‘American Star’ Ending Explained & Film Summary: Is Wilson Dead Or Alive?


The new thriller drama film American Star is a fairly common story told through a really uncommon and unique stylistic choice, which does leave an effect by its end. The plot revolves around an aged man named Wilson, who spends his days on the picturesque island of Fuerteventura, waiting for his target to arrive, for Wilson is indeed a professional hitman. However, the protagonist makes a series of unexpected connections at the very end of his life, and that is what becomes important in this tale. With beautiful landscapes presented and a remarkable performance from the 81-year-old Ian McShane, American Star is a nice and slow watch, which also leaves a bitter taste in the end.

Spoiler Alert

Plot Summary: What is the film about?

Made in a slow style that is synonymous with art-house cinema, American Star features scenes of stunning landscape photography, one of which begins the film. The shadow of an airplane is seen over vast open deserts, marking the journey of our protagonist to somewhere far from home. Arriving at the small airport in Tenerife, the man at the helm of this story gets into a hired car and starts to drive towards his destination. He is introduced as Wilson, and the exact intentions behind his visit to the picturesque Canary Islands are gradually revealed. As Wilson drives to a lavish house seemingly in the middle of nowhere, he breaks into the place and starts looking for clues. It becomes apparent that the protagonist is actually a professional hitman, and his job has brought him to this place.

However, the man whom Wilson is after is still not at the house yet, and so he waits in hiding, intending to get the job done at this one chance. The noise of a motorcycle approaching the house and someone entering makes the hitman cautious, but it is not the target after all. Instead, a young woman walks into the house and takes a dip in the swimming pool, looking quite accustomed to the place and making it evident that she often visits. Unwilling to wait any longer, as it would probably jeopardize his mission, Wilson sneaks out of the house and calls up his informer, notifying them that the assassination has to be postponed for some time. 

Still waiting for the arrival of the target at the Canary Islands, Wilson checks into a hotel in the main city, which is most used by tourists and foreigners. In fact, Wilson introduces himself as a tourist as well, even though his black suits and somber attitude do not really make him seem like one. When the man walks out to explore the neighborhood that evening, he runs into a friendly bartender in a quaint bar. Despite the bartender being the very same woman whom Wilson had seen at the house of his target, he strikes up a friendship with her, still not knowing that her presence will give rise to a different sort of problem for him.

Why does Wilson postpone the inevitable?

With the progression of the plot, it becomes clear that the bartender that Wilson had befriended, Gloria, is actually a target on his list as well. The bond between the two starts to grow when they start going out together, starting with the instance when Gloria offers to take Wilson out to the beach, from where a wrecked American ship can be seen. This long journey out towards the beach leads to more such instances where the two spend time together, and they really grow fond of each other as well. But the liking, or fondness, is not of any romantic kind, and while it initially seems like a result of Gloria’s search for companionship, as she states that she likes making new friends, the real reason is revealed later.

After a series of planned and unplanned run-ins, Gloria invites Wilson for lunch at her house, intending to introduce him to her mother, Anne, who is a real estate agent. Gloria lies to Anne, saying that Wilson wants to buy a house on the island and would, therefore, like to meet her, while on the other side, she convinces Wilson to come for lunch. Although the young woman feels that she has tricked the two into meeting in such a manner, both Wilson and especially Anne know what is going on. The mother reveals to Wilson that Gloria’s fondness for him is out of her desperate search for a father figure, owing to the fact that she had not gotten much time to spend with her own father. Therefore, going around the islands with Wilson, doing activities that she enjoys, and showing him places that she often visits is Gloria’s way of introducing herself to a man who can take the position of her father. This is also probably why she makes use of the situation to get him acquainted with her mother, perhaps hoping that they might end up becoming a family.

However, it is also revealed that Gloria is a dangerous criminal, having been involved with drug trafficking for a long time. After being imprisoned in London and then in France, the woman moved to Fuerteventura in Spain, continuing with her same dangerous acts. She had also been romantically involved with a drug lord, who is possibly the other target for Wilson. This was why Wilson, a hitman working for a British private security firm, was hired to eliminate the woman in order to put a stop to her illegal activities. It is to be remembered that American Star is not a film that delves into much detail, and so the exact reason for the hit on Gloria is never revealed. Either way, after developing a close bond with Gloria, Wilson is unable to bring himself to kill the woman. He truly starts to feel like a father, or at least a guardian, to the young woman, which is even why the man confronts her about her crimes at one point in time. Whenever asked about the assassination, Wilson states that he will do it when the time is right, buying some more time for Gloria and for himself as well. The ones who had hired him possibly want Wilson to be done with Gloria first, while the second target takes time to arrive. But instead, the hitman gives Gloria and her mother the opportunity to escape the island after his confrontation, which terribly angers and upsets Gloria.

How does Wilson bond with Max?

There is a sense throughout the duration of American Star that Wilson had rejected the possibility of having his own family in order to favor his professional duties, having been a soldier in the British army earlier and now a private assassin. But at his old age, Wilson seemingly gets the uneasy feeling of wanting a family, which makes him quite sensitive to younger individuals around him who are also lonely. While Gloria is definitely the strongest connection he makes, Wilson also runs into a young boy named Max at the hotel where he is staying. Young Max is at the place on vacation with his parents, who are quite neglectful of the boy. Max often sits outside their room, in the lobby, while his parents are having a terrible fight inside or his father is snoring away without any care for him.

Both with Gloria and Max, it is the younger ones who reach out to Wilson first, eventually bringing out a very soft spot within the tough man. Over time, Wilson plays around with Max, giving him some money after losing an intentionally lopsided bet. Max gets engrossed with the thought that Wilson can parachute jump, and so the man makes the effort of creating a parachute-jumping soldier with a small toy figure of the boy. The attention that Max craves and does not get from his parents is showered on him by Wilson, who manages to create a moment for Max that he will remember his entire life when they launch the toy soldier from the roof together. In the end, when Max leaves with his parents, he keeps behind a drawing of a soldier as a heartwarming reminder of their genuine bond.

Who is Ryan?

Along with having a series of self-reflecting experiences through the human bonds that he makes, Wilson is also constantly brought back to reality, reminded that he is, after all, not on a vacation to Fuerteventura. This reminder comes in the literal form of a younger man named Ryan, who is also a professional hitman, working for the same company as the protagonist. The two men also know each other from much earlier, as Ryan’s father used to be a very close friend of Wilson, and the two had served in the army together during the Falklands War. It was here that Ryan’s father died from hypothermia after getting into the sea.

Ryan is a sharp contrast to Wilson in more ways than one, starting with their preferences about serving in the army. To Ryan, working for a private security firm is much more profitable and, therefore, more meaningful than struggling for one’s country. Wilson, on the other hand, is working in such a profession only because his old age will not permit him to serve in the army any longer. Although Ryan keeps reminding and reprimanding Wilson to not get more attached to their target, Gloria, it is later revealed that the young man himself had quite an involvement with the woman.

While going through the photos on Gloria’s camera, Wilson finds evidence of her getting intimate with Ryan in the recent past. When he saw the two meet each other, he was not aware that they had gotten together behind his back. To Wilson, the long wait at the island is a good chance to get acquainted with locals, in the process of which he grows close to Gloria. But to Ryan, the same wait is a chance for him to sleep around with Gloria, whom he knows he will have to kill eventually. Unlike Wilson, Ryan is not really affected or touched by the woman’s presence; rather, she is only a piece of body to get intimate with for him.

Does Wilson take his own life?

During American Star‘s ending, the man who happens to be the main target of the hitmen finally arrives at the luxurious house seen at the beginning of the film. Wilson had been waiting for this very moment, and he mercilessly killed the man and a woman who had come with him. But as Gloria arrives soon after, most likely to make deals about their drug business, Wilson is unable to harm her. He once again offered to let Gloria go, but Ryan had predicted something like this would happen. Therefore, Ryan also appears at the place and shoots Gloria dead.

We only see Wilson hold Ryan at gunpoint after this, but it is evident from the later scenes that he kills his fellow hitman. In fact, Wilson was also quite surprised by the contents of an envelope sent by his employers in an earlier scene. While it included a photo of the target, there was also a second photo inside which is never shown. This probably suggests that Ryan was his second target, although this is never confirmed. By the end, Wilson had truly assumed the role of the father to Gloria, and so he can never forgive Ryan for having killed the woman. He shoots Ryan dead, and then he also realizes that there is no positivity ahead in his life. As a result, Wilson takes Ryan’s body to the beach and walks into the water with the corpse in his hands. The two figures are seen dissolving, suggesting that they are both lost at sea, for Wilson walks into the water and drowns himself. Not only is this a desperate measure to end his own miserable life, but it is also a sort of tribute to his late friend, since the death of whom Wilson had never taken a bath in the sea.

What is the significance of the American Star ship?

The ruins of a large cruise ship named American Star are what Gloria took Wilson to see from the beach on their very first outing together. The SS American Star ship, which gives the film its name as well, is actually symbolic of our very protagonist, Wilson. Both entities are extremely old and frail, only existing because they are both stuck in their positions. The SS American Star had been wrecked in 1995 after a Thai company attempted to tow it back to the country with the intention of turning it into a hotel. Since then, the ship has remained stuck near a beach in Fuerteventura until around 2006, when it was finally fully submerged in the water. Similarly, Wilson is also in the very last phase of his life, after having experienced extreme rootlessness. Like the ship, which had changed ownership numerous times in its lifetime, Wilson has also worked for many different entities and their varying demands, as his current profession as a hitman suggests.

On the day when Gloria and Wilson first went to see the shipwreck together, the American Star moved for the first time, getting swayed by the heavy waves crashing into it. Perhaps this was also the first time that Wilson was moved by Gloria’s presence, and this moment marked the beginning of the hesitation growing inside the hitman’s mind to kill the woman. Ultimately, at the very end of American Star, the shipwreck also dissolves and vanishes along with the protagonist, signifying the end of two old entities who had been existing in one corner of the world without too much attention.

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Sourya Sur Roy
Sourya Sur Roy
Sourya keeps an avid interest in all sorts of films, history, sports, videogames and everything related to New Media. Holding a Master of Arts degree in Film Studies, he is currently working as a teacher of Film Studies at a private school and also remotely as a Research Assistant and Translator on a postdoctoral project at UdK Berlin.

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