Me: “Anyone have a Things Heard and Seen Movie Explanation?”
Let me see if I can clairvoyant you a moment. Fifteen minutes ago, you watched the ending of “Things Heard and Seen” and you stared at a wall for two minutes. Then you sort of wobbled your way to the kitchen for a glass of water as you had a severely quizzical look on your face, one eyebrow cocked, and a bit of drool dripping out of your mouth. Then after ten minutes, you realize that the water glass you were trying to fill had been overflowing for a while now. Determined, you put the glass down, hop up onto the counter, and flip out your phone and text your best friend, “Have you watched Things Heard and Seen yet?” “Nope” – GAH. “Should I?” “Nope” – then you flip open the Google and barrage it with questions. “Do I need a psychotherapist? I just saw the ending of Things Heard and Seen, and I might be losing my mind.” Nothing. “Someone, for the love of all that is good and holy, please explain the movie Things Heard and Seen to me.” And now, fifteen minutes after finishing the movie? You are here. With me… reading this post. So – let’s see if we can piece-meal this movie back together again and make some sense of it, shall we? Great.
First off – the movie is based on the book All Things Cease to Appear by Elizabeth Brundage – and we probably can learn a ton, if only we would just sit down and read the book. And because I love you all dearly… I did just that. I powered through the book in the past 24 hours just to see if there is more here that the movie isn’t unlocking for us. I will get to the book AFTER we walk through the details of the film. Just be patient dangit. I had to be. So you can too!
But first, it sort of goes without saying – you legally, nay, MORALLY, cannot continue with this walkthrough unless you’ve popped open this link, and watched the movie Things Heard & Seen on Netflix. You just can’t do it. The words will blur over. Your face will melt, like that guy in the Raiders of the Lost Ark. I wouldn’t try it. It could get horrifically gory in here, and I really don’t want your face melting on my conscious.
Things Heard and Seen Walkthrough
The movie opens in 1980. Catherine Claire (Amanda Seyfriend – Uh, First Reformed much?) is a city girl. But not any longer. As she is uprooted from her work as an art restorer at the outset of the film. Why? Because her husband, George (played by James Norton – Flatliners) just finished his doctorate, and landed a job at a small college in Upstate New York. Chosen, New York. Oh, and did I mention she has an eating disorder that is only getting worse out here in the sticks? Nothing is going to go well for Catherine out here, that’s for sure.
Eventually, Catherine discovers a Bible in their new (old, very old) home. She is snagged when she discovers a family tree with names of family members that are crossed out, and “Damned” is written beside their names. Worse, Catherine begins to see strange lights in the house. Flickering bulbs, and the like. Catherine finds a wedding ring in the house, and takes to wearing it. (Note to self, do not abscond with rings I find, even if I own the house.) Her daughter, Franny? Well, she starts hearing screams in the night, and an apparition of a woman that appears to her. It’s gone immediately downhill from the start. And during the day, Catherine meets Eddie and Cole Lucks (hahahah. Come on. That’s funny.) who offer to help around the place.
And George? How’s he doing these days? Well, he begins an affair with a student from a nearby college, Willis (played by Natalia Dyer, Velvet Buzzsaw, and yes, of course, Stranger Things). So, yeah, he’s doing just great. One of George’s co-workers from the school, Justine Sokolov (Rhea Seehorn), invites Catherine and George over for dinner, and Catherine and Justine hit it off. On the way home, George and Catherine have a fight and she gets out of the car and walks. Eventually George chucks Catherine into a ditch. But when George attempts to apologize back at home for his behavior? A light explodes. The house spirits are not a big fan of George apparently.
Both George and Catherine are certain there are spirits in the house. So, they have a seance, invite the neighbors, and make a party out of it. During the party, Catherine learns that Eddie and Cole’s family used to own the house, ANNNNNDDDD, that they died during a murder-suicide. Which makes her completely beside herself that George didn’t tell her about the history of the house. While they are arguing, a radios begins blaring incessantly. So incessantly that it won’t stop until George obliterates it. Catherine then asks George to leave, and to take Franny with him. While they are gone, Catherine and Floyd (come on, a little shout out to Amadeus please… and F. Murray Abraham’s Antonio Salieri!), have a seance that culminates with their seeing Ella, Cole and Eddie’s mother. They divine (see what I did there?) that she is incapable of talking to them because of another unknown spirit in the house. Then, fairly coincidentally, Catherine learns about Willis’ affair with George.
Things begin unraveling for George when Floyd and George’s thesis coordinator, discover that George forged his recommendation letter. George promises to clear everything up the next day. Catherine also learns that George is a fraud, but of a different sort. During the holidays, Catherine figures out that George has been passing off his cousin’s paintings as his own. Seems as though George is determined to be something else other than he is. At this same time, the darker spirit in the house begins talking to him. And while on a boat ride with Floyd, George unsuccessfully attempts to convince Floyd to not rat him out to HR. But he refuses. Well. That basically seals Floyd’s fate, and a minute or two later Floyd has drowned. Justine sees him soaked through, and warns him that she’s aware of his deceit. She knows about his affair, and also about his fake recommendation letter. She tells him that she’s going to tell, and drives away. WELLLLL. We know what is going to happen next, don’t we? Right. So Greg chases after Justine and drives her off the road, and ends up leaving her in a coma.
Catherine packs to leave, and George realizes she’s running when he sees the luggage in the car. He asks if she drank her protein drink for the day… which she hadn’t. So she starts in on it. (Bad.) About that same time, George finds out that Franny is in bed, but she’s fully dressed – <Record Scratch>. Soon after, Catherine passes out completely on their bed. And the voices tell George to kill her, and so he obliges them by killing her with an axe.
Everyone is convinced that George did it, but he had cleverly delayed leaving. You see, that next day, George cleans himself up, and goes to school, teaches his classes, and then, calmly, goes out for drinks that evening. And then when he returns home, we see the opening shot where he sees blood drip on the car in the garage. He tells the police that he believes Eddie killed her because he had romantic feelings for her. Well, after Catherine’s death, and Ella and Catherine join forces in order to awaken Justine from her coma. Also, as she’s waking up, the duo show her everything that George has done. Justine sends George a note letting him know that she knows everything that he’s done and tells the police. Attempting to run away, George takes a boat and runs for it. But while he’s out, a storm rolls in and a hole to hell opens up, swallowing him completely.
The Novel – All Things Cease to Appear – version of Events
Wait. That can’t be all of it. What am I missing? Yes, I felt the same way as well, so I picked up the book that it was based on, and cranked through it on a long and rainy afternoon. I had to know if it shared anything that the movie missed? I was still pretty confused as to what was going on here.
Well, the book focuses on an old farmhouse in Upstate New York. But it opens at the end. George Claire calls the cops and lets them know that his wife has been murdered. Catherine Claire? She’s found with an axe buried deeply in her head. She’d been home alone all day, with her daughter Franny. So? Who could have possibly murdered Catherine? The entire hook of the book is the who-done-it. And from the opening on, the book weaves an intricate pattern of past, present, and future… back and forth, until we start to get a better sense of who the real culprit is here. (Pro-tip? It wasn’t George. Wait, WHAT?)
From there, the book goes back in time to when Cal and Ella were living on their family dairy farm. They are a family of five, with three boys, Cole, Wade, and Eddy. It isn’t a rosy picture financially. All the farms in the area are struggling to make ends meet. But what makes it worse is that Cal takes all his anger on his family. Drinking, though, usually helps in a situation like this… so he does. And his abuse gets even worse. And Cal is sleeping around on Ella. But Ella is determined to love her boys, and raise them to be good men.
Then, eventually, Cal leaks gas into their bedroom to kill Ella, and commits suicide. When the boys discover their parents to be dead, they are whisked away to live with their uncle one town over. But they can’t turn away from their family home. So they come by occasionally and offer Catherine a hand doing chores and helping around the house. Cole babysits Franny, and Wade and Eddy help with the more physical labor around the farm.
Shifting focus, we see things from Catherine’s perspective. Growing up in the city, she had a really hard time moving out to these 200 acres of farmland her husband purchased. Worse? The house is extraordinarily creepy. More than once she sees Ella’s face in a mirror, or in a reflection in a window. And, like the movie, the book also shows her finding Ella’s ring and wearing it.
Then, shifting again, we see things from George’s perspective. At the opening of the book, he comes off as a helpless, completely distraught widow. But, as we begin to see flashbacks from George’s perspective, we start to learn that nothing could be further from the truth. George manipulates Catherine any chance he can get. And that started when Catherine discovered, that after breaking up with George, she’s pregnant and George calls off the break up in order to “do the right thing.” And we learn from the book that George abused Willis, the 19-year-old student he was having an affair with. So much so that he cuts off her hair in order to maintain dominance over her.
The Ending of the Book – All Things Cease to Appear
Catherine is finally going to leave George. She’s done. And so she packs her things up and puts Franny in the car. But then she isn’t able to leave. She can’t quite drive away. And so she heads back in and admits to George she had been planning to leave when he sees the suitcases. But then the book cuts away.
The book finishes with an epilogue from the future. We find Franny in medical school, and she is an apprentice to a surgeon… and she is right and truly miserable. She’s having an affair with a married man. When, out of the blue, she gets notified that her father has sold the old farmhouse. The real estate agent is asking if she would come and clear out the personal belongings still in the house. George is old, blind, and basically useless in every way. When Franny walks back into the house she feels the old chill. And soon after, she tours around the town, visiting with old friends. And the book? WElp. It ends with Franny making out with Cole. But did George do it? Well, it is implied that he probably was the one that buried an axe in his wife’s face. It never really says though.
Oh, Hold On?!?
So we have this clear – the book is way more ambiguous than the movie. We get a sort of feeling that George killed his wife with an axe, but we never see this happen from his perspective. The book stops well short of the definitive knowledge that the movie gives us. Worse, George gets away with it. So much so that we see him as an old man, packing up his stuff from the house after selling it. How can that be? Actually, it’s probably one of the things I really liked about the book. The raw ambiguity of a man being a complete and utter sleaze ball, who also has probably gotten away with several murders. Nothing happy about it, but at least it was definitive in its indecision.
The movie on the other hand, sort of feels like a committee of people sat down and tried to “fix” the book’s ambiguity by adding the murder scene, as well as “clarity” on the fact that George road his boat right through the gates of hell. And while sometimes a committee can “solve” problems in a book, it’s usually pretty rare that it succeeds.
The Ending of Things Heard and Seen Explained
But let’s just set aside the book, and just think about the movie and that ending… let’s see if we can make heads or tails out of it, shall we?
Some watchers of this movie will have difficulty differentiating fact from fiction, spiritual from reality. We can reasonably take at face value that Ella is a ghost that is truly haunting her family residence. We can also take at face value that there is a struggle that is going on here between Ella and Catherine’s husband. Ella is attempting to help Catherine, and protect her from Catherine’s obviously evil husband.
George, intent on convincing everyone he meets that he is something that he isn’t, spends his life stealing the best of those around him. His cousin’s art? Stolen. His position at the college? Stolen. His promotion to the chair of the Art Department? Stolen. The entirety of his life is one extended absconded falsehood after another. It would be so easy to take advantage of the good graces of society’s more assumptive aspects. For example, I could build an entirely fake resume and flank it with fake references. I could Catfish the heck out of my job search if I wanted to. And the odds of my being caught are relatively low. Just carry a clipboard and a hard hat and no one would ever know the difference. But it is just evil. And George goes a step further, murders a colleague, and sends another acquaintance into a coma, and then he hacks his wife to pieces. Which, is an entirely different level of evil than forging a reference letter.
I think the writing room on this film just decided that they needed an adequate resolution that made up for the book’s gapingly indifferent maw. And since the movie was already open to the influence of the dead, and the spirits of the past? Why not go full apocalypse and usher George into the gates of hell? I mean, the audience assumes he deserved it, no? But personally, the editing of the book was way, way, way better than movie. (Well, save for that weird ending with Franny that is.)
I don’t know. After all that work, struggling and wrestling with this movie? I am still no closer to really digging it. What about you? Do you understand it… like at all?
Edited by: CY
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