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 ending of Saint Maud.
Rose Glass’s first feature film, Saint Maud, is a chilling examination of the intersection of trauma and faith. Although the film might appear, on a surface level, to be a cautionary tale about the dangers of religious fanaticism, on a second look, Christianity in Saint Maud serves as a metaphor for deafening isolation and suffering.
Maud (Morfydd Clark) is an outpatient hospice nurse. She recently left her job at a hospital for reasons that are not quite clear. All we know is that Maud did something bad. Very bad.
In addition to being a nurse, Maud is also a devout Christian. At the beginning of the film, Maud starts seeing her new patient, Amanda (Jennifer Ehle), a retired dancer whose body is ravaged by cancer. Maud quickly begins to believe that God put her on Earth to turn this dying woman toward the light.
Amanda gives Maud the nickname “My Little Savior,” and, although the moniker has a sardonic tone to it, that is precisely what Maud sets out to be. When Amanda claims that she feels the presence of God for the first time in her life, Maud begins to believe that she is an earthly saint. Things take a turn for the worse, however, when Amanda admits that she was just saying what she thought her sweet but hopeless new nurse wanted to hear.
From then on, Saint Maud becomes a film that chronicles Maud’s painful fluctuating faith. One moment, she is cursing God’s name, claiming that He only intended to make a mockery out of her, and committing sins of the flesh. The next, she is indulging in intense asceticism, such as sticking nails in the bottom of her foot, hell-bent (no pun intended) on proving her devotion.
In the third act, we finally hear God talk to Maud. He tells her that she is indeed special. From that moment on, she rigorously prepares for a mysterious event. In the final scene, she walks down the boardwalk of her English beach town dressed in a saintly cloak, with a bottle of Acetone under her arm. She stands on the beach, douses herself in the compound, and lights herself aflame.
We then see what appears to be proof that God really does exist and was speaking to Maud all along. When she lights up, she takes the shape of an ethereal angel, and the people around her bow down, venerating her bodily sacrifice. But then we see a different version of the scene, something much more sinister. Maud is burning up and screaming in agony. There is nothing beautiful or holy about it. And, with that, Saint Maud comes to an end.
But why does Glass end the film on this conflicting note? Why not tell the viewer definitively that Maud is or is not, indeed, a saint? In many ways, Maud’s devotion in Saint Maud closely mimics mental illness. For example, Maud sees things that no one else can see: whirlpools forming in beer glasses, people’s mouths stretching open to indicate they are possessed by the Devil, water pooling around a sink drain in a mysterious pattern. She also experiences delusions; at one point, she levitates, and also periodically feels sensations that she explains are God moving through her. Glass herself points out in an interview with Elle magazine that God’s voice in the film is just Maud’s voice pitched down.
But how does one reconcile the discrepancy between faith and delusion? After all, in the history of Christianity, many believers claim to have seen or heard God. Maud’s backstory, while never fully revealed, indicates intense trauma. The first scene of Saint Maud sees our protagonist covered in blood in a room with a dead body. Details are revealed about the incident — Maud presumably had some sort of breakdown and accidentally killed a patient at the hospital she worked at.
Maud also has markings on her body — and not just those that resulted from her self-flagellation. On her stomach, we catch a glimpse of what looks like stretch marks acquired by pregnancy. But she doesn’t have a baby. This is the only time this feature of her life is addressed, but a postpartum incident could very well have added to the trauma she is responding to.
Understanding these aspects of Maud’s past, it makes sense that Christianity serves as a vessel for her processing her feelings. Indeed, many times throughout the film we are reminded that she is a very recent convert. But her newfound faith becomes a negative self-fulfilling prophecy. It drives her away from others and rationalizes her delusions. And, although Saint Maud could be about a woman who sees something the rest of us simply fail to see, it is more likely that it is about a lost girl who never truly manages to escape her misery.