‘The Strays’ Ending, Explained: What Was Carl And Dione’s Plan? Was Cheryl Able To Save Her Family?


Written and directed by Nathaniel Martello-White, “The Strays” tells the story of a woman whose sensibilities were so absurd and erratic that even her family couldn’t ascertain the kind of person she was. On the face of it, she was the most polite and well-mannered person one could ever meet, but hidden underneath that exterior was a racist and treacherous person who could betray even those people who meant the world to her. So, let’s understand what Cheryl was up to and what would happen if and when her family came to know her secrets.

Spoilers Ahead

‘The Stray’ Plot Summary: What Is The Film About?

At the beginning of the film, “The Strays,” we see Cheryl talking to her sister and telling her how she feels claustrophobic in her neighborhood. There was a newspaper lying on the table next to her, in which the headlines spoke about how children of color were becoming victims of institutionalized racism. We come to know that Cheryl had a problem with the way society treated them, and through their condescending behavior, thought of them as no more than reprobates. 

Cheryl was married to a guy named Michael, and through her behavior, we could safely assume that she was not very attached to him. Cheryl had a literal panic attack, and her sister on the other end of the phone was constantly telling her to breathe and calm down for a moment. Cheryl was an excellent saleswoman, but even after winning many accolades, she was not as financially comfortable as she would have liked to be. Cheryl wanted more, and she didn’t feel it was a crime to not be satisfied with her life. She was right in thinking so, but where she went wrong was that she was ready to do anything in order to get to that aspirational lifestyle. 

Cheryl’s sister told her that everybody wants more, but that doesn’t mean they have to make their current existence miserable. Her words had little or no impact on Cheryl because she had already made up her mind to escape her reality. She left a note for her husband saying that she was going to the hairdresser, and she never returned after that. Till this time in the film “The Strays,” we didn’t have any more information about what had triggered her so much that she decided to take such a step. There was an air of mystery around her intentions, but it still couldn’t be perceived to what extent she was ready to go to get to that aspirational financial and social status.

Who Were Carl And Dione?

Cheryl completely revamped her identity and took the alias “Neve.” She married a white man named Ian and had two children named Sebastian and Mary. Cheryl lived in the posh neighborhood of Castle Combe and worked as the deputy head of theology and course leader in the same school where her kids used to study. Cheryl finally had the life she had always craved: she had a swanky house; her children went to expensive private schools; she had a successful career; she had a good social standing; and most importantly, she didn’t have any Black people in her life. 

The film “The Strays” gave us little hints that made us realize that Cheryl hated people of color. She used to get very angry if their kids or husband interacted with any person of color, but they hadn’t been privy to anything so disastrous that it could be called an abnormality, as they barely had Black people living in the entire town. Cheryl had started feeling that she was being watched specifically by two Black people. She had caught the janitor of her school staring at her, though she never confronted him. 

One day Cheryl saw her son, Sebastian, talking to the janitor and later found him smoking in an abandoned plot near the school. Cheryl knew that the janitor had given him the cigarette, and she got very mad at her son. Cheryl had become very paranoid of late, and it was mainly because she thought that her past would catch up with her and ruin what she had created. At her charity gala, the same Black guy who used to work at her school came to her house with another girl who was around Mary’s age. Seeing them, Cheryl completely lost her temper and started shouting like a maniac. That’s when we came to know that Carl and Dione were actually Cheryl’s kids, whom she had abandoned when she had decided to escape her past life. They had come to town to find their mother, as she had never tried to contact them all those years. Carl and Dione had found out who Cheryl’s kids were and befriended them. It pinched them when they compared their lives with those of Mary and Sebastian. Carl and Dione had to struggle their entire lives to procure just the basic amenities, while here, these people had so much in abundance that they didn’t know what to do with it.

Ian, Mary, and Sebastian couldn’t process what had happened as they had no clue about Cheryl’s past life and what she had done back then. Cheryl had concealed information so efficiently that her family didn’t even know what her real name was. Cheryl said that she would give them all the answers, but she needed to do something before that. Cheryl wanted to handle the situation and do some damage control, but contrary to that, she went and did something that worsened the situation. Cheryl believed that anybody could be bought with money, and that’s where she failed to understand her own children, and they felt not only hurt but insulted by it.

‘The Strays’ Ending Explained: What Was Carl And Dione’s Plan? Was Cheryl Able To Save Her Family?

Cheryl had offered a whooping sum to Carl and Dione, and she believed that she could win them over and make them go back to London. This hurt Carl’s ego, and he realized that his own mother didn’t even feel guilty about what she had done. She was a disgrace and Carl knew that she was only apologizing so that she could make them go away and then return to her perfect and posh life. At that moment, Carl agreed to take the money and go back because he realized there was no point in having a conversation with such a woman. Both kids knew that nobody could understand what they had gone through in their lives. Their own mother didn’t want them, and she had not even tried to contact them once in all those years. Their existence didn’t mean anything, and she just wanted to get rid of them.

Cheryl was an extremely racist person who thought that people of color polluted her environment and that the two worlds should never mix. She was not a white supremacist, as racism had become so internalized in her that she considered being black as a sin. She came back after giving money to Carl and Dione, and she asked her family to forgive her and give her one last chance. Ian agreed that the events that had happened in their lives had shaken the foundation of the family and that they needed to rebuild their defenses. 

Cheryl told them that Michael, to whom she was married, was a bad man, and he had forced her to have a second baby. She said that the only way she could have escaped her miserable life was by running away. Cheryl spoke with so much sincerity that Ian and Mary believed her, though her son, Sebastian, still had doubts. Sebastian was right in doubting the conscience of her mother because Cheryl, apart from her name, was hiding a lot of other things too and still blatantly lying in their faces. We believe there was absolutely nothing wrong with her ex-husband Michael, and she was only making all of it up to make her family sympathetic towards her situation. Saying that Cheryl was an extremely conniving and selfish human being would be an understatement because even a selfish person does not ditch and abandon their own children like this.

Carl and Dione returned late at night, after everyone had gone to bed, and took over the house to teach them a lesson, much to Cheryl’s horror. That’s when Ian, Mary, and Sebastian discovered that Neve was just an alias Cheryl had used to hide her tracks and that she had offered her own children money to leave her and return to where they had come from. Ian was shocked to hear all those things, and he couldn’t believe that his own wife was capable of doing something so sinister. He instantly said he wanted a divorce because he had realized that he didn’t even know who the real Cheryl was.

Carl said that it was Dione’s birthday, and they needed to celebrate it. He submerged their phones in water and warned them that if they tried to flee, they would face the consequences. Carl asked everybody to order something they wanted to eat and then forced them to play a board game. He led Ian into the gym and tortured him by forcing him to do bench presses while adding plates until the iron bar fell on his chest. Cheryl had realized that there was no point in trying to do any damage control, and she had made up her mind to do what she did best. 

When the food came, she told the deliveryman to wait outside, as she wanted to tip him. She came back, took her purse, and asked her kids to forgive her if they could. She went outside and, together with the delivery agent, ran away yet again. The four kids stood there, and they couldn’t understand what kind of person their mother was. So basically, we can conclude that Cheryl was an escapist of the highest order, and once she thought that she couldn’t deal with her life, she ran away, leaving everything behind. We can say that in a way she might have saved her kids’ lives by abandoning them, though we don’t believe that her intention was to do the same. We believe that she left her kids solely out of selfish motives and nothing else. She was an enigma who was very hard to read, and the way she acted on impulse, nobody could ascertain what her next move would be. We believe that Cheryl was suffering from some kind of mental disorder where she got these extreme mood swings where she felt leaving everything and running away.

Nathaniel Martello-White creates some promising buildups, but he is never able to capitalize on them, and the anticipation starts to dwindle until it finally fizzles out. “The Strays” has its moments, but it still remains a half-baked attempt that lost out on the potential to do much more with its premise.

See More: ‘The Strays’ Themes And Characters, Explained: What Is The Meaning Of Neve’s Big Secret?

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Sushrut Gopesh
Sushrut Gopesh
I came to Mumbai to bring characters to life. I like to dwell in the cinematic world and ponder over philosophical thoughts. I believe in the kind of cinema that not necessarily makes you laugh or cry but moves something inside you.

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