Fear (1996) Ending, Explained: Does David Die?

James Foley’s 1996 thriller, ‘Fear,’ packs a suspenseful punch that keeps its audience on the edge of their seats. Starring Reese Witherspoon, Mark Wahlberg, and Alyssa Milano, the film mixes genres to create an impactful and memorable film. Centered around the main characters, Nicole and David, the feature explores themes of lust, coming of age, vengeance, deceit, and rebellion.

Nicole and David meet at a club and are instantly infatuated with each other. They eventually fall in love. However, David’s obsession leads to the reveal of numerous toxic traits that ultimately lead to violence. While the film is direct in its approach when it comes to presenting information, some queries may still need to be addressed, especially about David’s fate. SPOILERS AHEAD

Fear Plot Synopsis

The film begins with a 16-year-old Nicole, who is introduced to viewers like it’s the beginning of a coming-of-age film. Along with Nicole, viewers are introduced to her best friends, Margo (Alyssa Milano) and Gary. She is introduced to David (Mark Wahlberg) at a club, and the couple instantly have an attraction towards each other. They gradually become closer and fall in love.

David, quite unhesitatingly, asks Nicole to be introduced to her family. He meets her father Steven, stepmother Laura, and little brother Toby. Steven immediately begins having doubts about David, presenting his suspicions to Nicole, who doesn’t pay him any heed. However, as the story progresses, David’s true traits of violence, manipulation, and deceit are revealed. They culminate into a chaotic and thrilling end that puts Nicole, her family, and Margo in fatal danger.

Fear Ending: Did David Survive the Fall?

The film culminates into a home-intruder horror segment where David and his group are trying to break into Nicole’s family home. In the end, David holds Steven, Nicole’s father, handcuffed and at gunpoint, justifying his actions to Nicole. In a twist of fate, Laura, Nicole’s stepmother, is able to retrieve the keys to the handcuff and uncuffs him. Steven then strikes David, and the two tussle, each lethally attacking the other. The scene ends with Steven overpowering David and pushing him out of a glass window on the second floor onto the pavement below.

The next shot depicts David landing on his back with blood dripping out of his mouth. It is meant to imply that David did indeed die in the fall, but the film never confirms it, as it ends in the next few seconds with ambulances and police vehicles at the scene. While a fall of that sort from the second floor could be fatal, David could have survived it, though with severe injuries.

However, if David did survive the fall, it wouldn’t likely end well for him. A head injury of that sort would knock anyone out for several hours, giving the police ample time to reach the scene before he could even try to make a run for it. Considering Nicole’s younger brother, Toby, had ingeniously called the police from a car phone, they were already likely to be on their way by the time the tussle between Steven and David broke out. It’s quite plausible to believe that the police reached right after David had been pushed out of the window. He would have been taken into custody the moment they arrived.

Is David a Psychopath?

While the term “psychopath” was coined more than a century ago, an influx of its usage can be traced back to the 50s. Apart from real-life incidents, the term has caught the eye of many authors, entertainers, and the media, crafting tales of fictional and non-fictional vigor. This gave birth to a rise in its pop culture supported by films and television revolving around murder mysteries and tales of detectives. Over the course of the next 30 years, its usage would die down; however, we got to see its uprise again in the 80s and 90s. This period picked up on the themes of violent crimes and psychopathic secrets, similar to the likes we get to see in ‘Fear.’

At the start of the film, David is perceived to be a man of kindness, good looks, and charm who effortlessly attracts Nicole. She admits that he isn’t what she expected him to be and calls him sweet for those traits. These, of course, are a polar contrast to the personalities we get to see David have at the end of the film. He is manipulative, deceitful, obsessed with Nicole, and violent. They are, from the surface, traits that a psychopath would have. However, the official film description depicts David as “a violent sociopath who sees Nicole as a possession.”

There are distinct differences between a sociopath and a psychopath. For an ill-informed individual, the difference may not seem very obvious. Sociopaths are characterized by their hot-headed nature, impulsive actions, and fits of anger and rage. Psychopaths also share these characteristics in a slightly different way. They are more cold-hearted, they fail to have genuine emotional attachments, and they pretend to care. From these characteristics alone, David can be judged as a combination of both. He sees Nicole as his prized possession and will do anything in his power to keep her, which includes murdering her family and even his own friends.

Apart from these traits, psychopaths can maintain a normal life as a cover for their criminal activity, which Steven, Nicole’s father, suspects when he goes to David’s home. He claims to his lawyer friend that David and his group run a local drug cartel. Steven also performed a background check, which, while it didn’t entirely prove his point, did bring up an insight about David’s affiliation with an institute. We’re not entirely certain what this insight means. However, it does seem plausible that David would be connected to juvenile rehabilitation institutions.

On the other hand, sociopaths recognize their actions but rationalize their behavior, just as David tries to make it up to Nicole, not once but a few times throughout the film. He even tries to rationalize with Steven about his behavior, even though they are aware of his violent and manipulative outbursts. Right at the end of the film, David even attempts to rationalize with Nicole about how Steven doesn’t give her the freedom she deserves, all of this while holding a gun to her father’s head.

While David is a fictional character whose actions have drastically been exaggerated for the big screen, some of his personality traits can very well be compared to real-life sociopaths and psychopaths, but only at a minute level. It is strongly suggested that the film and TV versions of psychopaths and sociopaths are inhumanly overstated and sometimes misinformed. The same is held for David, who, in this case, is a combination of both psychopath and sociopath.

Why did David kill Gary?

Gary is a supporting character in the movie who is Nicole and Margo’s best friend. The trio have a group of their own and can often be seen together in and around the school premises. Although Gary doesn’t play a pivotal role in the happenings of the film, he is considered an important character. Being Nicole’s best friend, the film implies that Gary and Nicole share a healthy platonic relationship. The introduction of David into Nicole’s life brings with it a separate set of risks for Gary.

David is obsessed with Nicole and sees her as a possession, and when he sees Gary hugging Nicole outside school at the end of the day, he gets overly protective of her. He grabs Gary, pushes him to the ground, and starts punching him, accidentally giving a black eye to Nicole in the process. She is obviously distraught at his actions and asks him never to see her again. While this is happening, David tries to justify his actions to Nicole, who has no intention of listening to him. Here, we see a glimpse of David’s toxic behavior through a short lens.

While his actions are absolutely unjustified, the film makes its viewers believe that David may still be of good character. He believed Gary to be a threat, viewing his and Nicole’s interaction as something that made her uncomfortable. As he judged the situation, he thought the best outcome would be if he stepped in and stopped Gary from indulging anymore. Furthermore, David may have been unaware of who Gary was at the time. While it is unconventional to think Nicole didn’t mention to David that Gary was her best friend, it is still plausible. In that sense, he saw an unknown boy hugging Nicole and, in his mind, convinced himself that this person was trouble.

This incident, of course, is only a shadow of the main entity. As the film progresses, David’s obsession with Nicole grows, and his sociopathic traits are well on their way to full disclosure. After Nicole finds out that David has been up to no good with her best friend, Margo, she makes up her mind that she will not see David. He surprises her at the school cafeteria one day. However, this time, Nicole doesn’t want anything to do with him. While Nicole tries to get away from David, Gary steps in and asserts himself. He protects Nicole from David’s advances, standing up to David and telling him to stop.

This enrages David, who is powerless in front of the other students. He walks away, intending to harm Gary further when the time is right. Later, Nicole and Gary say their goodbyes and leave school on their separate ways, while David is in the background watching Gary’s every move. As Gary leaves, he follows him into a forested area, and when the coast is clear, he confronts Gary. In typical villainous fashion, David begins recalling his past, which then turns into harmful threats. Gary begins running as soon as he feels threatened, and David chases him down until he pushes Gary to the ground and beats him to death.

From the moment David came across Gary, he saw him as a threat. A threat that could potentially take away his prized possession, Nicole. While in reality, that isn’t true. David’s obsession had become uncontrollable, and he had to make sure Nicole was his and his only. He intended to eliminate all male threats, one being Gary and the other being Nicole’s father, Steven. David’s psychotic traits are well and truly disclosed at this point. He means to do anything in his power to keep Nicole, even if that means murdering friends and family.

Read More: Fear: Is the Thriller Movie Inspired by Real Life?