'Destroyer' Director Karyn Kusama Explains the Film's Mysterious Ending

The director reveals the thematic undertones of one of the film's most chilling reveals.

In the new movie Destroyer, starring an unrecognizable Nicole Kidman as a defeated detective chasing an old suspect through Los Angeles, renowned indie filmmaker Karyn Kusama (Jennifer’s Body, The Invitation) explores the psyche of a woman with nothing left to lose.

One of the final shots of the movie, set on a freezing mountain in the middle of snowfall, epitomizes the film’s central character — reckless, irresponsible, and at the same time, totally in control. But what exactly is going on? Why were Erin and her young daughter out there in the wild? The filmmaker tells Inverse exactly what’s up with one of the most chilling revelations in her movie.

Spoilers for Destroyer ahead.

In Destroyer, out now in theaters, Nicole Kidman plays Erin, an LAPD detective who must track down a former suspect more than a dozen years after a traumatizing undercover operation. At the same time, Erin has to reckon with her daughter, Shelby (Jade Pettyjohn), who is on a downward spiral of her own.

In one of the final scenes of Destroyer, Shelby reveals she has no memory of her childhood, except for one: As a child, Shelby remembers hanging off her mother’s back as the two traverse through a snowstorm in a dark, isolated part of a mountainous forrest. Shelby remembers her mother wearing old, worn sneakers through snow that rises up the shins.

It’s a memory that Kusama confirms to the audience is real via flashback, but never discloses the reason why they were there at all.

“A couple of things are happening narratively,” Kusama tells Inverse. “We understand Shelby wasn’t imagining that memory. That was not something she made up. We understand Shelby was describing that memory in the context of naming one good thing she could remember about her mom. But it was layered with the complexity of, ‘Why the fuck were we out there in the first place?’”

The shot is also important for Erin, Kidman’s character, who throughout the movie is portrayed as paradoxically both irresponsibly reckless and in absolute control — a tamed bull navigating a china shop.

“There was some part of Erin, I think [that] definitely connects to that memory as a moment where she was both reckless and irresponsible, and completely fierce and protective,” Kusama explains.

Destroyer Karyn Kusama
Karyn Kusama and Nicole Kidman, on the set of 'Destroyer.'

“She could be both: She is wearing sneakers that are falling apart and walking through the snow. She is wearing a windbreaker during a snow storm. There is something not right about her. But you see Shelby, and realize Shelby feels safe. This is the complexity and kind of the mystery of being a parent. We can, in our way, be trying to do the right thing even when we do the wrong thing.”

Destroyer is out now in theaters.

Media via Annapurna Pictures