The Guilty (2021) ending explained – will Joe find Emily before it’s too late?

October 1, 2021
M.N. Miller 1
Ending Explained, Film, Netflix
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This article discusses the ending of the Netflix film The Guilty (2021) — it will contain spoilers.

Ready Steady Cut Film Critic, M.N. Miller, said The Guilty, “…is a taut thriller led by a terrific performance from Jake Gyllenhaal.”

The Guilty stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Joe, a police officer assigned to a Los Angeles emergency 911 call center. The assignment may be putting it nicely. It is a demotion for being involved in a police shooting with Rick (One Night In Miami‘s Eli Goree). The man formerly in blue has an ear for bullshit and no patience for nonsense. He gets calls from a man (Paul Dano) who somehow had their wallet stolen when a female stranger was in his car or when a nightclub owner (Bill Burr) calls but won’t give him the pertinent information he needs.

Things get tenser for Joe. He takes a call from a distressed woman named Emily (The Devil All the Time’s Riley Keough). She has been kidnapped and is in a white van somewhere in the city of lost angels. To make things worse, the entire city is under siege from a major wildfire. He spends most of the film trying to track her down by any means necessary. Joe finds that she has an ex-husband named Henry (Peter Skarsgaard), who has a history of criminal offenses and mood disorders. He has a hunch he is the kidnapper.

Netflix’s The Guilty ending explained.

What The Guilty does well is a play on the audience’s expectations of a woman in distress and preconceived notions. Joe is not wondering why Emily is given access to a cell phone to call 911. It was so she could call her child to calm down and make sure she was okay.  However, this proves fruitful as it is the only explanation for why she is handed the phone on numerous opportunities. He suspects it must be a relative, which leads him to Henry. When Joe gets a police car to check on Emily’s children, he finds her 6-year-old daughter, Ashley, is okay.  However, she tells Joe that she was told not to go inside her baby brother’s room. The police find the child bleeding, and someone has stabbed him in the abdomen. 

It was the snakes, you see. It wasn’t Henry at all. Emily has had paranoid schizophrenia for years. The voices told her that her son was sick and he had snakes in his belly. She tried to cut them out. Henry was driving her to a mental hospital she had stayed at before. He was too afraid to call the cops because, with his history, they may not have believed him. Now Emily has escaped and is about to jump off a bridge when Joe calls and talks her out of it. Upset and at his breaking point, Joe is finally given some good news — Emily’s baby boy is alive.

Of course, we have to deal with Joe’s situation. He is about to have his court hearing to decide his fate. Joe, to talk Emily down, admits to her that he shot a man on duty. In an unprecedented admission of total honesty, he tells her he was filled with anger and rage, which led to his murderous impulse. He goes to the bathroom and picks a bathroom stall to dry heave into. He calls Rick, who will testify in his defense tomorrow even though he is guilty. Joe tells him to tell the truth because he will admit what he did, even if it means going to jail and not seeing his little girl for decades.

This was Joe’s day of reckoning. He was a good man who turned to dirt because of the pressures of the job, his true lack of appreciation of his privilege, and his lack of cultural competence. His bias truly affected his interpretation of events that were happening while on the call with Emily. He now realizes how truly wrong he was, and the experience of righting this wrong has cleansed him, given him the only sweet relief he has felt in years. He knows the only way to move forward with his life truly is to admit his guilt, no matter the consequences.

What did you think about the ending of the Netflix film The Guilty (2021)? Comment below.

1 thought on “The Guilty (2021) ending explained – will Joe find Emily before it’s too late?

  • January 28, 2023 at 5:42 pm

    Incredible acting- it felt real. He is in the mould of DeNiro

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