‘The Marsh King’s Daughter’ Ending Explained & Film Summary: What Happens To Helena?


The Marsh King’s Daughter is a new psychological thriller film with beautiful visuals of nature but without much effect or shock to make it a watch worth remembering. Adapted from a novel by the same name, the film presents the tale of a woman named Helena, whose disturbing past comes back to haunt her. At the core of this story is the fact that Helena was raised in the wilderness by her father, a notorious criminal known as the Marsh King. The Marsh King’s Daughter is mostly good for a single-time light watch, for despite the dramatic elements in its narrative, the film remains limited to the superficial.

Spoiler Alert

Plot Summary: What is the film about?

The Marsh King’s Daughter begins with a scene of a woman with blood on her face lying somewhere in the wilderness, and as she stares at the vast marshlands in front of her, her life’s story is presented to us. A young girl named Helena spends loving days with her parents in a small wooden cabin in the forest, far away from any civilization or society. It is evident that the family is not on some holiday or temporary stay, but their entire life is set at this very place. Helena is excited to go on a hunt with her father, Jacob, who has been training her since her very young days, teaching the girl survival skills in the forest. The girl’s mother, Beth, who mostly stays in the cabin doing all the cooking and household chores, is not very supportive of teaching Helena the violent ways of such a life. But Beth’s opinions are clearly neglected by both Jacob and Helena, who mostly treat her as someone incapable of enjoying such a wonderful life.

However, this is definitely not a healthy or even safe life for the young girl, considering the extreme nature of Jacob’s training and the harsh rules that he sets for his family members. Helena failing to hunt any animals means that the family does not have dinner at all, for he wants to make his daughter understand the brevity of their situation. He makes a memory out of every such event by making tattoos on Helena’s body and face using the crudest technique. One day, the daughter even sees Jacob pull Beth out of the water in the nearby stream, suggesting that something is seriously wrong with her. It all comes together one afternoon when Jacob is away on a hunt, and a different man comes to the place on an ATV. The man claims to be lost in the forest and asks for some help, making Helena and Beth cautious, for he is the first human, other than their family members, that they have seen in a really long time.

As soon as the realization hits her, though, Beth rushes to the man, screaming for help as she desperately wants to escape the forest. The woman takes young Helena with her as well, although the daughter is absolutely adamant that she does not want to leave. Jacob also arrives at the scene at this very time, but Beth gives her all and drives the ATV with a protesting Helena on the vehicle, for this is the only chance for her to be free.

What is Jacob Holbrook’s real identity?

As soon as Jacob sees the man on the ATV arriving at his cabin, he runs back towards the place and immediately shoots and kills the man from a distance. He then tells Beth to not use the vehicle, but the woman no longer listens to her husband. The real identity of Jacob becomes evident after the woman and her daughter reach the hospital in the nearest town once they make it out of the marshlands. Jacob Holbrook was a horrific criminal who had kidnapped his girlfriend Beth many years ago, following which he had kept her captive inside the cabin in the woods, which was in an extremely remote area of the forested marshlands. Their daughter, Helena, was born in the very forest some two years later, and this made Beth’s situation even worse, for she now could not even think of escaping this life, as she could not abandon her baby.

For the next many years, the family lived in the woods, and Helena grew up knowing the forest to be her whole world and her father to be the bravest and best man in the world. In an age of advanced technology, Helena was taught to play with dolls made from straws and to hunt her own food. Despite sometimes finding it difficult to kill animals with young babies, she was rather forcefully taught by her father the wild ways of nature. Therefore, whenever Beth warned the girl about reality or tried to tell her about the ugly side of her father, Helena took her to be deranged and complained to her father about it.

There had been times when Beth had tried to escape the place out of sheer despair, but it was never easy to get past the notice of Jacob, who was indeed a skilled hunter, which made him an even more dangerous criminal. When Helena had seen her parents in the nearby stream, Beth had actually made an attempt to escape the forest, but was caught by Jacob. As a punishment, the man almost drowned her, and he only stopped when he saw their daughter looking at them. Both the women were not allowed to cry or shed tears in front of Jacob. It is not hard to imagine the kind of torture and abuse that Beth must have been subjected to, and it is also most likely that she was sexually assaulted on a regular basis. Jacob was careful enough to not leave any chance for the women to retaliate, even ensuring that the only gun inside the house was his own. The rifle that Helena used was always kept inside a chained safe box in the outhouse.

On the night when Beth and Helena finally reach civilization and report everything to the police, the adolescent girl is still very upset at what her mother has done. She looks out the window to find a necklace that she always used to wear hanging from a tree branch just outside the hospital. This necklace, which Jacob had made for Helena, had been left behind at the cabin during the tussle. Its presence at the place makes it evident that Jacob had tracked the women and was nearby. Helena, who still believes her father to be their savior, seeks out the man in the streets and is about to have a happy reunion when the police intervene. As the girl had gone missing from her hospital room, the police immediately went out to search, and they found the girl along with the criminal they had been looking for. Jacob Holbrook is arrested, but the man promises Helena that he will return to take her home someday.

What troubles Helena at present?

The Marsh King’s Daughter skips forward many years to when Helena is a grown woman with a family of her own. She has processed the bizarre and horrid nature of her childhood by now and has realized what a predator-like criminal her father was. After Jacob’s arrest, she and her mother had started a new life in the town, and Beth also got married to the police officer overseeing the case. Although the new husband, Clark Bekkum, was always very accepting of Helena, she could never grant him the position of her father, and this led to immense disagreement between her and Beth. It is suggested that Helena took a long time to deal with the trauma of her childhood, and it was not until she became a mature adult that she understood how evil Jacob was. Thus, during her teenage and early adult lives, Helena still held her mother responsible for having taken her away from their home, resulting in her father’s arrest. Beth and Helena had grown distant after the latter became an adult and moved away to start her own life. The daughter had never got the chance to reconcile, as Beth died a few years later, supposedly from suicide.

Helena had gotten married to Stephen Pelletier, whose surname she took after the marriage in order to hide her real identity. Neither Stephen nor their young daughter Marigold had any idea about who Helena was, and she had lied to him that her parents had died in a car accident long ago. Therefore, when the police force comes to Helena’s house one fine day, asking her about the whereabouts of her father, it causes a temporary rift between her and Stephen. The police’s arrival at Helena’s house was a surprise for her too, for she had no idea what Jacob had been up to for the last twenty years. Jacob had been imprisoned during all this time until recently, when he was about to be transferred to a different jail by the police.

During this transfer, Jacob had managed to hide a metal pin in his mouth, with which he easily loosened the handcuffs tying him. With another prisoner in the van and just a single police guard, the criminal overpowers the guard, getting hold of his gun and shooting him and the driver dead. The van crashes, releasing both the prisoners, who then attempt to escape together. Jacob is picked up by three other men in a different car, and then the police are suddenly notified of the man’s death in a car accident. A burned car with a single dead body inside is found, and since the body has the same engraved gold teeth as Jacob Holbrook, it is determined that the fugitive criminal has indeed died. Following this incident, the police take away all guards and safety personnel from around Helena’s house, much to her worry.

Helena is not convinced that her father has died, as she knows Jacob’s twisted ways all too well. As a mother herself, she fully realizes the fear that Beth had to live with, and she is troubled by the thought that Jacob will somehow track her down and come for her and little Marigold. The woman is often spooked by any noise around her house, and seeing a wolf with a gnawed-off leg makes her fears worse. Jacob had taught her how wolves caught in traps sometimes gnaw off their own legs in order to survive, and Helena now draws the same parallel to realize that Jacob must have sacrificed his gold teeth by placing them inside the mouth of a different man in order to fake his own death. Helena’s fears are finally confirmed when she finds two straw dolls among Marigold’s things, realizing that her father is truly back to haunt her life at present.

What happens to Helena and her family in the end?

Helena now decides to seek out her father first before he does any harm to her and her daughter. She only tells Stephen that she is going out for a final important mission, and this is enough for the husband to alert Clark, and the man immediately understands where Helena has gone off to. Back in the marshlands past San Francisco, Helena takes the long trip to the place where she had grown up, where the cabin still exists in a dilapidated state. She eventually meets Jacob as well, who reveals that he plans to bring Helena and Marigold together to once again be a family. The man has even arranged for their passage to Canada illegally, but Helena obviously turns him down. Jacob, at first, seems to respect his daughter’s wish but then changes his mind when Clark appears, and he has to shoot the man dead.

Jacob now leaves Helena in a pit, like he often used to during her childhood, and heads towards the town to kidnap little Marigold. However, Helena soon makes her way out of the pit and chases after her father. When the two meet once more, and Jacob tries to manipulate Helena once again, telling her about how Beth had lied to her, the woman finally speaks out loud about her changed opinion of her mother. Helena admits that it was because of Beth that she survived, and now that she is a mother herself, the woman is ready to do anything to stop her predatory father from kidnapping her child. She first rolls herself down a hillside along with Jacob and then kills him in the end.

During The Marsh King’s Daughter‘s ending, Helena tries her best to crawl towards the boat she had used to come to the place but has a tough time doing so. This is because the woman had been shot in her leg by Jacob, and the wound definitely gets worse with time. Helena is seen rowing her boat through the marsh until the camera comes out of a bush, and she or her boat is no longer seen. This is probably just a cinematic shot to end the film, suggesting that Helena now slowly makes her way out of the forest and back to her usual life. But this end scene can also suggest that the woman loses her life from the gunshot wound midway through her journey back. What remains guaranteed is that Helena has bravely protected her daughter and husband by facing and triumphing over her own dark past.

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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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