Midnight Express (1978) Ending Explained – How does Billy escape?

Midnight Express - Ending Explained

Midnight Express Plot Synopsis

Billy, an American tourist in Turkey, is caught red-handed with hashish strapped around his chest – right before boarding his flight back home. Initially sentenced to 4 years, Billy’s sentence is soon raised to 30 years – which forces him to plot an escape with fellow inmates. Will he pull off the escape? Or, will he succumb to the brutality of the penal system?

What happens after Billy’s capture?

Right after Billy is captured, he is taken to the police station where he is thoroughly questioned. Billy offers to help police locate the cab driver he bought the hashish from – in exchange for his release. Police capture the cab driver in the nearby market with Billy’s assistance. Knowing, the option of his release is out of the question, Billy attempts to escape, but is soon recaptured.

Billy is incarcerated in Sultanahmet Jail. As he feels cold late at night, he sneaks out of his cell to steal a blanket. When his little daring act comes to light, he is brutally punished and raped by chief guard Hamidou. A couple of days later, Billy finds himself in Sağmalcılar Prison – where he is surrounded by western prisoners – Erich, Jimmy, and Max.

What happens during the hearing?

Before the first hearing, Billy meets with his lawyer and father. His father assures him that it wouldn’t be long before he is released. During the hearing, the prosecutors present Billy’s case as one of drug smuggling rather than possession.

However, Billy earns the lead judge’s sympathy, and he sentences Billy to four years for drug possession. Devastated, Billy has no other option than to serve his time behind bars.

Midnight Express - Ending Explained

What happens next?

Only fifty three days shy of his release, Billy comes to know that his original four-year sentence has been overturned by the High Court of Ankara. And, he is resentenced to thirty years in prison for drug smuggling. Broken and desperate, Billy is now sure that he will have to resort to crooked methods to find freedom.

Not long after, Billy, Max, and Jimmy make an escape attempt – which fails when their escape route leads to a dead end. When prison guards are tipped off about the escape attempt, they close down the escape route and make the life of prisoners even more horrible. Billy, in a fit of rage, kills the fellow inmate and secret police informant, Rifki. Following the incident, he is put into a unit for mentally unstable patients – where he experiences a complete mental breakdown.

How does Billy escape?

Billy’s girlfriend who comes to see him illegally smuggles some cash to him. Billy uses the money to try to grease Hamidou’s palm seeking his assistance to help him escape. Contrary to Billy’s expectations, Hamidou takes Billy to the sanatorium, beats him, and tries to rape him. Billy pushes Hamidou forcefully – leading to his head being impaled on a sharp cloth hook – killing him instantly.

In the next scene, Billy is seen clad in Hamidou’s prison guard uniform. He fearfully walks through the prison’s main gate to his freedom in the guards’ presence.

Midnight Express - Ending Explained

What does the ending mean?

Midnight Express is a popular prison argot which means prison escape attempt. The film presents the mistreatment, injustice, and discrimination that prisoners suffer at the hands of the penal system. Thanks to the prison officials and judicial system, Billy, who was captured for a petty crime, was turned into a big-time violent man – a murderer.

After all of his legal and fair attempts to obtain freedom were suppressed, Billy was forced to use violence and trickery. He came in as a student who possessed hashish and left as a double-murderer with a smattering of more crimes on his resume.

The last scene where he escapes wearing the police uniform shows how effortlessly a man can cover his crimes with the support of the law. Had the law been fair, he would’ve never reached such a level of violence.

Side Information: The film is based on the autobiography of the same name. Every scene in the movie comes from the real-life story of Billy Hayes.


1 thought on “Midnight Express (1978) Ending Explained – How does Billy escape?”

  1. I am reading up on the real Billy Hayes and he has publicly stated that many, many parts of the movie were embellished, exaggerated or simply made up. He held a press conference in 2007 or so and apologized to the people of Turkey for how the Turks were depicted as monsters. He did not write the screenplay for the film it was Oliver Stone.

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