In co-writer and director Michael Pearce’s thriller-drama film ‘Encounter,’ the narrative moves at a brisk pace and yet never fails to telegraph the nuances of a scene. After his remarkable outings in ‘Sound of Metal’ and ‘Mogul Mowgli,’ Riz Ahmed gives yet another superlative performance as the decorated military veteran Malik Khan, who believes that alien parasites (or non-terrestrial microorganisms, as he calls it), have come to Earth and taken control of the mind and body of most of the population. One night, he shows up at the home of his estranged wife and takes his two sons, Jay (Lucian-River Chauhan) and Bobby (Aditya Geddada), on the pretext of a road trip together. After a violent encounter with a racist police officer that almost leaves his sons shot, Malik confides to Jay and Bobby that taking them from their mother was a rescue mission. Here is everything you need to know about the ending of ‘Encounter.’ SPOILERS AHEAD.
Encounter Plot Synopsis
The film provides Malik’s background in fragments. He was an exemplary Marine, highly respected by his fellow soldiers. He did ten tours and received a Bronze Star for his service. However, after a day of gunfight, deaths, and bugs, Malik ended up assaulting his superior officer. He was then dishonorably discharged and spent the next two years in prison. Hattie (Octavia Spencer) is his parole officer, a kind and compassionate woman who is willing to go the extra mile for her clients.
After he is released from prison, Malik starts to believe that extra-terrestrial parasites have taken control of most of humanity. The possessed would have these alien organisms coming out of their eyes. Although he hasn’t seen his sons in a while, he continues to send them letters, in which he reiterates time and again that he has to keep fighting.
Piya (Janina Gavankar), Malik’s former wife, has a new man in her life, Dylan (Misha Collins), whom Jay doesn’t like. When Malik shows up at their home unannounced, Jay and Bobby are eager to join him on the road trip. They don’t question why their mother didn’t see them off. After encountering the racist cop, Bobby immediately demands to be taken home. Malik placates him and his older brother by telling them about the parasites and claiming this was a rescue mission.
The two boys, with fertile minds and uninhibited imagination, believe their father. Initially, the three of them try to make up for the lost time. There are occasional hiccups, but the travel is mostly peaceful. Piya and Dylan live in Oregon, and Malik tells Jay that they are heading to Nevada. As the journey continues, the boys, especially Jay, start to see cracks in their father’s story. During his absence, Malik has almost become a stranger to his sons, and he has no idea, or rather practice, in dealing with all the unpredictability of parenthood.
After a second violent encounter — this time with an older man whose car Malik steals — Jay takes charge. He leaves his injured father in a deserted town before venturing to a nearby gas station for supplies. It is during this visit that he learns the truth. The authorities are looking for them as they believe Malik kidnapped him and Bobby. He gets the chance to end the entire ordeal when the pharmacist he visited for the meds for his father sees blood in the money he gave him and comes asking if everything is alright. But Jay lies and says it is.
Encounter Ending: Why Does Malik Take His Sons?
For both Jay and Bobby, Malik’s sudden arrival is surprising but not unwelcome. When he tells them they are going on a road trip, the boys couldn’t be more ecstatic. They never realize that their father has left their mother and Dylan gagged and restrained in their garage. They are so enamored with the prospect of the trip that nothing else matters.
But as the film progresses and the initial euphoria subsides, the boys, especially Jay, start having their doubts. Unquestionably, they love their father, but it’s the first time they have seen him in years, and in that intermediate period, he has become somewhat of a stranger. Neither Jay nor Bobby has the natural and spontaneous relationship with Malik that other children do with their father. More emotionally and psychologically mature than his actual age, Jay has his share of doubts throughout the film but chooses to overlook them and believe what his father told him until the very moment when he has to confront the truth.
At the start of the film, there are three possible reasons as to why Malik takes his sons. The first one is that there is genuinely an invasion of alien parasites. Indeed, the film’s opening sequence makes you believe that you are watching a genre film with a similar plot as the short-lived CBS series ‘BrainDead.’ The film maintains this mystery until the boys start speaking about their mother’s recent ill health, and Malik figures out that Piya is pregnant.
Malik immediately calls Hattie and tells her what has happened. She is horrified by what he has done and is worried about him and the children. She calls the authorities, who find Piya and Dylan trapped in their garage. With this, the film does away with the science fiction aspect of the narrative and turns itself into a proper thriller drama.
The second possible reason is that Malik lied. He was frustrated and angry about not being able to see his children often and decided to abduct them from their mother to be with him. Given that parental kidnapping is one of the most common reasons that lead to these kinds of scenarios, the FBI investigators justifiably think that Malik has kidnapped his sons. However, this would have been true if Malik were indeed a family annihilator, people who kill several members of their families before killing themselves. But as the ending proves, he isn’t. So, the remaining possible reason, which is mental health, is the truth in this case.
One can guess that he has experienced immense tragedies during his ten tours as a Marine. We get an idea of what he endured on the battlefield from a conversation between Hattie and one of his former unit members. The experience with the bugs seems to have stayed with him and drastically affected his mental health.
The film never actually mentions the exact nature of his delusions because Malik’s condition is ultimately undiagnosed. But the film does hint that he is at least a borderline schizophrenic. His sense of reality is embroiled in hallucinations and delusions and his thoughts and actions are drastically erratic. He ardently believes that there is an invasion of alien parasites and always keeps cans of bugs spray with him. In some ways, he is a variation of a doomsday conspiracy theorist. But that doesn’t mean that being close to him is not potentially dangerous for his sons. When he learns Piya is pregnant, he starts the process of breaking out of his delusions, and it’s completed following the encounter with Dwight and Kurt, the two sons of the older man that Malik assaulted.
Why Does Jay Come with His Father?
While Jay tries to be as convincing as possible, the pharmacist doesn’t believe him, and after the boy leaves, the older man contacts the authorities. After returning to the empty house where he left Malik, Jay confronts his father and accuses him of lying. The sense of betrayal and heartbreak etched across his son’s face prompts Malik to acknowledge the truth about himself — he has severe mental health issues. This is when Dwight and Kurt show up with guns, intending to collect the bounty that has been issued on Malik. However, he subdues them and leaves them restrained.
Realizing that his sons are in mortal danger when they are with him, Malik contacts Piya to give her their current location before trying to leave his sons in a diner. Although Bobby stays behind, Jay follows his father and hides until Malik realizes that he is not alone in the car.
From the beginning, Jay has demonstrated maturity far beyond his age. He truly loves his father and now knows that he is struggling with his mental health. With the law enforcement of the entire country now looking for Malik, he correctly deduces where his father intends to do when he tries to leave him and Bobby behind. He then does what he thinks is his only course of action to save his father. He knows that if he is in the car, his father will not take any risk and provoke the authorities. Alternatively, the authorities will not shoot at his father if he is in the car with him.
As FBI agent Shepard West tells Hattie, Malik’s history and circumstances make him a potential family annihilator. But Hattie, who has known Malik for some time, vehemently refutes this. She knows how much Malik loves his sons and will not do anything that can potentially harm them.
Hattie is ultimately proven correct. Confronted by the authorities, Malik eventually chooses to live for his sons. He gives his gun to Jay, who steps out with it, spooking the law enforcement officer closing in on him. Malik realizes the danger his son is in and gets out of the car. He convinces Jay to drop the gun and come to him. The father and the son save each other, and Malik demonstrates that even though he is struggling with his mental health issues, the safety of his children is his biggest concern.
Read More: Where Was Encounter Filmed?