‘The Burning Sea’ Ending, Explained – How Did Oil Drilling Turn Into A Disaster? Is Sofia Able To Save Stian?


The Norwegian disaster drama film “The Burning Sea” is compelling enough despite being mostly like the usual proponents of the genre, and is overall quite entertaining. Presenting a tale of a Norwegian oil field facing an unprecedented and deadly disaster, it also brings to the table enough emotional drama with the characters. Visually too, “The Burning Sea” has scenes with good CGI execution and provides a decently good watch.

Spoilers Ahead

‘The Burning Sea’ Plot Summary

The film begins with a documentary-style presentation of an elderly man setting the premise—Norway’s discovery of a large oil field in the North Sea and the subsequent oil extraction industry that was set up immediately after it. Crazed by the immense profits that were bound to be made and also blinded by the encouragement of American companies, the Norwegian government put up many offshore oil extraction plants and appointed a large part of the country’s population to work at these units. At the time, neither the workers had much prior training nor did the government have an idea about the long-term effects of such an industry. The interviewee recalls how working in the oil field was dangerous and yet worth the risk, as plenty of money was being earned by everyone involved. All of this felt nice till the disasters started hitting, and “The Burning Sea” tells the (fictional) tale of one such disaster.

A trained submarine operator, Sofia, and her colleague and good friend Arthur practice operating a new probe-like mini-submarine with cameras all over it, the purpose of which is to monitor any site of accident or anomaly underwater by controlling it from shore. Sofia is confident in her skills with it, and the young woman is also established in a very happy space in her personal life, with her boyfriend Stian and his young son Odin. Sofia and Arthur’s skills are very soon put to the test, though, when they are called into an emergency accident situation, where an oil rig has supposedly collapsed and trapped some of the workers underwater. The two operators followed legal procedure quickly, signing non-disclosure documents and getting to work launching and controlling the submarine to the site. After a few dead bodies are found, they stumble upon a survivor who immediately calls out for help. But before any rescue mission can even be thought of, the rig seems to be leaking gas, and within seconds, the entire station blows up in front of Sofia and Arthur’s eyes. Terribly shaken by the accident, Sofia decides to move in with her boyfriend for a few days and starts to build back her courage. When Arthur goes over the footage from the submarine, he notices something strange happening, as if the entire sea-bed was moving and cracking open, and with the help of Sofia, they take the information to the industry’s emergency manager, William Lie. William and his team conduct research into the matter and call for an urgent meeting with the country’s oil and energy minister, in which the entire crisis is explained—a tremendous natural fracture has been noticed on the sea-bed, close to the site of the Storegga slide, one of the largest underwater landslides that occurred some eight thousand years ago. At present, a similar event is possibly accelerated by the treacherous levels of human oil extraction. This immediately announces an impending disaster not just for every worker on the oil fields and the Norwegian nation as a whole, but also personally for Sofia, whose boyfriend, Stian, is himself a worker on an oil rig.

How Does The Disaster Play Out? How Does Sofia React?

As soon as the authorities and government get a sense of the level of threat that the disaster poses, all oil rigs are ordered to be shut down and evacuated at the earliest. Stian was already at work during the time of this announcement, and now he is preparing to fly out of the site in a helicopter with his team. However, as all the oil wells are shut off remotely from the on-shore facility, one particular well in the Gullfacks A plant that can no longer be controlled needs to be shut down manually. William Lie personally contacts the leader of the Gullfacks A team, Ronny, and asks him to do it, but as Ronny is busy helping his team evacuate, his most trusted co-worker, Stian, decides to step up and get the job done. As the man bravely makes his way down the long path into the base of the plant to shut off the oil well, disaster strikes, as a large rift in the sea causes waves to dangerously crash away everything in its way. While Ronny and his team manage to somehow escape the site, Stian is left behind, and the Gullfacks A oil rig is seen to have lost one of the four metal legs that it stands on. Realizing that the rig is soon about to topple over, William and others in the administration declare the site out of reach for any rescue operation. Sofia, terribly concerned after getting word of the accident on the news, rushes to the on-shore office along with young Odin. She directly meets with William and tries to convince him to send a rescue team for her boyfriend after she is told of Stian’s situation, but the manager rules anything like this out, claiming that Stian is most possibly already dead.

Still unwilling to give up, Sofia watches the camera footage from the Gullfacks A oil rig from before the accident, watching her boyfriend gradually go down towards his possible death, when suddenly the remote monitoring system shows a service chute hatch being opened on the plant. Immediately taking this as a sign of Stian’s desperate attempt at survival, Sofia wastes no time in contacting Arthur and asking him to prepare for a search and possible rescue mission. Leaving Odin at the office, she goes down to the harbor, prepares all the machinery that they need to carry, along with the surveillance submarine, and then she and Arthur are taken over to the oil rig by a helicopter. As the two operators launch the submarine into the water and try to look for any signs of Stian, the thermal camera fitted in the system picks up a small huddle deep inside the plant, making it almost certain that Stian is alive and trapped inside. They rush into the depths of the rig, following the same long path Stian took some hours back, and find themselves in the same tunnel-like corridors he was earlier seen, all of which is at present plunged in eerie darkness. Frantically searching for the man and calling out his name, Sofia finally finds Stian, who is slightly injured but is alive and in his senses. Together, with Arthur and Sofia’s help, the man climbs out of the chute where he had taken shelter, and the three now start walking back towards the deck. Although safely out into the open, Sofia is unable to establish contact with the pilot who had flown them into the place, who also happened to be Stian’s sister. As they see two unusual military jets flying over the oil field, Stian calls up the on-shore office to ask for help, and instead, he hears of a situation much worse.

Meanwhile, an even more terrible disaster had presented itself, as dangerously large amounts of oil had already spilled onto the sea surface. This oil spill, when it would ultimately crash upon the nearby lands within a day or two, would immediately wipe out all flora and fauna of the countries it was spilled upon and quickly affect human life as well. Such a calamity is then projected to have an effect on the earth for centuries to come. The only option to avoid this disaster, as thought out by William Lie, is to burn the concentrated oil immediately and wipe out any existence of it. The government, too, agrees to go ahead with this plan and sends two military jets to bomb the entire oil rig. Getting a call from Stian, Ronny tries to convince the officials to stop the operation as there were still surviving humans in the area, but it was all too late. As Sofia, Stian, and Arthur are told on the oil rig that it is impossible to send any help for them now, they see the jets drop bombs onto the far-away oil field. The entire horizon bursts into flames, and the raging fire swiftly starts moving towards Gullfacks A.

‘The Burning Sea’ Ending Explained: Is Sofia Finally Able To Save Stian?

Sofia comes up with a desperate plan to escape from the disaster by making use of the lifeboats available on the rig. Her idea is to fill the lifeboat with enough water to make it heavy and sink below the sea surface where the fire would be passing through. Going by her instructions, Stian and Arthur fill the boat with adequate water and loosen the attachments that keep it stuck to the rig’s deck. However, when they try to launch the boat onto the water, it is noticed that one of the attachments is still holding it tight. Arthur volunteers to go and remove the attachment, but the boat would be immediately dislodged when he does so, meaning that he would have to stay behind. The always loyal friend does not hesitate for a moment to sacrifice himself in order to save the two, and he calmly shuts his eyes as the fire engulfs Gullfacks A. Inside the lifeboat, Sofia and Stian manage to survive the fire on the surface as they are plunged deep underwater, but Stian suffers a heavy blow to the head and passes out from the impact. Sofia, unaccustomed to the entire setup of the lifeboat, is unable to find any way to release the water and pressure from its inside once the fire has passed over. With the water inside making the boat sink even deeper now, more water from the outside starts to enter, and Sofia almost gives up on her desperate attempt to survive. However, in a miraculous moment, Stian wakes up and instructs her on how to open the release valve in an emergency situation, and Sofia follows the instructions to finally save themselves from drowning.

As the couple makes it onto the sea surface, with no threat of the fire anymore, Stian calls up Ronny and informs him of their position. The authorities rescue the two, and Sofia and Stian now heroically return to the shore and reunite with Odin. The interview segment from the beginning of the film returns, and it is now understood that it is William Lie who was being interviewed after the incident took place. Lie says that it took nearly a year for the smoke from the oil burn to completely go away. He ends the interview, and subsequently the film as well, talking of Norway’s realization that they were really a nation most related to the ocean rather than being a nation more related to oil, as they had earlier believed. With this particular style of opening and ending, “The Burning Sea” gives the sense of it being an almost real retelling of events, of a very near future that is bound to happen soon. Real-life images of oil spills and their tremendously negative impact on nature is also shown to hammer in the idea that when Nature would turn against humans, there would indeed be no place to go.

“The Burning Sea” is a 2021 Drama Thriller film directed by John Andreas Andersen.

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Sourya Sur Roy
Sourya Sur Roy
Sourya keeps an avid interest in all sorts of films, history, sports, videogames and everything related to New Media. Holding a Master of Arts degree in Film Studies, he is currently working as a teacher of Film Studies at a private school and also remotely as a Research Assistant and Translator on a postdoctoral project at UdK Berlin.

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