‘Mothers’ Instinct’ Ending, Explained: Did Celine Kill Alice, Simon And The Grandmother?


Mothers’ Instinct had me at “starring real-life besties Anne Hathway and Jessica Chastain.” While veteran male actors are given leading roles that depict them as still heroic, female actors with the same amount of experience and renown are expected to play sub-par supporting roles that may occasionally garner recognition. Both Anne Hathway and Jessica Chastain are at the age that forces actresses to be pigeonholed into such roles; however, they’ve both managed to subvert this categorization with ease. Enter Mothers’ Instinct, a remake of the 2018 Belgian film of the same name (which is also based on a book), and suddenly, everything makes sense. This is a Hitchkokian female-lead psychological thriller set in the 1960s that simply includes male leads to be token men. Though that is, of course, not the point of the film. Mothers’ Instinct is about grief and guilt and how these two things can overcome a mother’s entire being. The film tells the story of Celine and Alice, best friends and neighbors who have to go through a terrible misfortune, changing their lives forever. With that said, let’s get into the explainer of Mothers’ Instinct.

Spoiler Alert

What Happens to Max?

Set in 1960s suburban America, Mothers’ Instinct introduces us to Alice and Celine, its two leading ladies, as best of friends who are living what would at the time be considered perfect lives. They’ve both got loving husbands who spend their whole day working while they worry about their two beautiful sons, Theo and Max, respectively. The movie has an eerie set-up right from the start, making you feel the thriller nature of it as soon as Alice sneaks into Celine’s house when she’s responsibly dropping off both of their kids to school. See, it’s presented in such a way that we feel some sort of suspicion towards Alice. However, it’s simply her preparing for Celine’s surprise birthday celebration. Quickly, we learn that Alice and her husband Simon had Theo rather easily, while Celine will never be able to have another child, and it was hard to conceive Max himself. Still, it is Alice who struggles with motherhood because she wants to return to work, while Celine would be the happiest with another child. 

What is shocking is how paradoxical the situation gets from there. On a terrible fateful morning, when Max is sick and doesn’t go to school, Alice finds him precariously standing at the edge of the balcony. She fears he’s going to fall and immediately tries to cross the hedge to reach him sooner rather than having to go through the gate. What’s worse is that her screams for Celine are completely unheard because she’s vacuuming the house. Alice rushes to the top floor as soon as Celine opens the door, but it is already far too late. All Celine can do is hold her bleeding son in her hands and weep while Alice watches on with a tearful gaze. 

We know Alice is deeply perceptive of her friendship with Celine. When Alice’s husband Simon suggests they have another child in front of Celine and Damian unperturbed, she feels the need to talk about it with him later. She feels her pain as a mother who is unable to live out that experience another time, while Alice herself hopes to lead a different kind of lifestyle. At this point, it does somewhat seem like Alice is quite a bad mother, which is how she thinks of herself. She’s “selfish” because she wants to think about something outside of her child and household. Now, Celine has no choice but to do that. Alice tries her best to be respectful of Celine’s situation, and she does intend to help her in whatever way possible, but immediately after the accident, it seems as though a dark cloud has come over their friendship, too. 

Has Alice really gone mad? 

In a scene much later, we learn that Alice struggled with her mental state when her parents died, that she was in the car with them. She couldn’t separate her grief from the guilt of still staying alive while they died such terrible deaths. Alice’s nature is one of guilt. She is, after all, a woman in 1960s America; what more can they think about than being perfect housewives? Another reminder of her imperfection. Soon after the accident, Celine starts to spend an unexpected amount of time with Theo. At first, Alice believes it can be helpful to her; however, she soon starts to feel paranoid about the time they spend together. 

One fine day, Alice sees her son standing on the same balcony from which Max fell. Frightened by the situation, she pushes through the bushy hedge and makes it to the other side. Alice yells at Celine for putting Theo there, but Celine acts as if she has nothing to worry about. Immediately, Alice starts to fear that Celine is after her son’s life, seeking revenge because Alice was unable to save Max. With Alice, we feel like we’re going a bit crazy ourselves because how can a mother’s grief turn so sourly into revenge? So much so that one mother is willing to take the life of another’s child. However, soon, it will become clear that there might be something wrong with Celine. 

When Theo invites Celine to his birthday party later, Alice reluctantly has her over. She tells her not to help with the household work because she’s meant to be there to have fun. It’s a boundary Alice is creating: “You’re not his mom, nor could you ever be.” At the same time, Alice’s mother-in-law, Granny Jean, tells Celine that being at the boy’s birthday so soon after her own son died is just unseemly. In an instant, we see hurt turn to bitterness in Celine’s eyes. She brings the woman tea, and when Jean has a heart attack and dies, just like Alice, we too imagine there was something in the tea Celine gave her. With Jean’s death, Alice’s paranoia grows tenfold. She’s not only more suspicious of Celine, but she starts to worry for Theo all the time. So much so that she asks for an autopsy of Simon’s mother without consulting Simon. 

Alice learns that the medication Jean was taking was never found in her system, which means she was taking placebos, and we know that Damian worked in the pharmaceutical industry, which made it easy for Celine to swap them out. Call it “Mother’s Instinct,” but Alice is quite right with all her suspicion, yet her husband thinks she needs to be institutionalized again thanks to her previous encounter with grief. It seems Alice also struggled with postpartum depression, and this simply makes her situation much worse. 

One fine day, Alice lifts her head and wears her most beautiful blue dress to visit Celine and Damian. When there are no snacks on the table that Theo can eat, Celine tells him to go check the kitchen. However, Alice tells him to wait till dinner is ready. Theo’s too hungry, so he asks his father if he can go check the kitchen, and Simon says okay. Within seconds, Theo has an allergic reaction to the peanut butter cookies that were on the counter, even though everyone knows Theo is allergic to peanuts. 

How Did Celine Plan the Whole Thing? 

With Theo sick, Alice completely lets loose and tells Simon all her theories. As it goes, he doesn’t believe her, especially not about his mother, and then proceeds to berate her for being ridiculous. Still, Alice tries to break into Celine’s home and find out about the placebo. Unfortunately, she’s caught by Celine, and she’s got no choice but to reveal her feelings to her. What’s worse is that Celine drops off a present for Theo in front of the house so he can see it when they return from school, but Alice throws it at Celine’s door and tells her to keep her poison away. I think this is quite an interesting choice of words. Specifically, it seems Celine’s been intentionally poisoning Theo’s mind all this time. 

See, Celine told Theo that his grandmother and Max “went to a better place” and are together, helping each other. She also separates Theo from his family and encourages him to spend time with her, so he specifically doesn’t make any more friends and becomes acquainted with her. She’s been creating the path for the most disturbing ending you knew you were expecting. Not as if they weren’t already close, seeing as Max and Theo pretty much grew up with two sets of parents, but Celine’s words really get to Theo, and on that day, he goes to Max’s balcony and tells his mom he’s going to go to the place Max and his grandma are at. Celine then freaks out and gains Alice’s trust again by saving Theo from jumping off the balcony. Theo talks about how everyone’s fighting, and he’s really quite sorrowful about that situation. Not only did he lose his best friend, but in a sense, he was also losing his family. 

It is Celine who saves Theo from falling, and then Alice who holds them both closely, profusely apologizing. Given the situation, Simon finally agrees with Alice about moving out of their house, which is the best decision for Theo’s sake. But Celine’s just started the final chapter of her little revenge thriller. In a typically misogynistic way, Damian tells Celine that she’s conveniently forgotten about “his” son and gone after Theo so soon after Max’s death. He then warns her to stay away from Alice’s family, and she obediently says okay. 

Celine’s mind has already cooked up a plan for this situation. All her desperation comes from the need to be a mother. It’s as if she can’t see anything else. They say mothers will do anything for their children, but I suppose Celine would do anything to be a mother. At night, Celine methodically puts a sleeping Damian under chloroform, and then, wearing gloves, she slashes his wrist, making it appear as if he’s committed suicide. Ironically, when Simon finds out about this situation, his first thought is of guilt: “I should’ve seen it coming.” I’m sorry, but I had to laugh at the situation. Celine slowly eradicates all who were in the way of her living out a mother’s life. It is now the final chapter of her plan, and Alice conveniently (and very unfortunately) brings her into her own home, feeling terrible about her situation. 

Why does Celine Kill Alice And Simon? 

When Alice heads out to bring Celine some supplies, Celine acts out her plan. Theo, who is already in her trap, agrees to try the magic medicine that’ll put anyone to sleep. She’s also managed to drug Simon’s drink, though we don’t see how. Unsurprisingly, Alice finds the chloroform in Celine’s medicine cabinet and rushes back home, but it is already too late. They get into a physical fight, and Alice manages to whack Celine in the head. She then drags herself to her son, but she’s been dosed with chloroform. Just as Celine held Max all those months ago, Alice holds Theo now. Celine joins them, and for a moment, it seems all is forgotten, but then she uses the chloroform on Alice. She then places an unconscious Alice on Simon’s lap and leaves the gas valve open. 

Does Theo accept Alice as his mother? 

In Mothers’ Instinct‘s ending, a judge asks Theo if he’s willing to have Celine as his stepmother. Theo doesn’t hesitate in saying yes because what other choice does he have, knowing both of his parents died tragically? I can’t help but think this would make the kid especially depressed, seeing as his parents are also now in a “better place.” Finally, Celine takes Theo to a beach (we know from before that he loves it there) and asks what they can do together. She plays the understanding card and tells Theo that she knows what he’s going through, and it feels like there’s a big hole in his heart, but together, they can work on making it smaller. All this time, Theo and Celine became quite close and in all likelihood, she would be the perfect mother to him, since that is after all her dream. In many ways, it was Alice who was vocal about her distrust of Celine, and so to Theo, it may have appeared as though she was the reason everyone was fighting. So, he grew distant from his own mother right before she died, giving Celine the opportunity to fit the empty mould perfectly. 

For most of the film, we’re made to think that Celine is seeking revenge on Alice, wanting to make her suffer the same pain that she had to endure. However, in truth, all she wanted was to live out her life as a mother. Alice’s instincts were always right, yet like Cassandra of Greek mythology, there’s no way anyone would believe her because how could a docile grieving mother plot such a dangerous game? The movie ironically reinforces the idea that a mother will always have the inherent drive to care for her child, therefore conserving societal pressure on women. In all honesty, Damian and Simon (who look almost like clones, in my opinion) are only here to implicate the idea that men are meant to be absent from the family dynamic, for the most part at least. Though from the outside, Mothers’ Instinct may play out as just a 1960s psychological thriller, it is riddled with detail from start to finish. I guess it is that pressure that makes Celine so malicious towards her best friend. It is not her innate need to be a mother; it is the world telling her that she has to, with no alternatives, live out her life as a mother and nothing else. So, when her child died, she died along with him, and to be reborn again, she had to find a new life with Theo. 

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Ruchika Bhat
Ruchika Bhat
When not tending to her fashion small business, Ruchika or Ru spends the rest of her time enjoying some cinema and TV all by herself. She's got a penchant for all things Korean and lives in drama world for the most part.

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