‘Sympathy For The Devil’ Ending, Explained: Who Was James Lavine?

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Yuval Adler’s Sympathy for the Devil is a thriller that runs on a thin plot, trying to pad the screenplay with dialogues that are obviously not catchy enough. The two-hander film tries to build up the tension for 3/4 of the narrative, but the payoff at the end is nothing out of the ordinary. One may even feel that they wasted an hour and a half of their life on this film. We, however, had pledged to watch every Nicolas Cage indie film after Pig (2021), hoping against hope to chance upon that kind of performance again, but Sympathy for the Devil is not that film. It is just irritating, for the most part, where Cage goes blabbering on, making no sense and tying nothing back to the main story. When you see films like that, it just compels you to accept the fact that popular stars in indie films take every liberty they can. They improvise everything, and because of this, even a promising story falls flat. However, we do agree that the film is a bit confusing because it holds most of the information for the ending, and if you want some direct answers regarding the film, then here is our detailed summary and breakdown of Sympathy for the Devil.

Spoilers Alert


What Is The Film about?

David Chamberlain (Joel Kinnaman), aka The Driver (as per the film credits), is an American guy in his late 30s or early 40s, whom we see driving his preteen son to his mother-in-law’s house late at night. David’s wife, Maggie, is having a second baby (third if you count the complications during the first pregnancy due to which they lost their firstborn), and thus David needs to be with her during this time of emergency. The wife is anxious, as she doesn’t want history to repeat itself, and urges David to come quickly to the hospital. However, as soon as David arrives at the parking lot of St. Mary Medical Center, a mysterious-looking man dressed in the Devil’s color from top to toe enters his car and asks him to drive. As per the film credits, this man is credited as The Passenger. When David tries to convey his urgency, the Passenger points a gun at him, threatening him to drive without any further discussion.

Through their conversation on the road ahead, we find out that The Passenger is from Boston. He knows that David has been to Boston once before and is trying to remind David of a past incident that connects these two men. However, David refuses to reveal his true identity and tells him that he is just a simple warehouse worker who works for a shipping company. Evidently, the Passenger knows that David is lying, and he keeps pressuring him throughout the night until David speaks the words and confesses the crimes he had committed.


Who Is The Passenger?

The Passenger had told David that he just wanted him to drive to Boulder City because he wanted to see his dying mother at the hospital. But that was a lie. He wanted to spend some time with David so that he could unravel the monster hiding beneath his skin. David tried to run away from him, but The Passenger took his phone and threatened to kill his wife and son if he dared to do anything crazy.

Stuck in the situation, David/ The Driver demanded answers. He tried to convince The Passenger that he had the wrong person and that he wasn’t the one he was looking for. However, in the back of his mind, David knew from the beginning what all the fuss was about. Nevertheless, in order to refresh David’s memory, The Passenger told him a short story as soon as they arrived at the Roadhouse diner. Basically, it was the Passenger’s own life story.

So, our Passenger was a guy from Brooklyn who had settled in South Boston, where he worked as a bookkeeper for a Catholic man named Jacob Sullivan (who is portrayed as some sort of crime lord). In Boston, the bookkeeper fell in love with a girl and started a family. Together, they had a daughter and were having the best time of their lives until tragedy arrived. The bookkeeper was maintaining the books for one of Sullivan’s associates, who had started skimming money from Sullivan. When Sullivan found out about it, he asked the bookkeeper to invite the concerned associate to his house, as they were good friends. According to The Passenger, the bookkeeper had sent his wife and daughter to her mother’s house on that fateful night, but that’s one piece of information that isn’t correct. We’ll come to that later. So, what actually happened at the bookkeeper’s house? After the associate had had a few drinks and got a bit tipsy, some of Sullivan’s men paid them a visit, and one of them shot the associate in the head. The big reveal in this story is that the bookkeeper’s wife accidentally stepped into the room when they shot the associate. She became a witness to the execution, which evidently shook her to the core.

After that traumatic incident, she relied heavily on drugs and alcohol in order to erase the memory from her mind. However, when she failed to do so, she started telling the tale to anyone who would listen to her. She had become a serious threat to Jacob Sullivan, and he had asked the bookkeeper to get rid of her before she could do anything stupid. The bookkeeper knew that his wife had become a liability, but would he kill her to save his own life? Obviously not, and that’s when James Lavine or David Chamberlain stepped in.


Who Was James Lavine?

Jacob Sullivan wanted the bookkeeper’s wife removed from the face of the earth, so he brought in James Lavine, a hitman who fixed things for the rich and the powerful. When the bookkeeper got a call from James, he knew that his wife’s death was inevitable, and he decided to run away from Boston to start a new life elsewhere. He had just left the house to get supplies for the road when an irrevocable tragedy took place. In the bookkeeper’s absence, James entered the house and tried to shoot his wife, but his wife attacked him, and in the heat of the moment, he accidentally shot the daughter. James regretted pulling the trigger, but he had already committed the sin from which he wouldn’t be able to redeem himself. He shot the wife and set the entire house on fire so that the bookkeeper wouldn’t have to witness the dead faces of his daughter and his wife. He knew no man would be able to control his rage after witnessing such a sight, and perhaps to ease the pain, James had lit the fire.

Nevertheless, the entire incident weighed heavily on James Lavine’s conscience, which was why he left the world of crime behind and moved on to another city to lead a simple life. The question here is, can a man ever run away from his karma? It is implied that years later, the bookkeeper found out Lavine’s whereabouts and has been watching him since, waiting for the right opportunity to strike back. A point to mention here is that our Passenger, aka the bookkeeper, has been suffering from lung cancer and knows that his end is near, which is the reason why he doesn’t mind killing anyone who comes in his way. The Passenger just wanted James Lavine to confess to the murder of his wife and little daughter before he could put him to death.


How Did The Passenger Die?

After hearing the complete story, David knew for certain that he couldn’t hide his real identity any longer, and he confessed to his crimes. The Passenger pointed a gun at him to shoot him down, when suddenly, David steered the car towards a road under construction, because of which the car flipped upside down. The Passenger was seriously injured. The police had been tailing them for a long time, and soon they arrived at the scene. However, before they can understand the situation, David shoots the two policemen down.

David sat beside the dying Passenger and told him that he felt guilty after killing his wife and daughter and would have drunk himself to death if Maggie, his wife, had not come into his life and saved him. She probably became the reason why David thought of giving himself a second chance, and when their firstborn (a girl) died, David believed that God was making him pay for his sins. But after his son was born, he started to believe that God had forgiven him, and thus, he decided to live a simple life. The third pregnancy had made him anxious because he thought that if it was a girl, she would die like the firstborn. But eventually, he got a call from Maggie, who told him that their newborn baby girl was perfectly fine. The news lifted a heavy burden from David’s heart.

During Sympathy for the Devil’s ending, David choked the Passenger to death, thereby cutting off all ties to his horrible past and finally finding closure in life. He had been yearning to close the chapter for so many years, and fortunately, the Passenger paid him a visit so that he could settle the score with him. In the end, the police arrive at the scene, where we believe that David will try to convince them that this unknown dead man lying beside him abducted him at gunpoint and killed innocent people on the way. The real Devil, James Lavine, is quite a charmer, and we know that he will get away easily only to get back to his family and newborn daughter after destroying the bookkeeper’s happy life completely.


Do We Have Sympathy for the Devil?

The Passenger had dressed himself in red, trying to embody the Devil, but he isn’t the actual Devil in the story. It is David Chamberlain, the Devil, who changed his name and moved to a different city to run away from his past mistakes instead of confronting them. Now, we are not sure which Devil the title of the film speaks of, but if it is the bookkeeper, then we do sympathize with his story. However, if it is directed at David, then we have no sympathy for him at all. He has been a murderer from the beginning to the end. He had murdered the bookkeeper’s family, to begin with, shot two policemen, and then killed the Passenger with his bare hands.

A hitman may believe that they can leave the world of crime in a snap and start their life over, but the horrors of the past often hunt them down. We believe that James Lavine deserved death because, even though he had accidentally shot the daughter, he had pulled the trigger on the wife by choice. He arrived at the bookkeeper’s house by choice, and he decided to take the job all by himself. He shouldn’t be living a happy life with his family and should be punished for his crimes—for killing so many people in the name of his profession. If David Chamberlain really believed in God’s justice, then he would make him pay for his sins one day.


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Shikhar Agrawal
Shikhar Agrawal
I am an Onstage Dramatist and a Screenwriter. I have been working in the Indian Film Industry for the past 12 years, writing dialogues for various films and television shows.

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