3 Theories to Explain The Strange Ones Movie - or how a confusing jumble of scenes can amount to an abattoir. A cattle shoot of determinism heading our hero down the shoot to his destruction. IMDB
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I have recently completely overhauled this entire movie discussion post for The Strange Ones based on ONE comment that I got (that comment won’t be hard to find, it’s the first comment I got, but it is so spoiler laden (even though the heart of the comment is only three words) it spoiled the movie for me, and I’ve SEEN it! hahaha.) But instead of me telling you what happened. Why don’t we grapple with a couple different theories of what might have happened.
And also, I want to be super clear straight out of the gate here. This movie is not a THiNC. movie recommendation (which, if you are curious, you can see my long lost of movies I do endorse, right here.) And on that list we’ll have some fun movies that are LIKE The Strange Ones, but are NOT The Strange Ones. Maybe Super Dark Times is sort of in this genre, or maybe They Look Like People? But the move that is most like the Strange Ones, while actually making it to the THiNC. approved list definitely would be the movie Midnight Special.
The themes here are too dark. Too taboo really to give a pass too. And so I have rated it accordingly, and I also want to not encourage anyone to see this that hasn’t already. So yeah, I am not bringing this to you today to say, watch this. The reason I’m talking about it today is just to solve it. To unravel it. And determine what exactly happened. I kept seeing The Strange Ones hit my radar over and over again, and when I read reviews of the movie on Amazon, or elsewhere, I kept seeing people say, (this is a direct quote from a comment I found), “Maybe I didn’t watch the movie closely enough because it was hallucinatory and jumbled. I liked it, but I didn’t understand it.” And this isn’t a one off perspective on this film. These sorts of comments happen over and over again. But the movie is all right there. It is very clear what happened. Sometimes when I do movie reviews I enjoy giving 10 different theories as to what exactly might have happened. But here? Nope. There is one clear answer. But if you think it sounds good – you can watch it right here:
While I am not dropping this movie in my recommendations pile, I did enjoy portions of it. The editing. The ambiguity of it. The non-linear progressions at certain times. The way the film shows us Jeremiah’s mental state throughout. It was very well done. I mean, we had Alex Pettyfer here playing a really intense and complicated role. (Never mind the fact that it is his role that makes me not specifically recommend the movie. Not his acting, no, that was actually fantastic. But the role itself, the character. I’ve said too much. I haven’t said enough… that’s me in the corner… that’s me in the spot light… losing my gah! I digress.)
For those of you that haven’t seen it, and are curious, I will tell you that the movie follows two “brothers” on a “vacation.” (Yes, those are the biggest air quotes imaginable.) But all is not right with our brothers. Nothing seems to fit… or work. I mean, first of all there are the horrible nightmares and the flashbacks to something bad that has happened. And then there are the hints that they are sort of on the run? There are news stories that are chasing behind them? So the entirety of the movie is about unraveling these two guys out. Their relationship, their past. Ok? It actually is a very good movie, I am just not a fan of the answers the movie gives… but overall, it really was very well done. Maybe the trailer will convince you one way or the other to watch it or not.
So, it goes without saying, that from here on out, I’ll be diving into the details of exactly what happened in the movie The Strange Ones in an attempt to explain it, and also figure it out. Because there are nuances here that are left up to our assumptions and opinions about what exactly happened. So, why don’t we start by walking through the timeline of the movie, but instead of giving it to you in the order that movie’s creator’s, Christopher Radcliff and Lauren Wolkstein, gave it to us, I’ll give it to you in chronological order. And I’m betting that that by itself will explain 99% of the questions you had coming into this post.
The Strange Ones Breakdown
Sam lives with his father, Robert. But Sam’s father is never around because he works the night shift. And even when he is around things are not well. We get the indication that Robert beats Sam fairly regularly. And when Robert is at work, Sam stays with the next door neighbor, Nick. Right? You got that? Because this is basically the holy trinity of this movie. Sam (kid), Robert (dad), Nick (neighbor). We good? Great.
Now, while Sam is staying with Nick, Sam divulges that his father beats him. And Nick tells Sam, you know what, if that were me? I’d defend myself. I wouldn’t put up with it. So one day, after a particularly bad encounter between Sam and Robert, Sam’s goes to stay with Nick, and eventually Robert comes home from work and apologizes to Sam. But this time is going to be different. And Sam walks in to where his turned away father is, and basically beats him to death. Sam tells Nick, and in order to protect Sam, the two of them burn the house down, and then go on the run.
So at this point, by discussing the beginning (which the movie is the end) we have 90% of the answers that most of you were struggling with. But there is one more detail still swinging in the breeze. And so these two guys go on the run, they are headed back to where Nick grew up in the woods. But along the way pretty much anything and everything that could go wrong did.
When Nick hits a deer, Sam and Nick, hike up the road to a hotel, and end up hanging out with the manager, Kelly, who has taken a liking to Nick. Nick and Sam are allowed to stay indefinitely by Kelly, but Sam sabotages them by telling Kelly that Nick is horrible, and that he might rape her… that he actually is gay. Which, should have sent all kinds of alarm bells off in your head. Not because of the details of what he was saying, but why he was saying it. I mean, if Sam knows he’s on the run from the cops, and this is a nice safe harbor, why bust a good thing? And then another troubling thing happens, Nick hits Sam for trashing their opportunity there at the hotel.
After that, the movie accelerates significantly. Sam and Nick head out to the woods where Nick grew up. But they are spotted by someone. And Nick is shot in the arm. Nick tells Sam to run for it, and Nick stays behind in the cave and ends up in a shoot out with the cops. As Sam runs he stumbles onto some kids at a summer camp type place (if anyone knows what this camp is all about, I would love to know more… because wow. Maybe the script has details about what this camp is?) and they take him in. Eventually, the head of the camp talks to the police, and they put two and two together and realize he is the missing boy that the authorities have been looking for that has been with Nick in the woods.
So Sam and a Child Protective Services woman talk. And it is here that we understand the narrative that the authorities believe, and the story that the film makers want us to believe. And that is, that Sam’s father Robert, was about to take a new job. And Nick didn’t want Sam to leave… for some reason.
“Sam, did he touch you?”
And so Nick killed Robert, and ran off with Sam. It was a child abduction scenario. Right? But that isn’t what happened at all.
After Sam’s father dying, and Nick dying in a shoot out, Sam goes to stay with his friend Sarah. Now, Sarah, has always had a crush on Sam apparently. And it is through their conversation, and through the flashbacks that we see the truth of what really happened that night. We learn through Sarah’s questions that Sam was abused by Nick. We also learn that before Sam killed his father that he texted with Sarah about wanting his father dead. And when he rejects Sarah’s advances eventually, he runs away in the night. And it is during his running that we get the flashbacks of Nick telling Sam to defend himself, and to not put up with his father’s abuse. And that is when we clearly learn that Sam indeed did kill his father.
Which is why, at the end of the movie, we see Sam flash back to his talk with the head of the camp. Gary gives Sam the same advice that Nick gave him, which was, your dreams (memories) are subject to your command. Just decide that they don’t exist anymore. You control what is and isn’t real in your head. These memories are only as real as you want them to be. FADE TO BLACK.
Let’s Talk Strange Ones Theories of Explanations
The themes and ideas of this movie are galling and horrific to consider really. But this movie’s editing and ambiguity sits in my wheelhouse 100%. It is fairly complicated to unpack. It is confusing to figure out exactly what happened, and why. And after receiving my first comment, 3 words of their comment forced me to sit down and totally redo this section entirely. Instead of telling you what happened, maybe there are several possibilities.
Possibility #1 – The Literal Strange Ones Theory
Theory one is just a straight up and down literal reading of what the movie gave us. Robert is abusing Sam. Sam is staying with Nick and he is sexually abusing Sam. Sam is persuaded by Nick to kill his father. Nick and Sam flee and head back to Nick’s old childhood stomping grounds. So, with this theory, we realize that we have a triangle relationship of abuse all the way around between Nick, Sam, and Robert. Robert is physically abusing Sam. And Nick is sexually abusing Sam. Both are preying on him. Even worse? Nick psychologically preyed on Sam, and convinced Sam to kill his own father. Horrendous.
Think about this in the real world. Where people are generally sane. If you find out that a neighbor is being physically abused by their father, you call the cops. Right? I mean, that’s how it works. They then bring in Child Protection Services, and find out what is going on. But instead, Nick gets all up in Sam’s mind, and convinces him that if he were to stand up for himself, the two of them could runaway and live happily ever after in the woods, at a cabin he spent time in as a child. He sells him on this idyllic life of the woods, the cabin, and the animals. No one else to bother them. And Sam? Murdering his own father? And then watching as the house burnt down?
Possibility #2 – The Carnage of Trauma Strange Ones Theory
I’m not going to bury my lead here. Amanda commented, the first comment actually, and blew my mind with her comment. And here’s what she said, “You are off. Nick is Sam. You need to look deeper.” So let’s just take that at face value. Nick is Sam, and Sam is Nick. How could this work?
If you’ve watched Fight Club, or Mr. Robot, or other fractured psyche type movies, we know that cinema is an interesting way to show the duality of self in unique and mind bending ways. So what if, at a high level, the timeline wasn’t like I posited above, but rather, more like this:
Sam’s mother goes AWOL
Robert abuses Sam
Sam regularly stays with neighbors
Sam is regularly sexually abused by said random neighbors
Sam’s mind splinters, and he begins referring to himself as Nick
Nick grows, and his father is considering a new job out of state
Nick kills Robert, his father
Nick goes on the run, back to his childhood haunts
He’s caught in the cave in a shootout and dies
His younger self mentally explores the world around him as he dies
And as Nick dies, Sam commits suicide in the road
Amanda? Did I get what that would look like right? But there are problems (enormous ones) with this theory. The sexual abuse between Nick and Sam is pretty clear. It’s never shown, but it is definitely happening. Which, breaks my brain to think about. And who are these random neighbors that Sam stayed with if they weren’t Nick? I dig the out of the box thinking here though. Kudos where kudos are due, Amanda.
Possibility #3 – Determinism vs. Free Will Strange Ones Theory
One of the themes of the movie, a repeating cadence in the film, is this idea that you can control your own thoughts, dreams, and past. That all you have to do is will these thoughts into non-existence. Nick says it to Sam first. He obviously knows what happened and why Sam is freaking out. And it is repeated again at the end of the film by this ick-factor-level-10 camp director who tells Sam that he can control his thoughts. Why? What is the movie saying by this mantra? I mean, it’s obviously fiction. Because we cannot obviously just turn off the horrors of our past. Which brings us to free will and determinism…
In the world of Philosophy, there literally is no bigger question than that of free will. Can we decide on our own our thoughts, and our actions? Or are we determined towards some pre-determined path that is grooved into our cranium somehow? This movie is basically positing that despite the horrors and evil of our lives, we can just will it away. Decide that it doesn’t exist. Decide that it would decide our next steps or our outcomes.
But, who cares about philosophy, what happens if we play this theory out, it is just Sam willing things into and out of being. Nothing is firm anymore. And we have to be OK knowing that we can’t know really anything from the perspective of Sam. There is no way to know, because he is capable of changing things at will to suit his interpretation of the world around him.
What do I believe Happened in The Strange Ones?
At the end of the day, I believe Sam was manipulated by Nick to do what he did to his father out of selfish reasons. He setup this utopian idea in Sam’s head of the cabin and the woods. He instructed Sam not to take his father’s beatings lying down and to stand up for himself instead of taking him to the authorities. Nick attempted to keep Sam nearby when his father was ready to move. And it was Robert’s beatings that drove Sam towards Nick and into the sexual abuse that would come from that. Sam, is obviously not a free agent in this movie. This argument of willing memories and actions away? Just utter idiocy. If anything, Sam has been forced into this toppling of dominos. Sam has been beaten emotionally at every turn until no options remain. Like Harris’ comments on free will, Sam too is unaware of the background causes forcing him this way and that.
So we let Sam off the hook for killing his father as an audience. We see the abuse at all sides for what it really is. Again, did I mention that I am definitely NOT recommending this movie? Right. Good. Because I’m not. But it lead to an interesting discussion of some really fantastic philosophical concepts anyway. So there is that. What did you guys think of this movie… those of you that made it through anyway.