The Empty Man Movie Is Anything But Empty

The Empty Man Movie Is Anything But Empty
Reader Rating4 Votes

There was a moment in the Empty Man movie… at minute 55 actually… when I stopped and said. No. I can’t do another standard horror teen murder film. The tropes are all burnt out. The “awaken the evil” story-lines have all been done. So I ran back to the THiNC. patreon chat server and was like, guys? Anyone seen this? Am I missing something? I just can’t do Freddy Kruger 29. Or you know – awake the evil, run for your life, everyone dies one by one… and they were all like, oh no… that is not what this is. Like at all. And I’m so glad I went with it, because what the heck! Wow. That ending was fantastic, and totally unexpected, and there is just so much to talk about. So let’s start talking about why The Empty Man Movie Is Anything But Empty… OK?

For those of you that haven’t seen the movie, you are obviously going to need to do so at your earliest convenience (youtube, play, and amazon). And yes, I 100% certify that this movie is awesome. Totally worth your investment to see where the ending ends up. It it tells the story of a few hikers in the Himalayan mountains that encounter a really horrible evil. Cut to America, and that evil has come to America. How? Well, it’s invoked by a group of teens who blow into bottles and then say the empty man’s name several times. (See?) But then we follow as a private detective tries to track down one of the missing teens. Some of the kids are found, dead, but this young lady is missing. And what this private detective might find just change things for him specifically, forever. OK, check out this trailer, and then bounce if you haven’t seen the movie yet. Fair? Great.

Alright, because I’m totally itching to talk to you about the ending of this movie – let’s jump right into it, shall we? Thank you… you are so kind. No, really. But before we get started – a word of the day:

Hintergedanken: “A hintergedanken is a thought way, way, way in the back of your mind. Something that you know deep down but can’t admit.” 

The Empty Man Movie Is Anything But Empty – Walkthrough

Like I said in the lead in – the movie starts with four American hikers. They look like they are day hiking, minus the fact that they are obviously around 25,000 feet up whatever mountain this is. And as they are going, one of their foursome hears a sound. A peculiar howling sort of a sound. He follows the sound and falls into a ravine. The other male in their group rappels down and finds him in a comatose state, staring at a statue of some sort.

As the opening continues (reminds me of the elaborate story-building opens of like Candyman, and other’s like it) they are able to get him out of there but he doesn’t move on his own. They take shelter from a storm in a house they find, and it feels like evil is attacking them on all sides. And on the third day, our comatose hiker goes missing. As they follow him up into the mountains they discover him back near the cave where he fell. But this time, his girlfriend kills the other two hikers, and then commits suicide by yeeting herself off the mountain after our comatose hiker mumbles to her a bit. OK. So that is one specific important detail. But we are eventually going to merge that with what is about to come. Which means, you’ll need to hold that opening loosely until we get to the end.

Ex Nihilo – The Empty Man

Jump to: James Lasombra, played by James Badge Dale (who I know well from 24, and it took forever to realize it, oh but then it stuck in my brain like a splinter. So thanks a bunch for that James! But you also know him from 13 Hours, and World War Z), who learns that his neighbor’s daughter, Amanda Quail (played by Sash Frolova – who was awesome in The OA) is missing. She was just here, talking to James, but after a little game where Amanda and her friends invoke the Empty Man, they’ve all gone missing, now that you think about it. So James, as a favor to Amanda’s mother, Nora Quail – who James has some sort of history with – promises to track down her whereabouts. Simple story right? Missing teen, ex-cop, private detective, decides he is the best man to track down Amanda, got it.

If only that was what was really happening.

The day that Amanda went missing, her mother finds blood written on the mirror “The Empty Man Made Me Do It.” Obviously, the cops aren’t really interested in chasing down Amanda because they think she’s acting out to hurt her mother. So James starts digging, and as he does, he starts to learn about an institute, or a spiritual cult, something, that is connected to the Empty Man. The Pontifax Institute keeps cropping back up. It seems to be a cult that believes that nothing can hurt you, because nothing is real. “What we think about with intention, we manifest out here…” They believe that there is an ancient truth, and that our thoughts originate with this infinite truth, and that these old and hidden truths are what become your thoughts.

And when the movie mentioned the word, “Tulpa” I literally stopped the movie. TULPA. I know that word. Tulpa. TULPA. T-uhl-pah? What is a tulpa? I know that word. So I walked away from the movie and spent like a half hour researching in my philosophy of religion text books trying to ascertain what it was exactly. Apparently it is a “physical materialization of a thought, resulting in the creation of a being or object”?? And it comes from Tibetan spirit sigil. OK, so I’m staring at a wall, wondering what that has to do with this movie. What is going on here?

Now, as I mentioned, I’m not really all that interested with the progression of the investigation. Teens. Blow on bottles. Evil leaves blowing. Scary scary. Skirt skirt. AHHH. Kids turn up dead. Right? About as normal a horror movie plot line as it gets. Right, but the kids (teens, whatever) who blow on the bottle are all found dead, hanging under the bridge by James. And Davara, ends up stabbing herself … in the face … repeatedly. Which seems like an awful way to go, but it’s even worse when you think the Empty Man is stabbing you – and you are doing it yourself. (Can I just say, as an aside, that the design work on the Slinder Man is phenomenal. Yeah, he was like straight out of the Nazgûl from The Lord of the Rings.) Anyway, the “investigation” aside, it turns out that James starts realizing, as he’s investigating Pontifax Institute, that it’s all about this idea of the communicable virus of the idea. And that the pinnacle of this idea is that this focal point for targeted manifestations, and these hidden energies, could manifest itself in this Tulpa. When I saw this snippet in the movie I snagged it right away:

“Thought + Concentration + Time = Flesh” and I knew that was important. But more importantly, was the next line. It is believed that a tulpa could be used as an empty repository into which could be transferred one’s guilt and sin. The following line is actually hilarious… “although this view is a shallow and onanistic interpretation of a profound spiritual phenomenon.” The word of the day, for you at least (if you weren’t aware of it already) is onanistic. Heheh. It means masturbation. And in this context means, masturbatory. A shallow and masturbatory interpretation, i.e., it’s a deeply profound perspective even beyond that of a vessel for sin. So is this Empty Man a Christ-like figure? A vessel for guilt and sin? Or is it something different?

When James finally goes into the Pontifax Institute, and talks to one of the lecturers, they discuss some of the deeper insights that this cult is pushing. “You know that old Nietzsche line, ‘If you stare into the abyss it also stares into you’… that has been rendered meaningless through repetition. It’s a refrigerator magnet. It’s cliche. It’s harmless. But when was the last time you really thought about it? What is an abyss, and why is it calling out to you… and are you calling out to it?” Pondering the deeper thoughts of the teachings, James sneaks down into the basement of the Institute and sees a circle of people talking. And he hears them say, “Nothing exists. Even if something exists, nothing can be known about it. Even is something can be known about it, that knowledge cannot be transmitted to others.” This is Solipsism – nothing exists and we can’t know anything about it. And Nihilism – that all values presumed about the universe are meaningless. Nothingness.

Chanting, “from his thoughts come power from power come the bridge.” James is standing there – and the group hears him there. And they call out to him. Is someone there? Show yourself. What does this mean? Worse, he keeps finding files on himself stashed away in the Institutes filing cabinets. This one in a file folder named “Manifestation 13.” Why would he be there? Why would they care about him? How would they know anything about him? More importantly, why was the group gobsmacked when they saw him as a security team removed him from up on the gangplank?

Following a group of the Institute members, he heads to the hospital where an important patient is being worshiped. When he speaks to the nurse outside the man’s hospital room she tells James that the man has been there for almost a year. That 23 years ago he was admitted to Bellevue, then transferred to another hospital…then here. When he goes into his room, he finds Amanda. And she explains to James that the man in the hospital bed is the carrier. “He transmits, we receive.” We learn through a flashback, that the man in the bed….is the man at the opening of the movie. He is the one infected by the skeleton in the cave. And normally, the group creates carriers through people in the group, that follow the teachings. But this time, Amanda tells James that they decided to try something different entirely. This time she tells him that they would instead make a vessel.

Amanda tells James that she knew about his affair with her mother. How could she know that? Well, because, the first time they attempted this experiment, they made the vessel too perfectly. They made him too happy overall. (Echoes of the Matrix here.) But this time, when the developed James’ backstory, they filled it with tragedy and loss. “Fear is what we were missing.” “I wrote it into your script when we created you.” Three days prier, the group came together (the one sitting at the chalkboard in a circle), and pointed their minds towards a single objective. With that, they conjured him into being – their Tulpa. Which is when James is chased down by the Empty Man and spews darkness into his face. He remembers back to the memory of his wife and son veering off the road to avoid a deer, and both dying. With that, James kills the man in the hospital bed, and the people in the hospital bow to him.


Let’s back up a bit. Actually start over at the beginning. The man in the cave becomes the Pontifax Institutes’ Empty Man by virtue of his infection in Nepal. He ostensibly comes to America, where he quickly becomes ill from the impact of the stress from sending and receiving to his followers. Realizing that they didn’t have much time with him, the institute needed to do something to instill a new Empty Man. Not having the time necessary, Amanda and the people of Pontifax decide they will create one. A Tulpa.

Now a Tulpa (per the movie) is just “Thought + Concentration + Time = Flesh.” So they all coalesce their thoughts, and it manifests itself in flesh. But that Manifestation (#12?) fails. The next one though, Amanda writes a backstory of loss and fear. James Lasombra is drafted with a wife, a son. Lasombra becomes close with her mother, and when Amanda’s father passes away, Lasombra and Nora have an affair. One day, while the two of them are together, James’ wife has a car accident, and she, and their son, both die. None of this is real. After taking on flesh, James begins trying to figure out what has happened to him, and why he is here. He is searching for Amanda, because Amanda wrote him into being. He has such wide open access to the Pontifax Institute, and their files, mainly because he is their savior put on flesh. And as the three days pass, he grows stronger. Eventually, he is able to take over as the Empty Man, and kill the previous person manifesting him.

Now, a few of us discussed this movie in some detail (over on the THiNC. Discord Chat) and the number one question that came up was – WHAT WAS REAL, AND WHAT WAS NOT? Well, this one quote, from Amanda, to James after he makes it to the hospital room is pretty telling:

“Hard to tell what’s real and not – you must detach from a false reality to attach to a new one, a stronger one. I bet you thought I didn’t know about your little indiscretion when my mother. I made it happen. I wrote it into your script when we created you.”

So, I’m surmising that James’ real goal since coming to being three days prior, was to dump his brain of this reality and to focus on this “higher” reality. Whether he knew it or not. Which basically means, that though the Pontifax folks gave James his backstory, and his thoughts in order to set him up as a fearful and dark individual…he needed to work through that false narrative in order to truly become the thing that they needed him to be. So he’s grappling with this imaginary narrative – “where were you.” Dealing with this false sin of his affair, and abandoning his wife. WHICH NEVER HAPPENED. Oh, and he’s hunting for Amanda. His creator. heheh. He’s moving in and around the Pontifax institute for three days, but ultimately…most of what was happening, from his perspective anyway, was all false. It never actually happened.

A good example of this – that really shows the falseness of his perspective, is when he was first born, or Tulpa’d, or whatever. We know that he was summoned during a similar session. But it could very well be that the second encounter never happened at all, but rather he was just remembered his initial summoning. But we do know, for a fact, that James did not ever interact with Amanda’s mother. Ever. Why? Because when he calls her, she doesn’t remember him at all. So, 100%, we know that the “search,” and the “investigation,” wasn’t a thing. It just never happened. Away from James though, some things happened that seem somewhat reliable. The deaths of the teens might have happened. The wild events in the mountain opening happened. But we can be certain that absolutely nothing connected to “James'” life happened.

But what is this Tulpa thing? I think that generally speaking they are mental projections generally. If given enough thought, some believe that they can be given physical form. I spent the last hour running down this rabbit hole…particularly a blog that believes that Santa Claus is a tulpa, God and Satan, are tulpas… etc. Which, I 100% disagree with…but is an interesting thought exercise. If all the little children around the world are all simultaneously thinking about Santa… then POP, SANTA EXISTS!!! Which, would be disorienting for Santa Claus, I guess. And I suppose that is what happened for James. Oh! I must find Amanda. I guess? Hahaha.

Final Thoughts on Empty Man

The thought of James as this Christ figure – was interesting. An upside down Christ figure – an anti-Christ of sorts. Someone that sends and receives. Communicates directives, receives sins. A conduit for failures and atonement’s? And he takes their sins, and in result calls his followers out into the world to murder others? What? No, that doesn’t make sense. There were two ways in which the Empty Man related to people…there were those who he possessed, in order to murder them. And there were those that worshiped him, and received his insights? Received his directives? Kind of a mess. I gotta say, I enjoyed the inside out mind job of the ending of Empty Man. Was it satisfying to say that our hero never existed? Not really. But was it clever? Why, yes, yes it was. Definitely made you work to try and understand what was real, and what wasn’t. I will say this…it wasn’t Nightmare on Elm Street after all, which I was extraordinarily thankful for.

Edited by: CY