Red Lights Ending Explained: Is Simon Silver a Fraud?

Directed by Rodrigo Cortés, ‘Red Lights’ is a 2012 paranormal drama film starring Cillian Murphy, Sigourney Weaver, and Robert De Niro that explores and challenges the nature of faith. Psychologist Margaret Matheson and her physicist assistant, Tom Buckley, head the university department that explores logical reasoning behind alleged paranormal activity. The pair is known for their investigations against so-called mentalists and other extrasensory or psychic individuals. With an untarnished track record, Matheson and Buckley face the impossible when their paths cross with a world-renowned psychic, Simon Silver, who unearths an entirely unpredictable bag for the paranormal-hunting duo.

The plot builds the mystery surrounding Silver and his abilities up to the tense finale that brings a jarring conclusion to the story. As such, the film may leave viewers with a few questions. If so, here is everything you need to know about the ending of ‘Red Lights.’ SPOILERS AHEAD!

Red Lights Plot Synopsis

Throughout her thirty-year career as a professional paranormal skeptic, Dr. Margaret Matheson has yet to find a single alleged mentalist, psychic, or haunting that wasn’t a fraud. In her University class, Margaret teaches her students the same, uncovering several tricks people use to fake a variety of paranormal activity. Tom Buckley is her constant companion through it all, with the pair having a close mentor/mentee relationship that extends outside their professional lives. Although the university’s resident Paranormal Research expert, Paul Shackleton, consistently tries to convince Margaret to join forces with him and study the possibility of special abilities, Margaret is dogged in her rationalist beliefs. Therefore, she refuses to entertain the possibility of such a thing.

Margaret’s assistant, Tom, begins to take an interest in Simon Silver, an infamous psychic from the 60s who retired a couple of decades ago. The psychic gave up showbiz after one of his most persistent critics, Martin Weiner, a reporter, died of a heart attack during one of Silver’s shows. Even though the autopsy confirmed the reporter died of natural causes, the event stuck with Silver leading to his exit from the limelight. Nonetheless, Silver returns to perform another string of shows now.

Still, regardless of Tom’s interest in investigating Silver, Margaret refuses to go after him, claiming it would only end in disaster. As such, while Silver plans his tour, Margaret and Tom go after Leonard Palladino, a mentalist, with Sally Owens, one of their students who catches Tom’s attention. At the Columbus Theater, the trio monitors Palladino’s performance from a covert box and reveals the truth behind his schtick. The unveiling brings Margaret some good publicity, but a following appearance at a talk show with a pack of psychic believers ruins her progress.

Silver’s manager, Monica Hansen, and other professionals goad Margaret to frustration that results in her storming out of the talk show. Due to the same, Tom gets frantically upset about their ruined reputation and decides to go after Silver behind Margaret’s back. However, his investigation ends horribly when Silver somehow spots Tom despite the box’s hidden nature and his own blindness. Following the same, Tom’s equipment inexplicably beings to short-circuit, and the building’s windows break into pieces.

Worse yet, when Tom tries to reach out to Margaret, he finds her passed out on their office floor. Although Tom rushes Margaret to the hospital, she dies. After Margaret’s death, Tom becomes obsessed with uncovering Silver’s secret and starts stalking him, hoping to find some clues. During his private investigation, several perplexing things continuously happen around him, like dying birds, eerie nightmares, and a house that Tom would consider haunted if he didn’t know better. Nevertheless, when Tom discovers that Silver has agreed to an extensive scientific study helmed by Shackleton, he resolves to unveil Silver for the fraud Tom believes him to be.

Red Lights Endigng: Is Simon Silver a Fraud?

Towards the film’s second half, Tom becomes almost manically obsessed with catching Silver in his con. Tom and Margaret are incredibly passionate individuals who yearn for the truth. Since every psychic in their experience has been fake, they’re firm in their beliefs and scoff at anything otherwise. Essentially Margaret and Tom seem to believe whatever paranormal activity they encounter is staged and only care about finding out how the con artist is pulling it off.

Still, Margaret’s sour past with Silver prevents her from going after him. As such, her death only fuels Tom to learn the truth behind Silver’s monumental tricks even more. After he forces his way into Shackleton’s study, as an observer, he tries to keep track of everything and catch Silver in his lie. Nevertheless, the study begins and ends in weeks, but Tom fails to figure Silver out.

Silver partakes in a number of tests, including psychic photography and metal bending, among others. Although several tests fail to provide a conclusive or positive outcome, the scientists observe numerous inexplicable phenomena that aid in proving Silver’s legitimacy. Afterward, the committee takes some time to come to their decision, with the final verdict planned to come out on the same night as Silver’s last show of the tour. The coincidence seems too good to Tom, who’s already biased because of his firm beliefs.

Therefore, he employs the help of a student, Ben, to look through the hours-long footage of a test while Tom attends Silver’s show as a last-ditch effort. Eventually, Sally arrives at Tom’s office and helps Ben with his research. While observing the footage, Sally realizes that Silver tricked the system. The test revolved around Silver guessing the candidate’s number while they stayed in two completely disconnected booths.

The Booth Test farmed an unbelievable result with an impossible accuracy rate. However, Sally points out that the second hands in the candidate’s and Silver’s watches were moving perfectly in sync. Silver was able to guess the number correctly repeatedly with the help of a code that connected the second hand to the numbers.

The last puzzle piece solves itself when Ben and Sally realize that the only explanation for Silver being able to read the code in his blind-friendly watch is that Silver has been lying about his visual impairment. Meanwhile, Tom gets attacked by a man who beats him bloody.

As a result, Tom barges into Silver’s performance to confront him about his tricks outright. The entire theater rumbles during their confrontation, with lights flickering and glasses breaking. As such, Tom catches Silver off guard since the latter didn’t account for these events and has no explanation for them. Consequently, when Tom throws a quarter at Silver, the “psychic” catches it, proving his fake blindness in front of everyone. Silver has been a con man all along and uses elaborate tricks to make people believe in his powers.

Is Tom Buckley a Psychic?

Although Tom disproves Silver’s psychic abilities, his method to do so proposes an entirely new question about Tom’s own powers. Even though Margaret explains several paranormal activities throughout the film, making an entire building shake is no easy feat, especially since Tom doesn’t rig the place beforehand either. Ergo, the only explanation that remains is that Tom is a psychic himself.

Throughout the film, Sally and Margaret question Tom’s decision to devote his life as an intelligent physicist to uncover fraudulent paranormal activities. Tom dodges the question with Margaret, citing it’s what he wishes to do in life. However, when Sally asks, Tom tells her a story about a kid’s mother dying of stomach cancer. The mother didn’t detect the tumor before it became fatal because of her unshakable faith in a psychic who told her not to worry about it.

Tom wishes to convey a picture of himself as someone who doesn’t want fake psychics to be roaming about with the ability to ruin people’s lives. However, a few days later, Tom brings up his mother, who’s apparently alive in a conversation with Margaret. The same proves he had lied about his motives to cover a different truth.

The reason Tom helps Margaret and becomes her second-hand man is because he’s a psychic himself. Tom gets to interact with alleged psychics regularly by working with Margaret, hoping he can one day find someone like him. Therefore, at the story’s start, Tom is eager to make acquaintance with Traci, who claims to be a psychic. Likewise, the same also explains his obsession with Silver.

After Margaret’s death, the numerous eerie things happening around him, the dead birds, and the nightmares are all Tom’s own doing. Every inexplicable psychic thing that happens around Tom is actually his own powers manifesting in real life. Once Tom realizes Silver is a fake, he becomes hellbent on uncovering the latter’s lie. In order to do so, Tom ends up disclosing his own psychic abilities.

How Did Margaret Matheson Die?

Even though no one says it out loud, the narrative heavily insinuates the idea that Margaret’s death may have had something to do with Silver. Her death is weirdly similar to Silver’s previous rival, Weiner’s heart attack, which also garnered speculation about Silver’s involvement. However, two is still a coincidence and not a pattern.

Silver truly doesn’t have anything to do with Margaret’s death since he is a fraud with no actual powers. The psychologist dies of a vascular condition she had for a long time. Tom knows the same and only has one regret about her death: that he never revealed his identity as a psychic to her.

Margaret has a son, David, who fell when he was four years old. As a result, the boy went into a deep coma and has been on life support for decades. The event turned Margaret into an extreme skeptic, and she once confessed to Tom that if she had even the slightest belief that the paranormal existed, she would let David go because she would know there was an afterlife. Therefore, Tom regrets not sharing his abilities with Margaret, and in an effort to make up for it, he takes David off life support so that he can join his mother in the afterlife.

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