‘Stopmotion’ Ending, Explained: Is Ella Dead? Who Is The Little Girl?

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After a pretty scary phase of half-hearted excuses for horror films, to the relief of horror fans, a new wave of reshaping the old with a twist seems to be on the rise. Stopmotion is glowing proof that a masterpiece is just a gamble away when you give artists like Robert Morgan a feature to explore their medium. Morgan’s The Cat With Hands and Bobby Yeah are a couple of unmissable shorts where he’s combined his expertise in stop-motion animation and the genre that pairs the best with the medium. And in Stopmotion, a Cronenberg-esque body horror that observes the perils of seeking perfection in art under intense psychological pressure, Morgan’s animation comes out to play with Ella.

Spoiler Alert


What happens in the film?

It’s bad enough to live under the shadow of a parent who’s made a name for themselves in the field you’re into. Couple that with textbook narcissistic abuse, and you’ve got yourself a wounded, stunted adult like Ella. Ella’s mother determines her every move with the same meditative control that she maneuvers her film’s lifeless animated characters with. Even more so now that her hands are stiff with arthritis and Ella’s in charge of handling the puppet starring in her mother’s film about a cyclops. There’s a sense that the gradual loss of Suzanne’s motor skills, like losing the ability to use cutlery, makes her increasingly controlling of Ella. Ella doesn’t move a muscle without worrying about getting on her mother’s nerves. And the dread looms so large that she sneaks back in from her date with Tom before her mother wakes up. The gifts of adulthood elude Ella. And the feeling of not having her own voice is so deeply ingrained that she surrenders herself entirely to finishing her mother’s film when a heart episode sends her into a coma. 


How did Ella lose control of herself?

Much of Stopmotion is either foreshadowing Ella’s eventual plunge into the dark side of her psyche or documenting the increasingly intense signs of her mind breaking apart. Ella’s always believed in her ability to breathe life into the little puppets with skeleton-like armatures, even though she’s never actually been allowed to explore her creative side. It’s always been about her mother passing down her knack for perfection to her. And considering Suzanne didn’t even stop to wonder if Ella might be too exhausted to work and went on to charge her with her commands instead, I doubt that Ella’s well-being was ever an active concern for her mother. So, you can imagine the kind of insecurities and self-doubt a child would grow up with in such a hostile environment. But Ella’s plight isn’t limited to that. She’s also crippled by her gnawing lack of creative instincts while striving to find that one story that could change it all. She was disturbed, to say the least. And the duality of her mind is what we see when we first meet her. The blinking lights highlight the sporadic changes in her face, and the darkness peeks through more often than the light does. It’s also rather evident that the line between her art and reality is blurring when she sees her mother as a disjointed frame of fragmented flesh, a morbid inspiration for the puppets she’d go on to make. Suzanne being in a coma does nothing to free Ella from the grasp of the fear of disappointing her. So off she goes to finish her mother’s film in the studio apartment her boyfriend Tom sets her up with. 


Is the Little Girl Ella herself?

It’s one thing to let a kid who takes an interest in your work pick your brain about your creation. It’s also pretty reasonable that Ella finds a story worth telling when the Little Girl trashes her mother’s film and asks her to make a stop-motion animation movie about a girl who’s being chased by something terrifying in a forest. But things start to get eerie with the Little Girl demanding that Ella makes the girl with mortician’s wax, the stuff they use to patch up dead people. It’s also quite odd that Ella gives into the Little Girl’s disturbing bidding, including creating another puppet of the girl with raw meat. There’s a reason Ella’s so inclined to have her stings pulled by someone, especially now that her mother isn’t there to do it anymore.

A sudden burst of freedom after a lifetime of crouching down to fit into a mold set by someone else can do that to a person. Ella’s practically incapable of believing that she can exist, let alone create, without someone else telling her what to do and how to do it. She’s pretty self-aware about her tendency to lean on a draconian figure when she talks to her unconscious mother. And yet the clicks on her remote to take the shot of the grotesque puppets in the gloomy set are the most alive that she’s felt in probably forever. It’s not that Ella doesn’t try to pull herself back to sanity. She does hold her ground when the Little Girl pushes her to remake the stalker in the forest with the flesh of a fox carcass. But she’s soon hit with a blockage empowered by her self-doubt, and she accepts that she can’t come up with anything unless the Little Girl continues with her story. It reminds you of the time she couldn’t speak a word when her mother wanted to hear her idea. Just how deeply the roots of this sinister dynamic have grown is explored through Ella’s peculiar experience at the party. It’s like that talking puppet on the screen pulled her into a trance-like state where she pried into a man’s open wound. If you look closely, you’ll see that the Little Girl is moving Ella’s hand, making her do something she would never do in her right mind.

Stopmotion is peppered with a number of clues that clarify that the Little Girl is the manifestation of a suppressed part of Ella’s mind. The reason why Tom’s sister Polly walks past the Little Girl on the stairs like she doesn’t even acknowledge her presence is because she’s not really there. Ella’s creative expression has been muffled for so long that now that her abuser is gone, it’s taken the shape of an erratic enabler pushing her down the pit of chaos. Stopmotion goes pretty meta with the revelation when the Little Girl records herself and plays it back, and Ella proclaims that the first sign of madness is talking to yourself. In the playback of the recording, the voice is clearly Ella’s, suggesting that the Little Girl is a freer, far more audacious version of herself. Had the Little Girl been real, she couldn’t have shown up in the hospital room when Ella’s mother died, and then again in the lavatory of the restaurant Ella had gone to with Tom. In the absence of the person who’s always puppeteered her, Ella’s mind has created another one to cope with the feeling of helplessness. 


Does Ella undergo psychosis?

Ella’s mind has broken into fragments she has no control over. But she doesn’t have control over much else either. Ella’s reeled into this demented story of the girl in the woods only to lose herself completely in it. Just how badly she’s been ensnared by the trap of her mind’s creation is evident when she starts to lose time. She doesn’t remember making the forest with twigs and dirt. And she’s also pretty lost when she sees that she’s shot scenes of the Ash Man peeping through the window of the house the girl’s taken shelter in. There’s a clear sense that whichever turn the girl’s story takes ends up coming alive, putting Ella in her character’s place. In the story told by the Little Girl, the Ash Man sees the girl on the first night. Ella gets the fright of a lifetime when she sees a grotesque figure come up the stairs of her building and look straight at her from the peephole.

The sequence where Ella went to the party and supposedly took some drugs she had gotten from Polly was just there to throw us off the scent. Ella was sober as a judge when she chose to go through with making the Ash Man out of the decomposing flesh of the fox. She never took drugs. It isn’t that she isn’t aware of everything that’s not making much sense around her. She’s pretty shaken up when each click of her remote to click pictures for the film is followed by the loud buzzer sound of her apartment landline. Ella herself acknowledges the pitfalls of her creation when she imagines her comatose mother ridiculing her for not having a handle on her madness. She was an anxious mess, contemplating the consequences of going forward with the film.

Fully aware that her art was consuming her, Ella didn’t know a way out of the spiral. She did try to pull herself back, and to Stopmotion‘s credit, not half-heartedly. She stood her ground against the Little Girl and changed the outcome of the second night of the Ash Man’s visit. Ella wanted to escape the darkness, so she played God and let her character escape the touch of the man whom no one wanted to see. But by this time, Ella’s psychosis has already gotten the better of her. Just like the whole lifetime’s worth of trauma that she couldn’t escape, Ella fell prey to the lifesize manifestation of the Ash Man coming out of her little set. It might as well be theorized that the Ash Man is the shadow of a traumatizing experience Ella has repressed. I can’t help but find similarities between the manifestation of the Ash Man, whose presence makes Ella see herself as a diminutive, helpless doll, and the imaginary monsters children make up to cope with the abuse or even assault they get subjected to. In Ella’s case, she’s already gone too far to be helped. She’s tried making do with the modest job at Polly’s stop-motion ad production house, only to see that Polly’s not only stolen but also commercialized her story. It doesn’t help that, at her worst, Ella’s the spitting image of her condescending mother. She humiliates Tom, her super-supportive boyfriend, who was only trying to pull her out of her self-destructive hamster wheel. But the truth is, Ella’s entire sense of self was hinging on the film by that point. She was ready to buy a one-way ticket to Hell if it meant she’d create something, anything, that she could call her own. 


Does Ella die?

At no point does Stopmotion ever dangle the idea of a recovery in front of you. Seeing how seamlessly Ella’s darkness overtakes her senses, you accept that she’s headed for nothing good at the first sign of trouble. One of these moments that gives you that sense that Ella’s mind is unfortified against the consequences of her artistic pursuit is when human bodies and animation puppets become one and the same to her. The first manifestation of this blurred line is when Ella gets intimate with Tom and kneads his muscles like he’s made of mortician’s wax, complete with the squeaks of the armature she expects under the wax. She herself falls prey to it when in the shower; she imagines scooping out wax from her legs, as though she were made of it too. This screams impending self-harm and homicidal instincts. And awfully soon, Ella’s sleep paralysis episode makes her one with the puppet from her film, and she cuts through her leg. 

Considering the trajectory of Ella’s mental state, it’d be futile to expect that she wouldn’t push away the only people still sticking around to take care of her. But given that Stopmotion isn’t too keen on limiting itself, Ella’s deranged commitment to her film went to the extent of murder. But again, it’s not that Ella doesn’t try to save herself.

What makes Stopmotion so effective is the gutwrenching helplessness you feel watching her try to swim to shore only for a bigger wave to pull her back. Ella chokes the life out of the Little Girl. But something that doesn’t exist can’t be killed. The Little Girl’s gotten so sick of the dry meat on the Ash Man that she demands something more morbid. This is where Ella takes her advice of “giving a part of yourself to your art” a bit too literally, and to Tom and Polly’s horror, pulls out a muscle from her leg to create a “bleedier” puppet.

In the ending sequence of Stopmotion, as Ella brutally does away with Tom and Polly and elevates her film with lifesize figurines of the girl and the Ash Man, the look on her face is that of an artist admiring their creation. But this is where things get a little interesting. Even her darker side, the Little Girl, wasn’t exactly bereft of survival instincts. She wanted to push Ella, but perhaps not as far as death. So even though her anxiety over the Ash Man breaking character and heading toward Ella was peculiar, it does make sense. In the end, the Ash Man munched on the mortician’s wax that Ella believed she was made of. So if you think about it, it’s a rather literal metaphor for art consuming the artist. Ella didn’t just give a piece of herself to her art. She gave the entirety of herself to achieving the perfection she’d been running after her entire life. And then there’s that black egg the film started with, which comes back later when the Ash Man feeds it to her and for the final time when she’s consumed and the egg cracks. If taken as a symbol for a fertile seed, the egg could represent Ella herself, awaiting the climax—the birth of her deadly creation. And when all was said and done, the egg cracked, marking the end of Ella as her film ended the way it was always supposed to. I don’t know if you noticed or not, but the studio apartment where this entire thing unfolded had a window that made it look similar to the house in her movie. 

In Stopmotion‘s ending, Ella was completely immersed in the world of her movie. And the satisfaction of watching her film, which ended with her death, was all there was for her to feel. If you think about it, Ella watching over as her real-world counterpart twitches for the last few times before dying is kind of like the story of the cyclops in her mother’s film. Mrs. Cyclops sacrificed one of her eyes to the gods to be able to see the future. And she only saw her own death. Ella, too, sacrificed herself to achieve the greatness that’s eluded her all her life, only to watch herself die in the end. As Ella locks herself in the chest lined with golden ruffled fabric like that of the room that she tried to escape to when the Ash Man was chasing her, she accepts that she’s always been a puppet. When she imagined her comatose mother talking, she was told that puppets get locked away in the box once they’ve done their part. So, by closing the lid on herself, Ella embraces the depressing truth she’s been running from. 


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Lopamudra Mukherjee
Lopamudra Mukherjee
In cinema, Lopamudra finds answers to some fundamental questions of life. And since jotting things down always makes overthinking more fun, writing is her way to give this madness a meaning.

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