AJ was mostly an opportunist and his morality and ethics were accordingly adjusted whenever different challenges confronted him. Like at the water tank, he leaves an injured Tess behind when ascending the stairs, something we see clearly from Tess’ point of view. He pushes her off the edge when he drops the gun and knows there is no way out.

This happens without Tess even understanding what is going on. AJ knew by that point that The Mother will not hesitate to kill him and only cares for Tess. To protect her, she would jump from the edge, been if it meant sacrificing her own life. AJ is the villain here and Justin Long makes for a great contradiction in his skin.

Why does The Mother kill AJ but not Tess?

The Mother kills AJ because he wouldn’t be her baby. Yes, that sounds weird but it is only part of the truth. The real reason is perhaps that she saw him push Tess from the water tank and try to hurt “her baby”. She perceived Tess as her baby when she was trapped in the underground cage in the dungeons. It did not take long for her to get attached to Tess, who played the part well.

Somehow, maybe The Mother was able to see the inherent goodness in Tess’ heart too. But that is far-fetched. The most compelling and tangible reason here seems to be because The Mother saw Tess as her own baby.

Being born in the dungeon and having no contact with the world outside whatsoever; the videotape about motherhood is all she ever saw. Her entire notion of human connection is limited to that of a mother and a child. In her own horrific ways, that’s all she ever sought out.

Even with her emotional and social limitations, she wasn’t devoid of kindness and the feeling of love. She showed genuine care and tenderness while handling wounded Tess. In ways–even though she inflicted a lot of pain without even being aware of it–she was a victim too.


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