I bring you controversial movies. This is a fact. Today’s movie, Little Joe, will definitely be another controversial film. It’s not controversial because it ritualistically kills two older members of the community – Midsommar. It’s not controversial because a mother is calling on evil spirits to get revenge for the death of her child – A Dark Song. This isn’t a controversial movie because it’s about a family playing hide and seek in order to kill the latest member of their family – Ready or Not. It’s controversial because this movie is a quiet, thoughtful, sleeper of a film. It will move slowly until its vines have insinuated themselves into your brain, and then you stop thinking for yourself. I really enjoyed this movie. But I’m sure this won’t be a movie for everyone. And because you might not be an autonomous being at the end of the film, we might as well cover the ending of the movie Little Joe Explained as well while we are here.
Little Joe is a super clever premise that is 100% slow burn from beginning to end. And even in the moments that the movie is at its hottest, it’s still a quiet foreboding that lacks any real intensity. And even so, I enjoyed the nuances of this movie from beginning to end. If you don’t, it’s all good, you win some, you lose some.
Little Joe Walkthrough
Little Joe is a plant. Actually, it’s a child. A child that is the namesake for a plant.
Alice Woodward (played by Emily Beecham) is a plant breeder. No, that isn’t correct. Alice is a plant Kung Fu stitcher origami artist. She creates crazy strains of plants where she inserts various craziness into the plant’s DNA to see what might happen. This particular plant that Alice’s team is creating is hopefully going to make the people that smell it happy. Which doesn’t seem like a bad moral choice at all. But we’ll get to that later. At the opening of the film, the team is having a hard time keeping the plants alive because the plant just isn’t strong enough. But Alice’s plant seems to both be strong, but also is making people happy. Which is a marvelous achievement. So marvelous, that Alice smuggles a plant out of the lab in order to give one to the plants namesake, Joe, her son.
One little detail about Little Joe seems to be extraordinarily important is the fact that Alice has bred into her little plant an inability to breed. Yeah, you and I are thinking the same thing – Jurassic Park. Jeff Goldbloom, “Life will find a way.” Man, I love it when you and I can be in perfect harmony like this. Can we just stop for a moment and just ponder how awesome this is?
So great. ANYWAY, Little Joe starts pollinating like a dog in heat. Why? Well, we don’t know yet. Maybe because the plant knows that it’s sterile? Or maybe not. Regardless, one day, Bella (played by Kerry Fox) has her dog go missing, but comes back different after being found in the grow room the following day. Count #1. The dog attacks her owner – and it is now changed somehow. Chris (played by Ben Whishaw) had found the dog in the grow room, but meanwhile he also inhales the pollen. Count #2.
Insert details here about Chris’ interest in Alice. Details about Chris telling Alice about Bella’s previous institutionalizationings and her attempts at suicide. And details about Bella putting the dog down because the dog isn’t “the same anymore.” And most importantly, insert details here about Bella telling Alice that the dog was changed by the plant.
Now, interestingly, Alice’s son begins to behave strangely. And she has this niggling feeling in the back of her head that is telling her that maybe, just maybe, Bella might just be right about her chemical-romance-plant. So Alice starts going back through old footage of interview sessions with the people they have tested the plant with. And sure enough…they all make comments about the infected individual acting strangely. Simultaneously though, Bella becomes infected, and she tells Alice that she should dismiss her previous theories, as she has been known to be a bit loopy. Heck, she’s had a history with mental illness, and if she hasn’t had her medicine, she could say almost anything.
Quick Pause to Consider Plants
So we should pause a moment. At this point in the movie, the viewer is 100% certain that the plant is intentionally wreaking havoc, albeit, subtly, on anyone that gets too close to the plant. But this is impossible, because plants don’t have ‘brains’ dangit. But if you were to listen to this Radiolab podcast you might begin to think differently about our chloroplast neighbors. The experiment that really freaked me out was the one where they put running water on one side of the ground and the plant grew towards it. Then they took the running water out, and just made the sounds of running water. It still grew towards the “water.” Plants have, ever since, freaked me completely out. No central nervous system, but these things make centrally dictated solutions to problems that affect the entirety of the plant. So, do I think that Little Joe, even with minimal DNA crispring can do these sorts of things? Why yes, yes, I do. And no, we don’t even need any alien infested zones like in the movie/book Annihilation. (Full disclosure – I adore books about killer plants, like The Ruins by Scott Smith, or In the Tall Grass by King, The Southern Reach trilogy by VanderMeer, etc etc.)
Let’s Continue Shall We?
Eventually, Alice’s son Joe tells his mother that he and Selma hijacked a plant in order to pollinate it. But it turns out that her son is having her on intentionally. Joe is making fun of his mother’s severe paranoia. The reason Joe and Selma knew about Alice’s new theory and fears was because Chris told them both. Similarly, Bella also was having everyone on, she was faking her “happiness” and was only trying to feel normal. (Come on – this one juke is worth a day’s worth of beers and conversations all by itself.) And Bella, later on, either attempted suicide by jumping off of the stairs, or was pushed by Karl and another lab technician?
Even after Bella jumped – Karl tells everyone that the fears of contamination were overblown. Lab masks are not necessary anymore. We should even prance naked among the plants – frolic! OK, he didn’t say that. But he is obviously infected by the plant as he is actively attempting to limit the walls and barriers between the plants and other people. Having had enough of this – Alice decides she is going to kill all her Little Joes by dropping the temperature in the lab. But Chris intervenes, and knocks her out – leaving her in the grow room. Exposing her to the insidious plant pollen.
Ending of Little Joe Explained
After being infected by the plant, Alice learns that it’s been nominated for an award. Wait, an award? Yes, a PLANT AWARD. (I just did a little google-kung-fu and came up with this link. So I guess it is a thing.) As a result, Little Joe will be sold around the world. WHICH IS GREAT NEWS! I’ve been dying to see everyone so happy! Wait. Cough. What?!? Cough. Yes! I mean, shouldn’t everyone have easy access to Little Joe’s love pollen? OF COURSE THEY SHOULD, are you kidding? Love Pollen for everyone!! And to make my point, as the movie comes to a close, Chris apologized to Alice for hitting her. So chivalrous! He apologized. And it wasn’t even necessary!! I mean, it was because of Chris that Alice finally got a chance at a happier life! Alice should have thanked CHRIS for his hitting her. NO?! Definitely. And punctuate that happiness, Alice kisses Chris. Finally. And she loosens up, and allows Joe to move in with his father. Alice will now be able to live the solitary life with Little Joe she has always been wanting. To spend her life working with her one love, the plant? How could this ending not have been any better?
Wait, WHAT? What Actually happened at the end of Little Joe?
OK, my synopsis ending was a little over the top. And some of you guys do not have ANY SARCASM sensing capabilities at all. (I swear, I know I’ll get at least a half dozen emails from you guys that go something like this, “Uh, no! It’s evil what Chris did to Alice! He infected her!!!!” I just know it.
Let me just say it out loud. The plant emits pollen in order to make the host be happy. That is just an addictive lost leader. The real benefit to the plant is that once a person has been infected they will always work for the plant’s benefit. All they can think about is assisting the plant in any way that they can.
Which, raises a good point. How did the ending actually go? Well, if you re-watch the film – watch it with this filter in mind. Absolutely any time anyone did anything advantageous for the plant, they were infected, and they were under the control of Little Joe. And if they worked against the plant, they weren’t. So, through that light, we know that Chris, Karl, Joe, Selma, pretty much everyone has been infected. Heck, even Alice’s ex has been infected. And they are all actively working to promote the interests of the plant.
So, when we learn the “exciting” news that Alice’s team had won an award, and that they were going to begin sending the plants to schools all over Europe, this is the worst news possible. Soon, the entire planet will be zombie hosts working to promote the benefit of the plant. I mean, after all, it can’t reproduce on its own dangit. It needs the help of its symbiotic partner, humans. Does that make sense?
My Thoughts on Little Joe
Are you guys big fans of Dark Mirror? That is what this movie felt like. It might have been a little too long for a full length movie. But it would be perfect as a Dark Mirror episode. (Speaking of which, have you guys seen the latest season? I haven’t watched anything after Bandersnatch. I need to get on the stick.) Don’t you think? And maybe escalate the plant’s abilities as we go? Lasers or something? Hahahah. No. None of that. But it did lack a little something.
And yet, there was so much here to discuss. When Karl comments, “Who can prove the genuineness of feelings?” And how do we know if the emotions and feelings of the infected are real or not? Science attempts to deal with logic, and data. This plant though is ducking and weaving these definitions and standards. It is forcing people to ACT NORMAL. When in fact their prime directives have been completely replaced. Is this not just a morality tale? A tale about the impacts and results of drug addiction? A tale about psychotics and mood altering medicines that are intended to help those that are impacted? It’s a story about how our culture invalidate those that require medicine in order to appear normal. No? I’ll just leave a few of these thoughts here and wait to see what you guys think about this movie. I am not making these morality tale ideas up dangit! hahahah. But what did you guys think about this movie?
Edited by: CY