‘Arcadian’ Ending Explained & Film Summary: Is Paul Dead Or Alive?


You take one look at Arcadian’s use of landscape as the messenger of the mood, and Ben Brewer’s connection to Everything Everywhere All at Once makes all the more sense. To talk about the film would be to acknowledge the kind of mastery it takes to make a post-apocalyptic narrative so hauntingly emotional. Arcadian’s emotional motifs are more refined than The Last of Us or Train to Busan. But tilting a tad toward arthouse doesn’t mean this Nicolas Cage-starrer doesn’t indulge in some truly creepy Alien-esque monsters.

Spoiler Alert

What happens in the film?

The sirens and garbled announcements all around Paul let us know that something terrible has befallen the world. Bombs and black smoke seem to be the new normal as he runs through the lonely streets to reach a place we know nothing about. If he’s the father, he was probably trying to get to the little twins. If he’s not, the helpless infants got tremendously lucky when Paul found them. A significant amount of time down the line, Paul and his family of two teen sons, Joseph and Thomas, cling to the bits and pieces of normalcy in their sort of safe home. When the sun sets, though, there’s no safety in this post-apocalyptic condition. 

How does Paul’s family survive in the world of monsters?

It goes without saying that Thomas and Joseph have only word of mouth to go by when it comes to knowing how life was before all this. We can imagine that a big part of their upbringing has been about honing their survival skills in the new normal. For those who’ve survived the mysterious apocalyptic event, daylight is the only time to do what they must outdoors. Because once darkness falls, being cooped up in the house with the doors and windows boarded up is the only way to be safe against the terrifying creatures that come looking for prey. Despite all this, Paul’s done his best to give his teenage sons a sense of stability. They live just as you’d expect a loving father and his two sons to live: saying grace before dinner—a mild reprimand from Paul when Joseph and Thomas are at each other’s throats—as usual. What they can’t scavenge or trade for, the three of them are more than capable of either making for themselves or finding a substitute for. Judging by the sweet nature of kids who don’t really have any worldly experience or outside influence, Paul’s done a great job raising the two. They know how to balance life and survival. While they don’t deprive themselves of the joys of existence, they adhere strictly to the limitations posed by what lurks around. They’ve gotten themselves accustomed to staying hyper-vigilant after dark. But that was probably much easier to get used to compared to the roaches—wherever a monster’s been, there’ll likely be an intrusion of the gross critters. 

How does Paul get injured?

Despite being twins and having known just a handful of people throughout their lives, Thomas and Joseph’s personalities are tremendously conflicting. Joseph’s more of a nerd, playing chess with himself without all the pieces and making sketches of things that pique his interest. But at the same time, the kid’s got quite an innovative side to him, which is all the more useful considering how handy he is with machinery. He’s been working on a makeshift truck, and it’s adorable how Paul’s first-hand experience with cars ends up being just what’s needed to give it the finishing touch. Thomas is the more impulsive of the two, so smitten with Charlotte, the daughter of the people who run the neighboring Rose farms, that he’d find all the excuses in the world to spend most of his days over there. Thomas was supposed to be helping Joseph scavenge on the day he accidentally tripped and fell into a cave while rushing home from Rose Farms. Going out into the dark is practically a suicide mission. But Paul can’t leave it to luck when the surrounding woods are monster-infested. Stuck in the cave, a frightened Thomas’ every attempt to hold off the creatures is a testament to everything he’s learned from his dad. Paul does unite with his son before he’s harmed. But at a certain point, while realizing that it’s either death in a cave or being gorged to death, it becomes imperative for Paul to put himself at stake. The small explosion that saves them heavily injures Paul. But thankfully, Thomas is able to haul him home. 

What Happens To Joseph, Paul and Thomas?

The most tragic thing about a world like Arcadian’s is that there’s a limit to how kind people are allowed to be. The Roses aren’t bad people. Thomas shows up every day and lends them a hand just to spend a fleeting moment with their daughter. The budding romance between the two doesn’t really go overlooked, and no one having a problem with it only helps their love flourish. Despite this amicable relationship between the families, the Roses recoil when Joseph and Thomas come to their door with their unconscious father in dire need of medication. It’s not that they don’t have it to lend, but their stock isn’t infinite. Thomas staying back when he’s invited in by the Roses is heartbreaking for Joseph. But he’s not about to sulk around and gets to work to devise the perfect trap to finish off the creatures once and for all. 

Unfortunately for Thomas, whose guilt kicks in pretty soon after shifting to the farm, not everyone around is kind. He’s needlessly thrashed by the farmhands, who know full well that he’s not a thief and that Charlotte gave him the medication to help save his father’s life. This is perhaps where Kristin Kontrol and Josh Martin’s music is at its most effective. The thunderous pulsation of the background track witnesses the monsters doing Thomas a solid by crawling out of the ground and finishing off his captors. Not much is told to us or the characters about what’s caused all this. And the monsters are just as enigmatic. Certain keen observations by Joseph do suggest that these creatures aren’t incapable of complex thoughts or emotions. There was even a pattern to how they knocked on Paul and the twins’ door. So, it’s really not unlikely that they were smart enough to leave the Rose Farm at peace to give them a false sense of security while preparing for a gigantic attack. The attack takes them all except Charlotte, who joins Thomas and Joseph to take them down once and for all. 

Joseph’s genius side shines through the most in his clever creations. He’s once even been able to design a trap and catch a monster in it. With Paul still unconscious, Joseph realizes that he’s quite adept at keeping himself from falling apart under such stress. It helps that he’s already started working on his plan to lure the monsters into a bigger, more effective trap. In the face of the incoming horde, the shotgun-wielding Charlotte does her best to buy Joseph some time while Thomas makes good use of a little knife. But saving the day here is their heroic dad, because why cast Nicolas Cage if he doesn’t get to rise up, grab a baseball bat, and fight off an army of man-eating creatures? He’s always been the one to give Joseph’s creations that one final touch of success, and this time is no different. Joseph’s plan of trapping all the threats inside the house and burning them to death does work, but only because Paul’s brave enough to use himself as bait and sacrifice his life in the process.

Arcadian’s ending is the glaring proof that it is as much a tale of familial bonds as it is a post-apocalyptic horror. Be it the twins or Charlotte, every skill that they’ve put to use in this battle is something they’ve learned from their fathers. There’s a scene in the first act where Joseph’s views align more with the cynical understanding of the apocalypse. Paul’s hope, in the face of the tragic fate of the world, challenges this negativity. So, even Joseph’s faith that there must be more survivors and communities out there for them to join is something that Paul inspired in him.

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Lopamudra Mukherjee
Lopamudra Mukherjee
In cinema, Lopamudra finds answers to some fundamental questions of life. And since jotting things down always makes overthinking more fun, writing is her way to give this madness a meaning.

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