The Netflix crime thriller Reptile is directed by Grant Singer, and it makes us privy to a world where crime and corruption are on the rise, and it seems like an entire system has lost its conscience. Things would have kept happening like they were in the past had Summer Elswick not died such a horrifying death, and additionally, Tom Nichols would not have been transferred to the Scarborough police station to handle the investigation.
After watching the film, the thought that came to our mind was why Grant Singer and his creative team would have decided to keep the title of the film Reptile. We believe that somewhere inside each and every character, the director wanted us to see a trait that is unique to the reptile species, be it a positive or a negative trait. We also see that Judy Nichols found the skin of the snake on her porch, which has nothing to do with the entire narrative, but still, the director makes sure that the scene is in the film. We believe that at that juncture, the skin of the snake symbolizes regeneration and renewal, a process that our protagonist, Tom Nichols, was experiencing in his personal life.
Tom had been earlier posted in Philly, and he got surrounded by controversies even when he had nothing to do with the things he was being blamed for. Tom’s partner had been involved in a lot of illicit activities, and probably the entire system knew about it. Tom’s colleagues knew that he was a righteous man and that there was a possibility that he might bring the truth to light. Tom was being pressured from all fronts, and he eventually realized that if he didn’t give in and tried to resist, then these people, whom he worked with, would make sure that his family was not able to live in peace. Tom stayed quiet, and that entire episode haunted him, even after he moved to Scarborough.
When Tom goes to meet Eli Phillips, the latter taunts him too and says that he knows what Tom had been up to in his earlier posting. Tom had neither taken bribes nor was he involved in any sort of illicit activity, but turning a blind eye to the wrong that was happening around him is also a crime in itself, and Tom was guilty of that. Tom knew that, though he hadn’t been found guilty by the court of law, he was answerable to his own conscience. Whatever had happened in the past had really shaken Tom, and he was not the same person he used to be. When Summer was murdered, and he saw the harrowing manner in which the killer had executed her, he decided that he was not going to stay quiet. Fear urged him to blend with his surroundings like a reptile, but he decided that this time, it wouldn’t be able to make him surrender. He wanted to do things differently and replace the fear, distress, and anxiety that he had felt in the past with something more positive. For us, the skin of the snake symbolizes a second chance that Tom has been given in his life. He had not been able to go against the system in the past, but this time, he had the opportunity to take the righteous path and honor the death of that poor girl who had been killed for no fault of hers.
Apart from regeneration, reptiles like snakes, in some cultures, also symbolize evil and betrayal, a notion that a few characters like Wally and Will Brady embodied in the film. Imagine living with a person for years and then realizing that you don’t know them at all. Summer Elswick would have felt the same thing when she realized that all along it was her partner, somebody in whom she had put her trust, who was not only betraying her but ready to remove her from his path if the need arose. Summer must have felt hopeless when she witnessed such decadence around her. Still, that girl tried to do whatever was in her hands, but she couldn’t swim through the treacherous waters and ultimately became a victim of the evil system.
Summer had 33 stab wounds on her body, and the predators had devoured her in the most brutal manner. Even the investigative officers said that it was not often that the knife or the murder weapon was penetrated with so much force that it got stuck in the skeleton of the body. That poor girl had done nothing to deserve such a fate, and the only mistake she had made was to come in between the predators and their prey. Snakes in Christian mythology have been associated with temptation, greed, and lies, and we saw how material possessions superseded everything else for Will and Wally. Their dreams of avarice overpowered their humanity, and they didn’t even bat an eye or show any kind of remorse after sending an innocent girl to her doom.
We believe that even after all the negative connotations associated with reptiles, the director wanted us to see the positive side of it all. Tom Nichols was able to end a cycle and send the perpetrators behind bars. He had been able to single-handedly fight for the cause of justice and emerge victorious in the end. The snake had indeed shed its skin, and a new life, a new perspective, and a hopeful future awaited him. Tom hoped that this future would be devoid of corruption and that the people would be able to let their righteousness prevail over temptations. It was necessary for society to be shaken by such a storm, as only then could people understand where they were going wrong and what they needed to do to put things in order. A transformation had happened not only within Tom but in society, too.
In Hindu mythology, reptiles like snakes are associated with the notion of self-realization, and we believe Tom had discovered a great many things about himself in his entire journey. Tom hoped that what he had been able to achieve by putting his life at risk would set a precedent and that people, especially police officers, would at least think twice before indulging in any sort of illegal practice and reinstate the faith of people in the system.