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Freedom and Control in The Endless

When it comes to the best horror movies most people have never seen, The Endless is pretty tough to beat. It’s a masterpiece of Lovecraftian world-building that explains just enough of its mythology to satisfy our curiosity while still holding back more than enough to maintain a sense of mystery and dread. It also gets better and better the more you watch it. Every time you pop this film on, you’ll discover more tiny details that enhance your viewing experience, so it never gets old. 

The first time I saw The Endless, I thought it was a fun sci-fi cult movie. However, on repeat viewings, I realized that it’s way more than just that. This film also has an important message about freedom and control. So, it has some real moral substance to go along with its fantastic storytelling. For my money, that message is arguably the best thing about the movie. So, let’s take a deep dive into it and see just what The Endless has to say about this timeless topic.

Setting the Stage

Justin and Aaron looking at something on the side of the road

When The Endless begins, brothers Justin and Aaron are living a pretty boring life. They can’t find good jobs, they don’t have any friends, and they have no luck with women. The one thing going for them is that they managed to escape Camp Arcadia, the supposed UFO death cult they belonged to when they were younger. However, even that isn’t quite as cut and dried as we might think.

In the opening minutes, the brothers discuss their lives both before and after they left the group, disagreeing about whether they’re really better off. Justin is adamant that being free of the cult is worth all their troubles, but Aaron disagrees. He remembers the group as a kind and harmless community that gave them good food and fun companionship, so he seems to want to return.

Afterward, the two brothers go to their “deprogramming” sessions. They both say things that point to the main theme of The Endless. First, Justin gives his point of view, saying, “The thing that makes our lives here better is thinking for ourselves.” Then, Aaron gives his opinion on the way Justin runs their lives. He says that Justin is “trying to do the right thing,” but “it has to be his way, which never works, and so the only thing that’s worse than this sh*tty life he’s built for us is having no f*cking control over it.”

At this point, we don’t know enough about the story to catch the significance of these two statements. However, if we think back to them after the credits roll, we’ll see that they foreshadow what happens in the rest of the film. For starters, the movie is all about being free and having control over your own life, so these comments quietly introduce the main theme of the story.

On a deeper level, these two siblings have vastly different opinions about whether or not they’re truly free, also foreshadowing what’s to come. While Justin and Aaron are the two main characters in The Endless, there’s a very real sense in which the movie is primarily about Aaron. Justin apparently doesn’t realize it, but he controls his brother’s life and doesn’t let him make his own decisions. So, Aaron is really the center of the drama here; the film is about his life and his freedom (or lack thereof). His experiences with Justin form a chilling parallel to what the movie’s mysterious monster does to its victims.

A Costly Gift

Camp Arcadia members standing around

After this opening, the two brothers travel back to Camp Arcadia to visit their former friends one last time. At this point, they slowly learn the truth about this alleged UFO death cult. It’s not exactly what Justin thought it was, but it’s also not nearly as harmless as Aaron believes. There really is a mysterious quasi-deity out there, and while it gives the members of Camp Arcadia an amazing gift, that gift comes at a terrible price.

This enigmatic creature rules over a vast area and has created a bunch of time loops that essentially just repeat themselves over and over. In each one, the people stuck in it can’t leave. At the end of their designated time, the monster kills them and starts their lives over again from the moment their loop began. Some of these cycles are long, like the 10-year loop that Camp Arcadia enjoys. Others are short, like the 3-hour and 5-second ones Justin and Aaron encounter as they explore the area around the camp. Each of these loops covers a small part of this thing’s domain, and if you walk into one of them before it restarts, you’re free to come and go as you please. But, if you’re still inside when it reaches the end of its cycle and starts all over again, you’re stuck there forever.

The people of Camp Arcadia consider this an amazing gift. One line, in particular, conveys this point of view really well. The first night the main characters are back at the camp, Justin has a brief conversation with a character named Hal. Justin asks him about the mass suicide he believes the group is planning. Hal is a bit puzzled by the question and says that nobody has ever killed themselves at Camp Arcadia. Instead, he explains, “All that happens is that people live long and healthy lives, and because of that, they grow to be the people they want to be.”

Aaron pulling a rope

Much like Justin’s and Aaron’s comments at the beginning of The Endless, the significance of this isn’t clear when you first hear it. It’s pretty mysterious, and we’re not entirely sure what Hal means.  Once again, though, by the time the credits begin to roll, it makes perfect sense. The members of Camp Arcadia essentially get to live forever, so they never have to worry about growing old or dying. And even if they do die, they come right back when the loop starts over again, retaining all the memories and personal advances they made in the past 10 years.

So, as Hal says, they can “grow to be the people they want to be.” They can acquire whatever skills they want and literally have all the time in the world to perfect them. If we’re being honest, we have to admit that this is an amazing gift. But, as I said, this boon also comes with a terrible downside.

These people aren’t free to leave their loop, so they don’t really have control over their lives. The mysterious creature controls them, severely limiting what they can and can’t do. For example, they can never travel, go to a movie theater, or attend a concert. They can only do whatever is available at the camp itself. Since the place is pretty much in the middle of nowhere, they don’t have too many options.

On top of that, their lack of freedom is also troublesome on a much more basic level. As human beings, we’re self-determining creatures, so we deserve to be able to exercise that essential part of our nature. We deserve to live free from external coercion and constraint. Whatever else life at Camp Arcadia may be like, it’s definitely not in line with that principle. No matter what benefits the camp members may get from their mysterious quasi-deity, they’re essentially its slaves. That simply can’t be a good thing.

Justin and the Monster

Justin and Aaron on a lake

As I said before, Camp Arcadia’s experiences with the creature are similar to Aaron’s experiences with Justin after leaving the group. The Endless makes this parallel crystal clear. At one point in the film, Hal learns that Justin made up some lies about the camp to keep Aaron from wanting to go back, and he becomes super angry. He suggests that Justin simply did it because he wants “to lead.” He tells Justin, “Maybe you take crappy pictures because it takes pictures. Maybe you want to be it, you want to control, you want to be the alpha.”

In case that’s not clear enough, later on, when Justin and Aaron reunite after being apart for a short while, Aaron vents a similar frustration to his brother. He says, “There’s not much difference between being stuck in a loop and being stuck repeating the same sh*tty day over and over like back home until I die…Anything is better than the life you make me live.”

This is about as obvious as it gets. Justin control’s Aaron’s life and restricts his freedom just like the mysterious creature controls its victims. The monster traps people in time loops that repeat again and again indefinitely; Justin controls Aaron’s life and makes him repeat “the same sh*tty day over and over.”

This parallel is the key to the true meaning behind The Endless. It tells us that the film isn’t really concerned with supernatural time loops or Lovecraftian quasi-deities, at least not at its core. Sure, that’s what the story is about on the surface, but on a deeper level, the creature in this movie is just a metaphor for what Aaron is going through with his brother.

It represents the way some people try to control others, telling us in no uncertain terms that this kind of behavior is wrong. It’s saying that if we don’t respect people’s freedom and let them choose their own paths in life, we’re basically as bad as the monster 

How We Should Treat Others

Justin and Aaron pushing their car to escape

Happily, in the final scenes of The Endless, Justin finally realizes this. Aaron chooses to stay at Camp Arcadia. Surprisingly, Justin doesn’t try to force him to leave. Instead, he respects his brother’s decision. In an unexpected turn of events, Aaron immediately gets up and agrees to go back home. He says that Justin has messed up his life by being such a control freak, saying, “All I’ve ever wanted was just to be able to mess up with you, to be able to mess up our lives just as much as you do.” He finally got what he wanted and is now ready to go enjoy his newfound freedom.

In response, Justin agrees to treat Aaron as an equal. To show that he really means it, he lets Justin drive the car as they flee Camp Arcadia and the monster, narrowly escaping its clutches. As they’re driving home, they have a brief disagreement about whether their car needs gas. Justin says it does, but Aaron thinks they have plenty of time before they have to fill up. They go back and forth a bit, but true to his word, Justin quickly relents and lets Aaron make the decision.

This is an awesome way to close out The Endless. It shows that Justin really is going to give Aaron full control of his life. Regardless of whether or not they really needed to put gas in the car, Justin was convinced that they did. So, despite believing Aaron was making a terrible choice that could strand them in the middle of nowhere, he lets his brother make the decision anyway.

Sure, from a practical point of view, some might question the wisdom of Justin’s choice here. But, on a symbolic level, it’s absolutely the right way to end the story. After almost two hours of showing us the wrong way to treat others, The Endless finally shows us what we should do instead. It hammers home the point that we need to respect people’s freedom and let them make their own decisions no matter how much we may disagree with them. In just a few brief moments, this scene basically sums up the entire message of the film.

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Written by JP Nunez

JP Nunez is a lifelong horror fan. From a very early age, he learned to love monsters, ghosts, and all things spooky, and it's still his favorite genre today. He blogs at Embrace Your Fears.

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