Swimming Pool (2003) Ending, Explained

In François Ozon’s ‘Swimming Pool’, nothing is as it seems. At first, the film comes off as a typical erotic thriller, luring you with its sensuous intrigue. But nearing its closing moments, it drops a big twist, which completely changes your perception of it. Although there can be quite a few interpretations of the film’s confusing plot and its ending, there’s only one that resolves almost all of its underlying mysteries and “absurdities.” So if you’ve watched the film, let’s dive into the true meaning of its ending. Spoilers Ahead!

Plot Summary

‘Swimming Pool’ centers around Sarah Morton, an uptight, middle-aged writer. She relentlessly ignores her fans, resents her editor John (also her ex-flame), and hates how her writing talent has now faded into nothing. Although quite popular, her editor John only perceives her as his old cash cow, while he shifts his focus onto new crime writers. When she visits John at his office in London, he tries to shoo her away by asking her to stay in his French villa. Although he states that he wants her to explore her knack for crime writing again, he wants to get rid of her. In these moments, Sarah craves his attention and even asks him if he’ll show up at the French home. He says that he has a daughter to look after but will still try. He lies, and even Sarah knows it.

To her surprise, moving into John’s villa does help. She sets up her laptop near a window facing the villa’s swimming pool and starts banging out a new detective novel, perhaps another money-grabbing book that would please John and make him money. But then her peaceful adobe is wholly destroyed when John’s daughter, Julie, shows up to stay with her. The sex-crazed, party animal of a daughter makes Sarah’s life a living hell. But soon, Sarah seemingly develops a strange liking for the girl and even starts writing about her. When Julie ends up killing a local waiter, Sarah even protects her like a mother by burying the man’s body. After this, she also seduces her gardener just to ensure he never discovers the body.

The bizarre yet typical storyline of the movie reaches its conclusion with Sarah heading back to London with a completed novel. When she shows her new manuscript to John, he dismisses it by calling it “ too psychological”. Obviously, he expected a generic detective thriller again. Sarah then discloses that another publisher has already published the book, and it’s now titled “The Swimming Pool.” In the closing moments of the film, while Sarah leaves John’s office, his daughter shows up. Strangely, the editor’s daughter isn’t the same person who Sarah met in France. She is, in fact, completely the opposite of the girl depicted earlier. So what exactly happened here?

The Ending, Explained: Who is the Real Julie?

To put it simply, the ending of the movie suggests that almost everything that happened in the French home was merely Sarah’s imagination. The entire film serves more as a tale of Sarah’s revenge on John and the exploration of her creative endeavors. In the opening scene itself, where Sarah tries to ignore a fan, it is established that she resents everything she had previously written. And if not that, she is done writing books about blood and sex that only serve as money grabbers. So when she arrives at John’s villa, she takes inspiration from it and devises an anti-crime thriller just to mock John and his expectations from her.

The Julie we see in the villa is nothing but a mere character of her book. Although the complete opposite of the real Julie we see in the end, the fictional Julie is just a reflection of Sarah’s frustrations, fantasies, and maybe even her youth. Julie’s promiscuous and careless behavior also alludes to how Sarah now perceives John. Among all the mundane men that Julie sleeps with, the last one turns out to be a local waiter, who Sarah keeps meeting time and again. He’s the same man she was attracted to in the initial moments of the film. And thus, she makes him another character of her story—a young, good-looking French man who is more attracted to her than a perfect French beauty.

There are also instances in the film which suggest that Julie is a mere reflection of Sarah’s past. She watches her with awe every time she brings men home and even steals her food. In another scene, Sarah warms up to Julie and claims that she has had her share of sex and alcohol in the past. Even towards the end, when she sleeps with the gardener just to prevent him from finding the dead body, she becomes an embodiment of Julie—a representation of her debauched past. There’s a minor plot point in the film—or should I say in Sarah’s fictional world—where Julie talks about her father burning off a book her mother had written. Julie recalls that her mother wrote a sentimental book, but her father did not appreciate it. Towards the end, when Julie heads south, she leaves her mother’s manuscript with Sarah, hoping that she would revive her mother’s work.

The whole idea behind the manuscript serves as a metaphor for Sarah’s real life. Similar to Julie’s mother, John only appreciates it when Sarah writes erotic crime fiction for him. But ultimately, Sarah decides to defy John for once and writes what she wants. As a result, by writing something sentimental, she revives the “burnt fictional manuscript” of her character’s mother. Several scenes of the movie also criticize the standard tropes of erotic crime fiction. The way Sarah simply sells herself to the gardener, crime scenes with no blood, and the appearance of sudden plot points during the film’s runtime—all these might seem like discrepancies in the movie. But they are Sarah’s way of showing how absurd typical crime fiction is. John eventually senses the satire in her writing, and that’s why he rejects her book. Unfortunately for him, it was something Sarah had expected. She has the last laugh.

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