May December Ending Explained – Can Elizabeth ever understand Gracie’s true character?

By Lori Meek
Published: December 2, 2023 (Last updated: December 3, 2023)
May December Ending Explained
May December Key Art | Image via Netflix

After opening to widespread acclaim in the festival circuit, May December, the drama directed by Todd Haynes premiered on Netflix following a limited theatrical release. Led by Julianne Moore and Natalie Portman, the movie is a layered and uncomfortable drama about the aftermath of a scandal that continues to affect the lives of its characters more than two decades later, and the ending finally finds the characters coming to terms with — and in some cases not coming to terms with — the process and events leading to an entire life and family built on the back of trauma and scandal.

The film follows actress Elizabeth Berry as she’s researching the lives of married couple Gracie and Joe for a new independent movie she’s been cast in. Why are Gracie and Joe the subject of a film? Because the pair started an “affair” when she was 36 and he was 13. 

Unsurprisingly, the tabloid media at the time went crazy over the story. Gracie gave birth to their first child while in prison, and the pair eventually got married, had two more kids, and have been living in pretend bliss for over 20 years.

As Elizabeth starts spending more time with Gracie, Joe, and their children, she feels she’s getting closer to understanding these people. Here is what happened in the film’s final act and what it could mean for these characters.

May December Ending Explained

The high school graduation dinner doesn’t go as smoothly as Gracie would have wanted. Her older daughter, who came into town for the occasion, rebuffs Gracie’s efforts at every opportunity. And then Gracie’s older kids with her grandkids and ex-husband show up at the same restaurant, making for one very awkward meet and greet. 

But the real bomb is dropped by Georgie, who approaches Elizabeth and reveals that Gracie’s older brothers sexually assaulted her when she was a child herself, which explains a lot, without explaining anything. 

Does Elizabeth seduce Joe?

After the awkward dinner, Elizabeth invites Joe upstairs to her room, and he gives her a letter Gracie had given him when the abuse first started. Elizabeth and Joe end up having sex, and he confesses he’d been completely faithful to his much older wife up until that point. 

When Elizabeth tries suggesting Joe could start his life over away from Gracie, he doesn’t take it well and runs out of her room. Interestingly enough, Elizabeth tells Joe that having sex with him is “what adults do.” 

RELATED: Where was May December filmed?

While Elizabeth struggles to understand Gracie, the actress also seems to need help with what healthy adult relationships look like. She’s engaged to someone but cheats on him with her married movie director while not hesitating in seducing the subject of her upcoming film. 

Where Gracie is an abuser, Elizabeth’s actions are very much in a morally grey area. But just like Gracie, she justifies it by lying to herself and those around her.  

Why can’t Gracie admit what she did was wrong?

At home, Joe tries confronting his wife about the times they first got together. She immediately jumps on the defensive and claims he is at fault for seducing her. As far as Gracie and every other abusive groomer in her shoes is concerned, she’s innocent, and the child was at fault for his abuse. 

We then get a chilling scene of Elizabeth in front of the mirror, reading the letter Joe had given her. In the letter, Gracie claims to love her young lover but asks him to burn it after reading it, showing that, on some level, the woman knew her actions were wrong. 

On graduation morning, Joe wakes up and prepares to take his kids to their graduation while Gracie starts her day hunting. After he drives the kids to school, Joe chooses to watch them graduate from the sidelines and doesn’t take a seat next to his wife. 

The two women have one final chat before Elizabeth goes to the airport. Gracie claims that whatever Georgie says about her brothers is not true and reveals she still holds some control over her older son’s life. 

Can Elizabeth ever understand Gracie’s true character?

May December ends on the set for Elizabeth’s movie, where she keeps asking for reshoots on the seduction scene. Even when the director seems satisfied to have captured the shot, Elizabeth insists she’s close to getting her character just right. 

What did you think of the ending of May December? Comment below.

RELATED: The true story behind May December

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