‘Pearl’ Ending, Explained: Why Did Pearl Dress Her Dead Parents? What Made Her Murder Johnny?


As soon as “X” was released, we were promised a prequel named “Pearl.” Mia Goth played both Maxine and Pearl in the 2022 slasher horror directed by Ti West. West decided to work on a script solely focusing on the psychology of Pearl. While “X” was a tribute to 70s independent filmmaking, “Pearl” is a homage to classical Hollywood. The bright technicolor saturation camouflages the sinister motives of Pearl, a young girl living with her parents on a Texas farm. The audience is familiar with the location, and the shots of the farm further refresh our memory of the horror that was unleashed in “X.” Pearl is responsible for taking care of her father and the farm, but her dreams of becoming a star make her restless. She wanted to become a star just like Maxine did in “X,” but her mother, Ruth, discouraged her from dreaming of the impossible.

Spoilers Ahead

Plot Summary: What Is The Film About?

It was the year 1918. Pearl lived with her German immigrant parents. Her husband, Howard, went to war, and she reread his letters to feel closer to him. Pearl was a dreamer. She dreamt of becoming a movie star, and the barn was where she performed for her audience, the farm animals. Though Pearl had a jolly smile, her eyes lacked empathy. She would kill animals just for the joy of it and feed them to her pet alligator, Thelda. Her mother, Ruth, knew that her daughter wanted to be a dancer and work in the movies, but she disapproved of it. As an immigrant, she could not encourage her daughter to dream the impossible.

Pearl sneaked inside the cinema hall when her mother sent her to buy her father’s medicine in town. She watched the showgirls perform and dreamt of being one of those girls someday. She met Johnny, the film projectionist, outside the hall. He complimented her and stated that he one day hoped to watch her on screen. Pearl was swayed by his words; someone other than herself believed in her beauty and talent. She started to wonder if she was denying herself the pleasures of life only because of her parents. On her way back home, Pearl made love to a scarecrow she found in a cornfield. Guilt took over when she started to make out with it, forcing her to scream, “I am married!”. But she could not help herself and continued making love to the object. Pearl was lonely; the absence of her husband and a lack of friends forced her to escape her reality. The war, coupled with the Spanish flu, affected Pearl’s youth drastically.

Gradually, Pearl started to enjoy torturing her wheelchair-bound father. He was weak and could not protest, similar to the animals she murdered for pleasure. She wanted to run away from the farm, but she knew that she could not leave her parents. She had to choose to either fulfill her dreams or be the good daughter her mother wanted her to be and take care of her parents and their farm. Pearl sneaked out at night to meet Johnny. He showed her “The Last Ride” and discussed the possible boom of the adult film industry. He encouraged her to leave home and follow her dreams, but it was not that easy for Pearl. She would rather prefer her parents die than run away from them. It was the first time that Pearl expressed how her life would be easier if her parents died, a thought that would consume her in the end.

Why Did Pearl Kill Her Parents? What Made Her Murder Johnny?

Pearl contemplated how much easier her life would be without her parents. She even attempted to push her father into the lake and feed him to Thelda, but her mother interfered. Pearl hated Howard for leaving her alone. She squished an alligator’s egg, imagining it to be the body of her husband. She was now alone, all because of him, and she had to find a way to escape from her house. At dinner that night, her mother showed her a film poster she found in the house. She asked Pearl to sleep in the bunker, fearing that she might have brought the disease home. Pearl stated that she wanted to take part in the audition that was to be held the next day. Ruth did not give her permission for it. Pearl explained how she wanted to know whether she was good enough to become a star. She had never performed in front of an audience before, and she needed to know what others thought about her. Pearl wanted to know if her life could be more than just looking after her parents. Ruth did not understand what Pearl was searching for. The fact that they had a house and food to eat every day was a blessing in itself. She knew about Pearl’s secrets, perhaps referring to the animals she killed, and she was frightened for her daughter. Ruth believed that someday people around Pearl would witness her cruelty and fear her. The fact that her daughter was ready to leave her mother to fulfill her dreams appalled Ruth. She knew that Pearl was sick; her malevolent eyes spoke volumes. Ruth held a knife near her husband’s throat. She offered to kill him for Pearl because that was what she knew Pearl wanted. Ruth too was suffering. She was alone, taking care of her husband and working hard to provide food on the table. But she never felt like murdering her husband for her fate. That was the difference between her and Pearl. Pearl feared becoming like her mother, giving up on her dreams to take care of her husband. Ruth slapped Pearl; she could not tolerate the insults anymore. As the two fought, Ruth caught on fire from the stove and burned. Pearl poured water on her, but half of her body had already burned. She pushed her mother into the cellar and left to meet Johnny.

Pearl made love with Johnny that night. She got up early to get ready for the audition in town. Johnny offered to drop her off at home. Pearl asked him to wait at the door while she cleaned up the mess at her house. She tidied up her father and locked the door of the cellar. She invited Johnny to her room and kissed him, but he felt ill at ease. He could hear a noise and wanted to find out where it was coming from. He saw the mess at the dinner table. Pearl reasoned that it was their dog who made the mess. Even though Johnny had not seen much, he did not feel safe. Pearl walked him to the barn and introduced him to her animals. The more Johnny learned about her, the more he could figure out that something was wrong with her. He asked her for the name of her dog, and Pearl stated that they did not have a dog. She had forgotten the lie she had said a while back. Johnny knew it was time for him to leave, but Pearl was not ready to let go of him. Ruth had told her that one day the people around her would be frightened of her, and she could see that happening right in front of her eyes. As Johnny was leaving in his car, she murdered him with a pitchfork. After murdering him, she bathed her father and suffocated him to death. She got dressed, fed Johnny to Thelda, and left for the audition.

‘Pearl’ Ending Explained: Why Did Pearl Dress Her Dead Parents? Why Did She Hate Howard?

Pearl and her sister-in-law, Mitzy, waited for their call at the audition. Pearl was confident about her performance, whereas Mitzy was afraid. Pearl entered the room and delivered the best performance she had to date, according to her. But the judges rejected her, stating that she did not have the “X factor” and that they were looking for someone younger and blonde. Pearl screamed and cried. This was her only chance at fulfilling her dreams, and now that it was over, she did not know how to cope with it. Mitzy accompanied her back home. She confided in Mitzy that she believed something was truly wrong with her. Mitzy advised her to share her fears with Howard since he was her husband and would understand her no matter what. She asked Pearl to practice with her what she would say to Howard.

Pearl poured her heart out; she discussed her deepest, darkest secrets. She expressed how much she hated Howard for leaving her. Pearl confessed that she had slept with another man. She stated that she felt jealous of all those whose lives were easy. She noticed Howard when he came to the farm to work. She knew he was different because he came from privilege. Pearl knew Howard was her way to get out of the farm, and she pretended to be the woman he was looking for. But instead of taking her away, he wanted to live at Pearl’s parents’ place. She got pregnant with his child, but she never wanted to be a mother. She could not accept a living being growing inside her; the thought repulsed her. Pearl was happy when she found out that she had suffered from a miscarriage. She simply wanted to be in the pictures. The women on screen had perfect lives, and they were adored by everyone who watched them. She wanted to be loved and desired by everyone, but she knew she lacked the talent needed to be on screen. She was weak, just like her mother said. At first, she enjoyed murdering those who were weak and defenseless, but later she found more meaning in killing her mother and Johnny. By murdering them, she taught them a lesson. She taught them what it felt like to suffer. At that moment, she held all the power in the world. But she regretted killing her father because he never harmed her. Mitzy was too stunned to speak. She got up from the table and stated that she had to leave because her mother would be waiting for her. As Mitzy was about to leave, Pearl stated that she knew Mitzy had been selected for the show. Even though Mitzy feared to confirm it, knowing how dangerous Pearl was, she ultimately agreed to it. As she was leaving, Pearl followed her with an axe. Mitzy ran for her life but ultimately succumbed to Pearl’s violence.

Pearl now wanted to undo the mistakes she had made and get the house ready to welcome Howard. She chopped Mitzy’s body and fed it to Thelda. She got her parents dressed up, and they were ready for dinner. She has now accepted her fate. She was determined to make the most of what she had, just as her mother had advised her. She decorated the maggot-infested pig that her mother-in-law had once brought. She sat at the dinner table with her dead parents. Howard returned home and witnessed the dreadful scenario. Pearl, holding a jar of lemonade, smiled and said, “I am so happy you’re home.”

We know that Howard was by Pearl’s side till the very end. Was he not frightened by what she had done? Or was he too scared to ever react and gradually became part of her murderous ways? Mia Goth’s broad smile at the end, with her muscles twitching and, eventually, tears rolling down her eyes, was an iconic moment in the film. That one shot spoke a thousand words. She wanted to change, she wanted to start her life anew, but she knew she was too ill to ever live an ordinary life. In Howard, she found someone who cared for her no matter what. There are moments in “Pearl” that make subtle references to “X.” “Pearl” is perhaps the film Pearl would have enjoyed watching, the happily-ever-after murder romance. It is commendable the way the film experiments with the genre, but there are moments when the expressions feel a little caricaturish.

“Pearl” is a 2022 Drama Thriller film directed by Ti West.

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Srijoni Rudra
Srijoni Rudra
Srijoni has worked as a film researcher on a government-sponsored project and is currently employed as a film studies teacher at a private institute. She holds a Master of Arts degree in Film Studies. Film History and feminist reading of cinema are her areas of interest.

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