‘Limbo’ Ending, Explained: Who Had Killed Charlotte?


Limbo is a mystery drama film directed by noted Australian filmmaker Ivan Sen and set entirely in the outback of the continent. The plot presents a police detective named Travis Hurley traveling to this remote desert town in the outback, where he is given the responsibility of reviewing an old unsolved murder case from twenty years ago. Along with being a slow thriller with regards to who actually committed the murder, the film is equally invested in painting a picture of the social situation of Aboriginal Australians, who are minority indigenous people often neglected in the white man’s world. With great visuals and performances and a slow but engaging style, Limbo is a treat to watch and easy to recommend.

Spoilers Alert

‘Limbo’ Plot Summary: What Is The Film About?

Limbo begins with the protagonist, Travis Hurley, driving through the long, empty roads that cut across the desert lands of the Australian continent. His destination is a small outback town named Limbo, where Travis checks in at a local motel and unwinds with a dose of heroin, which the man injects into his veins himself. While initially not clear as to who he actually is, soon Travis is revealed to be a police detective, most probably posted in a far-off metropolitan city, from where he has driven to Limbo to look into a particular case. Twenty years ago, a girl named Charlotte Hayes had gone missing in this town, and she was never to be found again. Although a police investigation had taken place at the time, it did not come up with any satisfactory result, and neither the girl nor possible perpetrators who might have kidnapped or killed her were found.

Now, at present, Travis is given the duty by the police force to come to Limbo and re-investigate the matter, with the possibility that the case of missing Charlotte will be reopened by the authorities. Travis begins his search by tracking down the remaining members of the Hayes family, starting with Charlotte’s twin brother, Charlie, who works as a miner. After going around the place and taking the help of other locals, the detective is able to find Charlie and talk to him, but the brother is unwilling to say anything about his sister’s disappearance. Travis then meets with another sister, Emma, who is a waitress at a local eatery, but she, too, is unwilling to open up about the case. There is almost immediately a sense that the family has no faith left in the police and authorities, and they would rather not get involved with them.

Travis is not willing to put in much effort either, as the man looks out of place in this dry, arid outback, and he intends to leave Limbo within a day or two. However, he finds his car messed around with the next morning, with the wires all cut by someone. As he takes the car to the nearby mechanic, Travis learns that there are enough wasteful miscreants who might have done this only to harass the outsider. As Travis has to helplessly stay back in town for a few more days, he also receives a call from Charlie, who is now ready to talk about the old case, and Travis Hurley finally opens his re-investigation.

What Do We Get To Know About Travis Hurley?

Limbo presents a series of interesting character sketches, with the protagonist Travis Hurley himself being a rather intriguing one. Since the film begins with Travis’ journey and entry into the town and the timeline never shifts from the present, his background is not given too much direct attention. It is only gradually, as the plot unfolds that we learn more about him, and still, most of his character remains veiled. Travis’ heroin addiction definitely does not sit well with his professional role as a police detective, and some of the other characters also find it strange. Much later, during a dinner gathering at Emma’s house, one of the children notes how Travis looks more like a drug dealer than a policeman, owing to his many tattoos and serious demeanor. It is while he has a conversation with the young Zac that Travis opens up about this addiction. Travis Hurley was once a part of the drug squad, and it was during that time that he first started using drugs. Travis also admits to having killed a man during this time and states that being around such complications and messed-up people has a direct effect on one’s psyche.

Travis does not shy away from admitting that he is not too stable as a human being, and he tries to convince Zac to be aware of the friends he has been making. Despite initially being against having such a conversation with young Zac, it is ultimately Travis who seems to have a positive impact on the adolescent boy. Interestingly, it was also Zac who was found to be lurking around Travis’ motel, as proven by the fact that he had left behind his shoe at the place. Therefore, it is most likely that it was Zac and his wastrel friends who had messed around with Travis’ car only as a way of crude entertainment for themselves. But towards the end, Zac definitely strikes up a sort of bond with Travis.

In his personal life too, Travis is highly unsuccessful, owing to the fact that he is estranged from his divorced ex-wife and even his young son. Being a much more violent man once as part of the drug squad, his divorce from his ex-wife is not too strange. But the man had also distanced himself from his son, who apparently loved his stepfather once the ex-wife got married again. Travis knows inside his own mind that this was no strong reason to move away from his role as the biological father, but he probably did so only to distance himself from any responsibilities for his own convenience. At present, though, he does seem to have regrets for this, not very directly or overtly, but through his support for Zac and his wish to help Emma.

What Does Travis Find Out About The Past Police Investigation?

Through his conversations and meetings with each of the locals involved in or affected by the disappearance of Charlotte Hayes, Travis is able to understand what had happened in the past. Even though the exact details of the crime do not become clear to him, Travis surely understands what happened in the police investigation that took place at the time. Marked by an extreme racist overtone, which was far more common and accepted twenty years ago than it is today, the investigation was just a sham and cover-up to hide the real perpetrator and frame someone else instead. Much like most of the townsfolk at Limbo, Charlotte Hayes and her family belonged to the Aboriginal community, who are referred to as Blacks in the region (or at least in this film). Like most other places where the indigenous population was colonized by the white man, Limbo and the Australian outback, in general, were also affected by the socio-economic effects of the colonization.

As it happened twenty years ago, or even at present, as shown in Limbo, most of the police officers and people in authority were white. Therefore, when an Aboriginal girl went missing, the police were not too moved or stirred by it. An investigation was carried out, and it was found that a man named Leon had possibly seen him for the last time. As Travis talks to more people, he gradually finds out that Leon is really known for being a shady character, particularly because of his liking for Black women. The man would often throw parties at his house, which would be attended mostly by teenagers around the area, and it is suggested that Leon would take advantage of this chance. At the very end of “Limbo,” Emma also reveals that she, too, had been forced or coerced into getting intimate with Leon during one of his parties. However, Leon and his brother Joseph, who would often hang out together, were both white men and therefore had the support of the police force. Despite Leon being the biggest suspect in the case, the police managed to turn the matter around within some time.

Calling in Charlie for questioning, the police suggested at the time that it must have been the twin brother who had killed Charlotte. Since all the Hayes siblings were actually step-siblings with the same mother and different biological fathers, the police claimed that Charlie had been attracted to Charlotte and had approached her, and when she denied getting intimate, the brother killed her. During the initial investigation, Charlie was found to have an alibi, as he had spent the entire evening and night with his cousins. But this alibi was also disregarded since the cousins all had criminal cases against them, and eventually, the police forced these cousins to lie and say that Charlie had indeed killed Charlotte. Although no certain proof against Charlie could be found, these claims ensured that Leon was not investigated any further.

There were even others who claimed that Leon had admitted to them that he had killed someone during that time, but none of this was actually reported to the police since the townsfolk already had warrants for petty crimes against them. It is certain that the police would have arrested them first instead of listening to whatever they had to say, again, owing to the fact that they were Aboriginal Blacks. It is also certain that the police would not have cared to investigate Leon further, and it would instead be Charlie who would face more trouble. In fact, this is the very reason why Charlie and Emma were both unwilling to talk to Travis after he initially came to Limbo.

‘Limbo’ Ending Explained: Who Was The Real Murderer Of Charlotte?

At present, when Travis goes to have a word with Leon as well since the man was the prime suspect in the matter, he learns that Leon has passed away. The brother, Joseph, still lives, but the elderly man keeps claiming that his brother was innocent. Joseph does show empathy for the Hayes family, though, saying that he is terribly sorry for what has happened to them, and the man even awkwardly apologizes to Emma one day on the streets. Towards the end of the film, Travis gets to know of a certain car that had been burned down and abandoned in one of the nearby caves, and he asks to be taken to the spot. On the day of Charlotte’s disappearance, she was last seen by Leon and Joseph, who were driving down the road in their car. Joseph told Travis that his brother had sold off this old car of his many years ago, but it ultimately turned out not to be the case.

When Travis goes to the cave and sees the car, he realizes that it was indeed the one driven around by Leon, making it almost certain that Leon had burned it down and abandoned it to get rid of the evidence against him. During Limbo‘s ending, when Travis returns to confront Joseph about the past, he finds the old man in his bedroom, and here the detective finds numerous undergarments of women stacked inside a cupboard. This makes it absolutely clear as day that it was indeed Leon who used to harm many young women, and it was indeed he who had kidnapped and killed Charlotte. In fact, it even seems like the brother, Joseph, was also in on it, and he, too, had been part of whatever Leon had done to Charlotte.

For a brief moment, Travis pulls out his gun and points it at Joseph, almost in rage that the man was actually such a predator of young women. However, Travis does not ultimately shoot the man, realizing that Joseph is already on his deathbed, struggling and suffering from complications of old age. Shooting him dead would almost relieve Joseph of his pains, and Travis instead lets him be. Also, the police authorities had officially called off the re-investigation by this time, and Travis was still searching for the answers because of his own concern. Limbo finally ends with detective Travis Hurley driving away from the small town through the long, empty roads that cut across the desert lands.

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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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