Spoilers for the Netflix movie Extraction follow below.
If you sat down to watch the new Netflix action movie Extraction, you may not have been prepared for an ending as dark and ambiguous as the one you get. But luckily we got some clarity from the film’s director, Sam Hargrave, on what it all means.
The story of Extraction follows a mercenary named Tyler Rake, played by Chris Hemsworth. All throughout the film, it’s clear that Tyler has a death wish. He’s haunted by the death of his son, and even when we first meet him he jumps off a high cliff like it’s nothing. He genuinely does not care if he lives or dies, which is partly what makes him so deadly.
But his relationship with Ovi (Rudraksh Jaiswal), the kid he’s in charge of extracting from Dhaka, changes him. He empathizes with the kid, and no doubt sees some of his son in the young innocent boy. This is no longer a job, it’s a mission—he must get Ovi out safely, and to do so means not dying. At least until his mission is complete.
And that’s basically what happens. The film ends with a climactic firefight on a bridge, and as soon as Ovi gets to the other side and Tyler breathes a sigh of relief, Tyler is mortally wounded by Farhad (Suraj Rikame), the young man who wanted to prove himself to drug lord Amir (Priyanshu Painyuli). Tyler seemingly dies right in front of Ovi and Tyler’s mercenary partner Nik (Golshifteh Farahani).
But the film’s final moments offer a sense of hope. We watch as Ovi jumps into a swimming pool and sinks to the bottom, mirroring Rake’s first scene. But when Ovi comes up out of the water, a figure stands in the background that looks a lot like Tyler Rake, and then the screen cuts to black.
So is Chris Hemsworth’s character alive? Has he returned to train Ovi? Is Ovi hallucinating, insinuating that Tyler’s spirit will be with him always? Or is this just some stranger who looks a lot like Tyler Rake?
Collider’s own Steve Weintraub put these questions to Extraction director Sam Hargrave during an exclusive interview recently, and the filmmaker said that every opinion on what happens at the end of the movie is valid:
“What would hopefully happen is people will be discussing that afterwards, and you get to say which one you feel is right for you.”
But in case that’s not satisfying for you, Hargrave offered a peek behind the curtain at how they landed on this Extraction ending. As it turns out, the original ending to the film (which was written by Joe Russo) very explicitly showed that Tyler Rake died. He sacrificed his life to save Ovi. His arc was complete. But test audiences were split down the middle as to how they felt about that bummer conclusion:
“We had a version of the movie, and we tested it a lot, and it was not surprising that a lot of people wanted the character to live, and some people wanted him to die. People were torn; it was almost down the middle. We want to appeal to as many people as possible without compromising the integrity of the story. And so, we think a pretty good compromise is to make an ambiguous ending. If people on one hand feel like the story is complete and is a story of redemption through sacrifice, then for them, it’ll be where the kid is imagining [Rake standing there], and then now you go, ‘Yes, I’m satisfied.’ If you feel like you love Tyler Rake, and you love Chris Hemsworth, and you want a sequel, and you’re like ‘There’s no way, you can’t kill him!’ then that’s Tyler Rake standing there looking at you. So we kind of purposefully did not pull focus to the character standing there.”
As for Hargrae’s preferred ending? Well it’s probably the one in which Rake dies, because that was his original idea:
“In truth, that was a thing of testing. Because we shot multiple endings. We shot a lot of different ways to pull this off. Because in the original script—and this was my idea—Rake does not live. His story was complete because he found something to keep him alive, and his journey was complete when he came to redemption through sacrifice. He made the choice he was okay with. He had come to terms with his past and the choice he made in the present saved this kid, and if that meant him dying, so be it. And that was his journey in my mind.”
But it wasn’t just the test audiences that convinced Hargrave and Co. to go with an ambiguous ending. It was also the suggestion of the Netflix executive in charge of original films, Scott Stuber:
“A very astute thing was suggested by the head of Netflix original films, Scott Stuber. His point was well taken, fantastic, and I’ll remember this forever: you have to remember the difference between an intellectually satisfying ending and an emotionally satisfying ending. And so we struggled with that concept of ‘is it more emotionally satisfying that Rake lives or that Rake dies?’ And truthfully, the vote was it’s more emotionally satisfying that he lives. Because the kid gave him something to live for, and now he’s living for that.”
Ultimately, Hargrave says the Extraction ending is a compromise that he thinks makes both camps happy:
“So basically, what you see in the movie is a compromise. Because a lot of us who are in the original camp didn’t want him to survive, a lot in the new camp wanted him to live. We tested it, and it was literally down the middle for people who wanted him to live versus die. So we’re like, hey, we’ll give you the best of both worlds, we’re gonna have this ambiguous ending where you can choose your own adventure.”
So what happens at the end of Extraction? Well according to the film’s director, that’s up to you.
For more on the film check out our extended interview with co-writer and producer Joe Russo and our ranking of every non-Thor Chris Hemsworth performance.