Ending Explained is a recurring series in which we explore the finales, secrets, and themes of interesting movies and shows, both new and old. This time, we examine the message we’re left with at the ending of the Netflix movie I Care a Lot.
A sociopathic woman who makes a career out of defrauding old people. A murderous villain who would kill anyone who would dare even look at his elderly mother the wrong way. What could possibly go wrong?
Underneath all of its twists and turns, this is the essence of J Blakeson’s I Care a Lot: two dangerous antiheroes who, when confronting one another, are unable to stand down. Marla Grayson (Rosamund Pike) is a court-appointed legal guardian who “earns her living” by conning old people into signing their wills over to her. But when she accidentally takes the wrong woman (Dianne Wiest) into her custody, Marla’s life is invariably threatened by the mark’s son, a Russian mafia boss by the name of Roman Lunyov (Peter Dinklage).
From there, the film proliferates in crazy and unexpected events. One moment, Marla has the upper hand. The next, Roman does. It’s a whiplash-inducing romp with no promises and no certainty. Roman strapping Marla’s unconscious body into a car headed straight for a river? Marla putting Roman’s mother on a hellish exercise and medication regime in her assisted living home out of pure spite? Nothing is off-limits in I Care a Lot.
At the end of the film, Marla kidnaps Roman, strips him of all his personal identification, drugs him, and leaves him for dead in the middle of the road. When he arrives at the hospital, he is identified as a “John Doe,” and John Does are apparently all assigned legal guardians on the scene. And, surprise surprise – Marla is first in line for the role.
Roman now knows he has no good way out. He can either be at Marla’s mercy for the rest of his life, or he can pay her off in exchange for his mother’s and his own safety – $10 million, to be exact. But he has another, better idea. He proposes the two join together as business partners, building an empire of old-folks homes filled with elderly people to defraud. With a sparkle in her eye, Marla accepts the offer.
After that, I Care a Lot transforms into a hazy montage that almost feels like a daydream, in which Marla’s newfound riches and successes are displayed. At last, she has reached the final frontier of the American dream. She has won her own game.
In the final scene, though Marla leaves a TV interview with an invincible glow about her, accompanied by her beautiful, devoted partner — now-wife — Fran (Eiza González). But, as it turns out, she’s not invincible. A man (Macon Blair) who appeared at the beginning of I Care a Lot makes a reprise with a gun. He explains that after Marla stopped him from seeing his elderly mother, she died alone. The man shoots Marla in the chest, and she dies.
But that’s not where the movie ends. No. In a seemingly intended cheeky nod to Pike’s Gone Girl character, Amy Dunne, I Care a Lot ends on the TV interview. It starts in voiceover, as the camera pans down blood trickling from Marla’s wound onto the sidewalk. The interviewer asks, “So, with all the success, are you still ambitious? Are there dreams you still want to achieve?” To which Marla responds, “Peter, I am only just getting started.” The interviewer thanks her, and she replies, “Thanks. It’s been fun,” with a devilish smile on her face.
But why this final shot? Why does I Care a Lot not simply end on Marla lying in a pool of her own blood, the ultimate consequence of her cruel and immoral behavior? Well, although Marla’s death ends her life, it does not end her legacy. The television interview is a perfect example of this. Even when Marla is six feet underground, anyone can watch her – the beaming image of true capitalist success.
And people will inevitably envy her, as they always do those who have achieved what Western society deems the “ultimate success.” So, to end I Care a Lot on the end of a life would almost be dishonest. Marla’s life has not ended, not even close. As she tells her interviewer: “I am only just getting started.”
Indeed, I Care a Lot tells us that a “true” capitalist never dies. And, in turn, for people truly obsessed with becoming rich, like Marla, money is absolutely worth dying for. At one point in the film, when Roman has Marla at gunpoint, he asks her if she is afraid of dying. She responds with an almost incredulous, “No.” Why would she be afraid of something she won’t really experience?
But there’s a deeper meaning to her answer. Not only is she not afraid of dying, but she is also more than willing to die if Roman won’t give her the hefty fund of $10 million she has requested. So, it is only fitting that I Care a Lot ends with Marla dying. In fact, it wouldn’t make sense for it to end any other way. Marla already made it clear that money is worth dying for, and now she has more money than anyone could ever need. You do the math.
The end of I Care a Lot might seem sinister, but it also has a moralistic outlook that leans on the side of “don’t do wrong by people.” Marla’s evil acts catch up with her in the end. Regardless of everything she goes through in the film, it is someone who is introduced in the very first scene – long before she even gets involved with Roman and his crew of baddies, or even his mother – that ends up taking her life.
In its seemingly nihilistic ending, I Care a Lot becomes much more than just a quirky film about a well-dressed con-woman. It is a commentary on the dangers of capitalism, and the invaluable significance of doing right by others.