The Mill Ending, Explained: Is Joe Terminated?

Directed by Sean King O’Grady, ‘The Mill’ is a psychological thriller film written by Jeffrey David Thomas and starring Lil Rel Howery (‘Vacation Friends‘) in the lead role. It tells the story of Joe Stevens (Howery), a business manager working for a larger corporation who is imprisoned in a cell with an old grist mill. As a result, Joe is forced to work at the mill and meet the arduous requirements of those in power. However, when Joe learns the true nature of the prison and the reasons behind his punishment, he is forced to make an important choice. If you are wondering what Joe chooses, here is everything you need to know about the ending of ‘The Mill.’ SPOILERS AHEAD!

The Mill Plot Synopsis

‘The Mill’ follows Joe Stevens, a manager at Mallard, who wakes up to find himself in an open-air prison cell. Joe is confused by his situation and tries to seek help. However, he is soon informed that he is in the cell because of his inefficiency at work. An artificial intelligence system called Mallard informs Joe that his performance has dipped in recent months while his personal time has tripled. As a result, he must undergo the excruciating program to rediscover a sense of gratitude and commitment to his work.

Joe tries to escape the prison but to no avail. His neighbor informs him that Mallard built the place to challenge their employees and is inescapable. The employees must do what they are asked or risk being terminated. The AI talks Joe through turning the old grist mill in his prison. He will get one point for completing one revolution. At the end of a working day, the person with the least points will be terminated. Joe initially struggles to do the physically intensive work.

Joe reveals to his neighbor that his wife is pregnant and expecting to deliver their son soon. However, the neighbor insists the only way to survive is to do the work. Joe quickly burns himself out by overworking, despite the neighbor warning him against it. As a reward, he is shown a video of his wife delivering their son. Desperate to reunite with his family, Joe asks his neighbor about Alex, a legend of the prison who seemingly escaped the excruciating work routine of the mill. With the neighbor’s instruction, Joe uses a pen given to him for his good performance to carve a hole in the wall.

Joe escapes but is caught by guards while running away through the tunnels underneath the prison. Joe once again finds himself in the cell, and the neighbor is punished for helping Joe. At the same time, Joe is also penalized for trying to escape and must do twice the work to score one point. Furthermore, the Mallard AI raises the daily quota to 1000 revolutions, enraging everyone in the prison. However, Joe deduces that since rule-following algorithms control the prison, they cannot terminate anyone if no one works.

Joe’s plan seemingly works, but with just minutes left, he is informed that failing to meet the daily will also result in termination. Joe’s neighbor reveals his real name is Alex, and he manages to escape the prison only to be caught and brought back. As Alex prepares to be terminated, Joe rebels against the system and refuses to work. Therefore, the AI threatens Joe by showing him footage of his wife and son. With no other moves left to play, Joe refuses to work and faces termination.

The Mill Ending: Does Joe Leave the Mill? Is He Terminated?

After Joe runs out of methods to escape the mill, he rebels against Mallard and refuses to work. Joe is warned that he will be terminated if he does not work. However, Joe sticks by his choice despite the AI giving him a second chance based on his previous good performances. Moreover, the video of the family shown to Joe as a means to motivate him only adds to his frustration about being stuck in prison. Joe is furious and starts cursing Mallard, resulting in the AI announcing the termination of his employment.

However, termination from the company also means death since its employees are hired for life. The HR members and a security guard are sent to terminate Joe. However, Joe is surprised to learn that the guard is none other than his neighbor, who was pretending to help him escape. Joe attacks the guard when the latter boasts about being promoted and taking Joe’s place at work and in his personal life. When the guard fails to terminate Joe, the AI offers to revoke Joe’s termination if he terminates the guard. However, Joe refuses to kill the guard, claiming he is not a monster.

Ultimately, Joe is suddenly pulled out of the prison and wakes him inside the HR office at his workplace. Johnny, his HR companion, who was acting as “Alex” and the guard, reveals Joe had been in a simulation all along. Alex explains the nuances of the simulation and reveals Joe performed exceptionally well in the program. The film ends with Joe receiving a promotion after demonstrating leadership skills and out-of-the-box thinking during his time in the mill. However, Joe is scarred by his experiences and resolves to burn down Mallard.

How Did Joe End Up in the Mill?

Initially, it is revealed that Joe is expecting a son with his wife, Kate. As a result, he has taken more time off work to tend to the responsibilities of becoming a father. Meanwhile, Joe’s professional output declined, imprisoning him in the mill. The mill offers an intensive and excruciating program that increases an employee’s productivity. However, the film’s climax reveals that the information given to Joe about the nature of the mill is not entirely true.

Ultimately, Joe learns that he signed up for a special and experimental program developed by Mallard to test their employees. The program comprises Joe entering a simulation designed to test the employees in multiple ways. In the final moments, Johnny, the HR companion, explains the reality to Joe. It is implied that Joe was looking for a promotion. With a child on the way, he wanted a bigger salary and better perks to ensure he could provide a comfortable lifestyle for his son. As a result, irrespective of the circumstances Joe faces or the reality-bending nature of his imprisonment at the mill, Joe ends up there because of his desire for a better lifestyle for himself and his family.

Does Joe Reunite With His Family?

Throughout the film, Joe is motivated by a strong desire to reunite with his family. As a result, he reluctantly agrees to play by Mallard’s rules. Joe works hard at the mill to ensure he is not terminated. However, he is treated poorly by Mallard and soon realizes that he has been sacrificing his personal happiness for the company’s sake. Ultimately, when Joe is presented with the chance to kill the security guard and further his career, he refuses. Joe rants about his sacrifices and realizes he needs to be with his family.

After his experiences in the mill, Joe can longer follow his blind pursuit of wealth and lifestyle. However, when Joe is pulled out of the simulation, he conforms to Mallard’s toxic standards of ideal employee performance and work culture by accepting the promotion. He calls his wife and informs her that he will be working late. However, Joe then turns to the camera and vows to burn down the company. Joe’s experiences in the mill teach him that there is no end to the company’s expectations of its employees. Joe decides he will no longer partake in Mallard’s charade with his son on the way. However, since the company employs him for life, Joe must burn it down to free himself from its tyranny and truly reunite with his family.

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