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The Gift, Joel Edgerton’s directorial debut, debut is a well-paced thriller with several jarring twists, and a couple of authentic “boo” moments leading to an unsettling ending.

SPOILERS below:

Almost immediately after young couple Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall) move to Simon’s hometown to hopefully start a family, Simon runs into a ghost from his past. “Gordo” (Joel Egerton) proceeds to insert himself into his former classmate’s life, leaving gifts and hanging out with Robyn while Simon is at work in the city. Gordo’s lack of boundaries are slimly and offputting, but he doesn’t directly flirt with Robyn or threaten her. It turns out Robyn has a very trusting nature, and willingly lets Gordo into their home and their lives. Although his behavior isn’t severe, it’s still riddled with red flags that Simon is quick to point out in the most cruel manner possible. Robyn, it seems, isn’t put off by behavioral warnings. She wants to believe the best of everyone, a trait of a nice person, but also a trait of vulnerable one. There is an implication that if she so quickly trusts Gordo, maybe she’s made some other missteps and misreads on who to trust, and who to marry.

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It’s only after she’s in the last months of pregnancy that Robyn discovers the truth about her husband. When they were kids, Simon made up a story about Gordo getting molested by an older boy. The rumor erupted in scandal, and provoked Gordo’s father to beat him to the brink of death over the possibility that he may be gay. As his life continued to fall into shambles, Gordo nursed a deep resentment of Simon’s ruthless behavior. His revenge isn’t about physically hurting Simon, but getting into his brain and gaining psychological power over him the same way Simon is so apt at gaining power over others. A big win for Gordo is when Simon makes an insincere attempt at an apology and instead ends up physically attacking Gordo. He has fully lost control at this point, and turned into a puppet operated by his predictable psychology and behavior.

Simon’s wife Robyn is the true victim in all of these mind games. As her trust starts to darken around both Gordo and her husband, her small world closes in even further. The audience starts to align themselves with her, navigating this tangled mess through her experience, but when Gordo’s grand revenge finally pays off, Robyn’s perspective fades into the background even though the final gift heavily involves her. That’s a bit of a disappointment because at this point the film has become her story, and as a viewer I wanted an emotional payoff for her beyond her icy retreat from Simon.

Gordo’s final gift to Simon (which happens after Robyn gives birth and informs Simon that she doesn’t want to go home with him,) reveals that Robyn’s “episode” about nine months before that Simon thought was a drug relapse was actually orchestrated by Gordo. He taped watching Robyn collapse after she drank Gatorade he spiked with sleeping pills. The video shows Gordo in a mask move her to the bed, but cuts off before we get to see what happens next. We’re left with the terror of the unseen. Our brains fill in information more graphically when we are pointed to an idea, when things are implied, but not directly shown. In this chilling trick, Gordo’s mastered the violence of the mind. He’s wielding the weapon of doubt like a trained surgeon.

Gordo makes it clear to Simon that “poisoing” his mind is of more interest to him than real actions. It seems as if Gordo didn’t actually sexually assault Robyn because the violence he’s concerned with is emotional manipulation. All of his life Simon had played with lies and perception to control others, and Gordo’s obsessed with giving him a true taste of the devastating effects of a war of ideas.

Simon doesn’t rush to tell Robyn what Gordo has revealed to him, and the ending leaves it unclear what he plans to do. It almost seems like he might not tell her anything at all. Obviously a DNA test could determine whether or not the baby is Simon’s, but that doesn’t clear up the rape. With the video footage Gordo supplied, Simon may have legal evidence to charge him with breaking-and-entering and drugging Robyn, but any recourse he may or may not take doesn’t seem to be the point of the ending. The point seems to be that Simon is finally suffering. He’s lost his job, his family, and his grasp on reality. He used to breeze through life with the sure confidence of someone who could manipulate impressions and stories to his will or whim, but now has control over absolutely nothing in his life.

Of course the most distressing thing about all this is what happened to Robyn. Even if she wasn’t raped, she was still drugged, secretly taped and manhandled while she was unconscious. She was still caught up in this sickening game. She was still played with and used. Simon is an asshole, a bully being punished, but Robyn has had her life wreaked by two diabolical people, and is still left in the dark. In her final shot she’s seen seething in anger as she holds her infant and glares at her husband through glass, caught fully in only her known horror.

What do you think about the ending of The Gift?

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