Arctic movie: the ending explained by director Joe Penna

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Arctic is a 2018 survival movie set at the North Pole. It follows the story of a man, Overgård, who is stranded in the Arctic circle and goes through many adventures to get rescued. Viewers liked the challenging story, and many discussions have been made around the ending, leaving many possible interpretations to the spectator: is he alive or dead? Luckily, the movie director, Joe Penna, had the chance to speak about his point of view on the ending. Let’s find out.

You can watch the official trailer for Arctic here on Youtube.

Arctic movie: the ending explained by director Joe Penna

At the ending of the movie Arctic, we see Overgård trying to signal his presence to a helicopter that is not too far. He lights his last flare, but seeing that he’s not getting noticed, he sets his parka on fire, giving up the precious protection that prevented him from freezing until that moment. The helicopter leaves, apparently without seeing them. Overgård lies in the snow with the girl, accepting his fate. With his face not moving, while the spectator is unaware of how much time has passed with them in that position, a helicopter lands behind them, and the movie ends suddenly.

The spectators are obviously curious to know if Overgård and the girl are still alive. The ending leaves the doubt on purpose, probably sending a message about the fact that the movie wasn’t really about survival but more about what people do to save each other, sacrificing easier ways to get rescued in the name of the connection established between the two protagonists.

Back in 2019, after the movie was released, director Joe Penna had an interview with That Shelf, discussing the ending in detail. From that interview, we discover that he shot several endings, from the happiest to the darkest. In the interview, he jokes a bit about the difference between the “Hollywood ending” and the “French ending,” stereotyping the fact that Hollywood movies tend to have a happy ending. In contrast, French productions are often gloomy and end up with a sad closure.

Joe Penna confirms that he shot several endings. In the “Hollywood ending,” the helicopter lands, the guys reach Overgård, check his pulse, and at the last moment, he breathes, proving he’s alive. Then he also shot an unfortunate ending, where no helicopter ever shows up, Overgård and the girl die, and the end credits appear overlaying the image of the two dead protagonists.

In a way or another, Joe Penna didn’t feel delighted by those two endings. “It just felt so wrong to be conclusive in either way because the rest of the film is so much up to what the audience believes it to be,” he said in the interview. That’s why he decided to close the movie with the ending we know, where the helicopter appears, but we cannot be sure if they are alive or dead. That leaves the spectator free to decide what to believe.

Joe Penna confirms that at the screenings, there were people utterly sure that this was a happy ending and others who weren’t even able to ensure that the helicopter landed without actually crashing. For someone, the helicopter is only on Overgård’s head, which would also be an interesting interpretation (the image at that moment gets more dreamy, and his hair blows in a way that we didn’t see for the whole movie).

Ultimately, we can confirm that the ending of the movie Arctic is deliberately open. And the director explicitly wanted to leave the spectators free to provide their interpretations. As he said in that interview, “that’s what I love about it, hearing what people thought. Whenever people ask me “oh, what did you think of this?”, I always ask them first. I always get something new, something different.”

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