Amazon Prime’s ‘Birds of Paradise’ follows the journey of two dancers as they compete for the revered prize at their Parisian ballet academy — a contract with the Paris Opera Ballet. Hailing from entirely different backgrounds, Marine and Kate face a constant tug of war between close friendship and bitter rivalry, which pushes them both far beyond their boundaries.
Set amidst the arduous routines of a prestigious ballet school, Sarah Adina Smith’s film is a layered study that goes far beyond a typical coming-of-age story and flirts with a gray area in which there is no outright “good” or “bad.” The film’s finale is fitting yet ambivalent and tragically poetic. The ending of ‘Birds of Paradise’ demands a closer look, so let’s dive in. SPOILERS AHEAD.
Birds of Paradise Plot Synopsis
The film opens with Kate, a new student at the La Volière ballet academy in Paris, trying to awkwardly find her legs as students all around greet each other with familiarity. We learn that she comes from a modest background and is there on scholarship, having won every dance competition back home in America. We then meet Marine, the daughter of the American ambassador to France who also studies at the same academy and has an overbearing mother who forces her to excel so she can win the annual prize of getting a contract with the elite Paris Opera Ballet.
On their first meeting, Kate and Marine get into a fistfight after the former mentions Ollie, a dancer that recently died by suicide, without realizing that he was Marine’s twin brother. However, the two soon find each other pushed together as roommates and are forced to reconcile. Soon, Kate becomes Marine’s confidante, and the two make a pact that they will do all they can to help each other and not accept the grand prize unless they both get it (something which has never happened before and is considered almost impossible).
As their friendship develops, we find that Kate’s scholarship is funded by Marine’s wealthy parents, who set it up to honor their late son Ollie. Marine also opens up about how Ollie took his own life after their mother caught her and Ollie alone in a room and thought the twins were having sex. Soon after, however, Kate finds out that Marine’s parents have revoked her scholarship and that her father has had to sell their house to fund her training. As revenge, she tells everyone at the academy that Marine slept with her twin brother, which resulted in him dying by suicide.
Birds of Paradise Ending: Who Wins the Grand Prize?
The day of the final competition arrives, and Kate finds herself paired up with the class’ best male dancer Felipe, giving her a good chance at winning. Marine, initially paired with Felipe, decides to perform alone, an unusual move that surprises everyone. Kate’s performance is flawless and gets her a standing ovation, while Marine’s is experimental and provocative, leaving the audience speechless. In the end, while waiting for the winners to be announced, Marine announces that she doesn’t want the prize, leaving Kate to receive the coveted contract.
The film’s closing scenes take place three years after the competition. Kate is now a famous ballet dancer. After a performance that gets her a standing ovation, she is approached by Marine, who has been choreographing dances at “Jungle,” the underground club they would visit as ballet students. Kate finally breaks down and apologizes to Marine for how she treated her, and the film comes to a close with Marine overseeing a surreal dance performance at Jungle, which is inspired by a story Kate told her when they first met.
The film’s finale is fitting because it is truly impossible to choose between Kate and Marine as to who is more deserving of the award. While Kate’s entire future rests on her getting the contract since she has no other way to support herself, Marine’s fundamental identity and past have been focused on dancing at the Paris Opera Ballet. She and her brother were enrolled at the ballet academy since they were 9-years-old.
Therefore, although Kate finally gets the award, it is not a complete victory because her biggest competitor, Marine, actually bows out of the race. In fact, the situation affects Kate so strongly that even after receiving the contract, she can’t stop thinking about who between the two was a better dancer — something the judge refuses to tell her.
It is also poetic how Kate, who finally “wins,” appears to be unhappy when the two meet three years later. On the other hand, Marine seems to have finally broken out of her constant bitterness after leaving the academy. She now appears free and is following her passion for experimental dance at an underground club. The innate connection between the two also remains as Kate cannot forget how she treated Marine, and Marine continues to use Kate’s bird story to inspire her choreography.
Why Did Ollie Kill Himself? Was it Marine’s Fault?
Ollie’s tragic death informs Marine’s character for most of the film, and halfway through, we find out that she also blames herself for his death. Marine’s mother apparently caught Marine and Ollie in a room as teenagers, making love, after which the young boy was so ashamed that he fell into using drugs and eventually jumped off a bridge. Before his death, Ollie and Marine were inseparable and also had a pact to become the greatest ballet dancers together.
At one point in the film, Marine tearfully reveals to Kate that on the day Ollie took his life, he tried to call her, but Marine didn’t pick up his call. In the voice message he left her, Ollie hinted that she had forgotten about their pact. This particular line weighs heavily on Marine and is also why she blames herself for his death. In addition, her mother still looks upon her with disgust and refuses to believe Marine when she tries to explain that she and Ollie were just dancing and not being intimate with each other.
It remains unclear what happened between Ollie and Marine, but she clearly carries the guilt of his death with her. However, the dancer is eventually able to break out of the cycle of pain. She does this by leaving behind traditional ballet, which she was practicing mainly to honor the memory of her brother and because she was forced into it by her overbearing parents.
What Does Marine’s Dance During the Selection Process Signify?
Marine’s dance recital during the final selection process for the grand prize leaves the judges and audience flabbergasted. Her father also gets up and leaves halfway through the performance. Marine’s movements are unlike any seen during regular ballet performances, and she repeatedly throws herself onto the hard ground rather painfully, making members of the audience gasp and wince uncomfortably.
One of the last moves she does is to cut an imaginary thread holding her up, which ties together her entire performance and reveals that she is mimicking a puppet. Earlier in the film, she mentions how her brother would call her a marionette, or string puppet, which is how Marine sometimes felt while doing ballet. However, Marine is a true artist who confines her skills by practicing traditional ballet, and therefore, her performance and final cutting of the string are highly symbolic.
Apart from implying that the traditions of ballet no longer tie her down, it also seems to hint that Marine is possibly laying the memory of her brother, Ollie, to rest. A few scenes later, this ties into when Marine rejects the award that she is in the running for and leaves the ballet academy.
Read More: Where Was Birds of Paradise Filmed?