In this cinematic venture, actress-turned-director Karen Moncrieff (‘The Dead Girl’) explores love, grief, and acceptance through the prism of horror and romance. The film stars Lee Pace and Carrie Coon as erstwhile couple Mark Bennett and Elizabeth Welles, whose marriage fell apart within a year after the death of their son Jacob (Sander Thomas) in a terrible car accident. Seven years pass, and they suddenly discover that Jacob is somehow back. ‘The Keeping Hours’ pulsates with a strong emotional core, mostly due to an impeccable script by Rebecca Sonnenshine and performances by both Lee and Coon. SPOILERS AHEAD.
The Keeping Hours Plot Synopsis
The film opens at a wedding. Mark and Elizabeth have been together for 8 years. About 5 years earlier, they had Jacob. Now, they think that it’s time to make their relationship official. The vows they make to each other are practical promises for the future. The need to show the depths of their feelings is non-existent. It’s evident in their actions and how others around them treat the couple. The scene then shifts several years later.
We are given a brisk and matter-of-fact exposition on what happened in the intermediate period in a conversation between Mark and his dementia-riddled father. Jacob died 7 years ago. Mark and Elizabeth divorced 6 years ago. We learn that Elizabeth has seemingly moved on since then. She has remarried and is helping her second husband, Smith, raise his 2 daughters. She has even published a book on her grief and journey to find happiness again, titled ‘Upwelling.’ On the other hand, Mark, now an attorney at a big firm, has slipped into depression and loneliness.
In their happier days, the couple lived in an old house that Mark was planning to fix but never did. After Jacob’s death, he purchased Elizabeth’s share in the house and had been renting out the place ever since. When the latest renters leave under mysterious circumstances, Mark goes back there to pick up some things before selling his former home. It is then that he sees Jacob.
He quickly concludes that what he is seeing is real and realizes that he can’t touch his son. Jacob tells him that he wants to see his mother, but bringing Elizabeth there takes some convincing on Mark’s part. Janice (Ana Ortiz), a psychic medium, warns the couple that their son doesn’t belong in the world of the living and urges them to find out why he is here. That question drives the story forward from then on.
There is an important subplot brewing on the side that revolves around the growing bond between Mark and Dash (Julian Latourelle), the son of Mark’s neighbor, Amy (Amy Smart). They meet when the boy accidentally hooks Mark while practicing with his fishing line. As the film progresses, that relationship develops and becomes almost as pivotal to Mark’s ultimate transition as the one between him and his own son.
The Keeping Hours Ending: Why is Jacob Back?
While this may be the most prevalent question in the movie, it’s hardly the one in the minds of either of his grieving parents. For all her outward show of overcoming the sense of insurmountable grief and rebuilding her life, Elizabeth is in no better position than her former husband. As she admits to Mark at one point, the book is a lie that she first told herself and then to the world. If Mark’s anguish is visible and loud, especially because of his drinking, Elizabeth has taught herself how to internalize it.
The accident happened on a rainy day. There was a dog on the road. Mark tried to avoid hitting it, and the car swerved. Jacob, who didn’t have the seatbelt on, hit the windshield. The film makes it clear that he didn’t suffer. There is even a scene involving a bird that dies instantly after hitting Jacob’s bedroom window. While the idea that their son didn’t suffer in his last moment offers a modicum of comfort to Mark and Elizabeth, it’s obviously not enough. She blames him for the accident, while he blames her for not carefully securing Jacob’s seatbelt.
More importantly, they blame themselves for their respective actions on that day. All that pain and misery takes a backseat when Jacob returns to them. They don’t want to consider why he is here. Mark quits his job and moves back into the house to be close to his son for however long Jacob is there with them. Elizabeth reacts angrily when Janice tells them to find out what brought Jacob back to the mortal world. The fact that he is here is enough for her, and she is unwilling to let him go ever again.
Throughout the film, Jacob keeps saying that he pushed the button. The first time he says it is when he stops the argument between Mark and Elizabeth with a supernatural outburst that shatters the door and several windows. It is only later that Jacob reveals to Mark that he pushed the button on his seatbelt that day, and his mother shouldn’t be blamed for it. When Mark replies that he doesn’t hold Elizabeth responsible for what happened, Jacob informs him that she does.
Jacob returned because he wanted to let his parents know the truth, so they would stop blaming themselves. He also knows when he leaves this time, his mother will be with him. His words startle Mark. He realizes that Elizabeth was lying earlier when she told him that she fainted because she stopped taking her depression medicine. He goes to confront her and learns that she has terminal leukemia.
Before his death, Jacob asked for a train set from his father. Mark purchases one after Jacob comes back. As soon it is delivered, Jacob starts assembling it. The train track serves as a metaphor for the journey that he knows that he and his mother will take soon. He appears before Elizabeth when she is on her deathbed at the hospital. The film shows that she can now embrace him, indicating that she has passed on as well.
What Will Mark Do Now?
As for Mark, Jacob’s return gives him a sense of closure. His marriage fell apart after his son’s death, and his life had been stuck in limbo since then. The time he spends with Elizabeth and Jacob brings happiness to him, despite how it ends. As they watch over Jacob, old feelings inevitably rush back for Mark and Elizabeth. She came to know about her diagnosis not long after marrying Smith.
After Smith finds out about her rekindled relationship with Mark, Elizabeth decides to spend the time she has left with Mark and Jacob. Mark gets a chance to say goodbye to both his wife and son. He is still filled with profound grief, but he is content knowing that there is an afterlife and Elizabeth and Jacob are together there. Since the fishing hook incident, Dash and Amy appear during several key moments in the film.
Mark teaching Dash how to throw a fishing line makes Jacob jealous. Later, Amy almost walks in on Mark and Elizabeth kissing each other. Through these scenes, the film establishes their roles in the narrative. In the closing scene, Dash invites Mark to his birthday. Mark accepts, surprising the boy. After finally saying farewell to his past, Mark is now ready to welcome his future, which will most likely involve Amy and Dash.
Read More: Is The Keeping Hours a True Story?