‘Miller’s Girl’ Ending Explained & Film Summary: What Happens To Cairo And Jonathan?


The 2024 drama film Miller’s Girl should most definitely come with a warning of predatory behavior, as it is based on a rather problematic premise, which is not really solved by the end. The film tells the story of Cairo Sweet, a young high school student just turned eighteen, who grows attracted to her high school teacher, Jonathan Miller. The visual aesthetics and the overtly gothic style do work in favor of this dreamy, almost unbelievable, and fantastical story. However, the content in Miller’s Girl can be deemed problematic, especially since it does not seem to take a very clear stand in the end.

Spoiler Alert

Plot Summary: What is the film about?

Miller’s Girl begins with the self-introduction of Cairo Sweet, a girl who has just turned eighteen but who is unlike most other eighteen-year-olds. Living in a grand old manor named Lovell Hill, somewhere in the quaint suburbs of Tennessee, Cairo has all the wealth in her life but hardly any company. Her parents are lawyers by profession, and their brilliance in the field makes them travel abroad at all times. Without much hesitation, perhaps because their daughter has turned an adult and since she has a stable life with no dearth of money, the parents stay away from their house for the most part of the year. Therefore, Cairo has to live alone and also take a long walk through the forests to her high school, all by herself. The girl makes up for this loneliness through literature, for she avidly enjoys both reading and writing, and as she herself admits, literature is the only respite she has. 

Cairo’s best friend in school and seemingly the only friend that she has, Winnie Black, encourages her to take up a new course in creative writing in high school. Winnie’s intention in making this suggestion initially seems to be her friend’s passion for writing. As Cairo joins the creative writing class, she meets Jonathan Miller for the first time. Miller is like any other usual teacher, without any characteristics that would immediately stick out to a student. However, Cairo’s interest in taking up this class is largely because of Mr. Miller, for she knows that he is a published author, and she considers herself a writer as well. Cairo reveals that she has already read through the entire list of books in the course, and Miller cannot help but feel astonished by her sincerity.

Within a short time, Cairo starts to stick out to Mr. Miller during his classes, and the only reason for it seems to be her adept skills in writing and her overall knowledge of literature. The student does notice this appreciation that her teacher is showing her, and she rather enjoys it, as it gets her closer to discussions on books and authors. But Miller’s Girl starts to take a predictable turn when Miller and Cairo’s bond starts to blur the lines in a normal teacher-student relationship.

How do Miller and Cairo start an affair?

In the introduction to Cairo that she herself provides at the beginning of Miller’s Girl, she mentions how she is the quintessential rich girl with high ambitions stuck in a small town. It is evident that Cairo is a misfit for this small town with seemingly nothing to do or learn. Even her best friend, Winnie, is quite different from Cairo, as their dreams and desires in life are very different. It is almost obvious that Cairo would want to leave Tennessee and see the world beyond, while she has not even stepped out of her hometown in the last eighteen years. As literature is her only escape and access to the world outside, and also because she is extremely interested in the field as a study as well, Cairo wants to pursue higher education in literature. Her choice of university is Yale, and she has already been preparing for the application process. She is currently stuck on a particular essay that she has to write. This particular essay is about the biggest accomplishment in the applicant’s life, and Cairo is dumbfounded by the notion, for she has really not done anything so significant. Even though Winnie reminds that Cairo is actually the best student in the school, achieving high grades in all subjects, the girl refuses to consider this a worthy accomplishment.

Winnie then suggests what would be the most thrilling accomplishment that Cairo could get over the summer—to get intimate with a teacher, and Mr. Miller is the suggested target. Miller is indeed already quite close to Cairo, often meeting by a bench outside the school and even smoking together. Inside the class, too, the teacher gave some extra attention to Cairo, telling her to meet him after class on one occasion. By this time, Cairo had read up on Miller’s own novel, titled “Apostrophes and Ampersands,” and had even memorized a section from it. When she narrates it to her teacher from memory, Cairo states that the words had resonated so well with her that she remembered them. This naturally impresses Miller even more, as his own work has never been appreciated so well, by his own admission. He, too, remembers the lines that Cairo had written in a class assignment, and Miller is evidently already a fan of his promising student.

Upon hearing about her disinterest in everything about Tennessee, Miller suggests Cairo attend a poetry event in the vicinity of their town. Cairo decides to attend the session almost immediately, for she, too, is realizing the effect she is having on her teacher. So far in the film, the student’s impression of her teacher is within acceptable limits, for he is in awe of her knowledge, interest, and charming personality as well. However, on Cairo’s side, she does find a romantic tinge in this appreciation, as is perhaps common at her age. Thus, when she decides to attend the poetry event, Cairo keeps wishing that Mr. Miller was also present. Perhaps even the teacher wishes for this scenario, which is where he starts to cross over the limits of convention, and the two indeed bond closer by the end of the event.

This interaction seemingly makes Cairo realize that her feelings will be reciprocated by the teacher, too, and the girl does not spend long making moves. Cairo had grown deeply attracted to and desiring of Mr. Miller, so hearing that he was going away for the weekend with his wife made her dissatisfied. Cairo leaves her cell phone in Miller’s bag and then calls it from her house phone that very day, implying that the teacher should return it to her house. Miller is also disgruntled at the time because of his wife’s busy schedule, postponing the vacation, and he decides to drive over to his student’s house. This unusual meeting, amidst pouring rain, marks the height of their romance, as Miller and Cairo have their first kiss at this very moment. 

Why does Miller try to get away from Cairo?

Based on her performance in the writing course, Miller had already given Cairo the opportunity to start working on a midterm project, in which she was to write a short story using the same style as any writer of her choice. The teacher stated that this would come in handy for Cairo’s college applications, too, and she had agreed to the plan readily. However, Cairo had chosen to emulate the style of Henry Miller, who has been a criticized figure in literature for his choice of words and expression, which have been deemed obscene by some. Mr. Miller states the difficulty in allowing his students to emulate Henry Miller, too, for the author is not even supposed to be taught in high school academics. Nonetheless, he agrees to let Cairo go forward with her story, saying that he has confidence in her style to come up with something good.

Within this time, the pair had their kiss, which excites Cairo enough to write her short story, which very quickly turns into an adult fiction about a teacher’s illicit relationship with his student. When she sends it to Miller, it is very evident that she has written it with her own situation in mind, and the teacher is also clearly affected by the story. However, Mr. Miller’s attitude towards the entire matter changes the very next day, perhaps suggesting that he suddenly realized how wrong his actions were and was filled with a certain guilt. He tries to convince Cairo of the same, but with harshness and indifference, making the girl feel that she is no longer important. 

It is now that Cairo refuses to be a mere pawn in the whole situation, and she suddenly grows vengeful against her teacher. She takes the short story she had just written to the principal’s office, and Miller is naturally called for an investigation. This gets Miller suspended from the school indefinitely until an education board investigation into the matter is carried out.

Why do Beatrice and Boris leave Miller’s side?

By the end of Miller’s Girl, the two closest people to Jonathan Miller decide to leave his side after his affair with Cairo is revealed. The first of these is Miller’s wife, Beatrice, who is also a writer by profession. It is perhaps not very surprising that the couple separated, as their marriage was really not in the best situation, even though they pretended to be quite happy with each other. It is mentioned that Miller had stopped writing after his marriage and had instead settled for the safer profession of being a high school teacher. However, both Beatrice and Miller have their own prejudices regarding the matter, both seeing the other as responsible for this development. Beatrice is a popular writer, which makes her incredibly busy at all times, and she feels that her husband never really had the determination to be a professional writer. On the other side, Miller somehow believes that his marriage and the resulting responsibilities keep him away from writing.

When Beatrice first hears of a student having an evident attraction towards her husband, she takes it as a joke and even tries to use it as a means to spice up their own relationship. She does not mind at all when Miller tells her about Cairo’s story, and instead, Beatrice acknowledges that he must be enjoying the attention. However, when she learns that Miller has also reciprocated Cairo’s feelings, Beatrice is terribly angry at her husband, and this ultimately leads to their separation. Beatrice’s reaction to the entire situation from the beginning is definitely not appropriate, for she could have perhaps stopped things earlier. However, Miller’s Girl seems to have heavily flawed characters as a staple of its plot, as Miller’s best friend, Boris Fillmore, is also terribly problematic.

Boris is the gym teacher at the high school and is also the crush for Winnie, who is very overtly expressive of her feelings. Winnie had even told Cairo that she wanted to sleep with Boris, and all her flirtatious conversations with the gym teacher were also entertained by the man. In fact, when Boris and Winnie exchange numbers and start to text, the teacher does say some suggestive things without ever being direct about it. After Cairo enters her vengeful stage, she makes use of Winnie to get explicit photos of themselves clicked and sent to Boris, who does not ever tell the students to stop or draw a line. Instead, Boris lectures Miller about how the latter does not know about limits, stating that he had simply deleted the photos without ever making any fuss about them. In reality, Boris is equally culpable for the charges against Miller, but has to face none of it simply because he is not caught.

Who is to blame for the trouble with Mr. Miller?

At the end of Miller’s Girl, Cairo makes use of her experiences to finally write down the Yale application essay, mentioning how she challenged norms about age and sexuality and also learned severe lessons about the gravity of mature relationships. She admits to Winnie that this was indeed her biggest achievement in life and that she wants to further testify against the teacher. In the end, after having lost his job and the people closest to him, Jonathan Miller suddenly finds the inspiration to start writing his new book, suggesting how difficult and traumatic experiences lead to literary expressions for both characters.

Miller’s Girl‘s ending can be perceived as siding with Mr. Miller to some extent, as he has to face the repercussions of the fiasco only because of the vengeful attitude of the student. It is true that Cairo exaggerates matters only to seek vengeance, but it is also the teacher’s responsibility to deal with these unwanted problems. After all, it was Miller who knowingly got close to his student, never establishing boundaries or stopping her in time, despite being the adult by a considerable margin. Miller surely exhibits predatory behavior, as he wants to bring a sudden stop to the bond at his convenience. Perhaps the fact that all of the adult characters in the film are flawed raises the question of how youngsters in such a world can be any better. Ultimately, it is Jonathan Miller’s fault that he brings about his own undoing, and no successful novel should wipe out the stain of this horrific mistake. 

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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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