Waterworld Ending, Explained

Kevin Reynolds’ 1995 post-apocalyptic action-adventure movie ‘Waterworld’ is a movie that you may or may not like, but it is not one you can shove aside. The epic nautical story takes us to a bleak future, where a nameless drifter — who goes by the Mariner — teams up with a woman and a child to embark upon a reluctant journey to find the mythical dry land.

Kevin Costner delivers a reticent performance against Jeanne Tripplehorn in the leading roles. A lavish budget and an outlandish ambiance make up for occasional glitches (a “waitress” in a world with no restaurants). If you need to brush up on the final moments of this retro-futuristic genre foray, let us take you to the troubled waters. SPOILERS AHEAD.

Waterworld Plot Synopsis

The polar ice caps have melted far ahead into the future, and humans now live like sea nomads in scattered groups. These groups primarily entail either Slavers or Smokers, while the lone sailors are called Drifters. The Mariner is such a drifter, roaming the endless oceans – after some acrobatics, he finds a lighter that does not work. Meanwhile, he meets a friendly drifter and learns about an atoll (a floating colony) eight days east. According to the code, something needs to be exchanged, but the drifter has it all.

At this juncture, a group of Smokers ambushes the Mariner’s ship while his sails are down, but the Mariner escapes the situation tactfully. He reaches the atoll, looking to trade 3.2 kilos of pure dirt against 124 chits (the new world’s currency). After making the exchange, the Mariner goes to the seedy bar of Helen to get two glasses of hydro, but an enforcer wants a drink too. The Mariner is not looking forward to entertaining guests, and the people find out that he has gills for ears and feet like fins. They take the Mariner for a monster and lock him up. Old Gregor comes to meet him near the cage, but he is not courageous enough to let him escape.

The following morning, when they are about to plunge the Mariner into a bog, the atoll faces a horde of Smokers from outside. With some help from Helen and Enola, the Mariner flees the scene while accepting to take them to the mythical dry land. Enola has a map drawn on her back leading to the dry land, and as the news spreads, the Deacon and his pack of Smokers want a piece of Enola. The ichthyic sapien is skeptical at first, but he comes to show his more humane side as the story trudges forward.

Waterworld Ending: How Did the World Get Submerged?

In the post-apocalyptic “Waterworld,” the polar ice caps have melted, and the sea levels have risen around 8200 meters, submerging most of the land underwater. Humans live in the oceans, but with limbs in place of fins, they are not cut out for living in the water. Therefore, humans still grow trees whenever and wherever they can and dream of dry land. Freshwater (called “hydro” in the mythical universe of the movie) and pure dirt are the rarest of commodities. But the prodigious child Enola and her visions give us some hope since people say that the tattoo engraved on her back is a map leading directly to the dry land.

The map is of immense value, and thus the Smokers and their leader, the Deacon, want Enola dead or alive. The Smokers keep chasing Enola, and when coerced, Helen comes clear about the map. She believes that the tattoo on Enola’s back would take them to the dry land, but the Mariner knows better. He takes her on an underwater trip to the supposed “dry land,” inhabitable cities submerged underwater.

After the tour, while Helen is still recovering from the view, they realize that the Deacon has hijacked the trimaran. The Smokers burn the boat, capture Enola, and take her to their rundown ship. In the meantime, the smoke from the burning ship attracts Old Gregor, and he comes to rescue the party. They head to another ship, sheltering survivors from the atoll.

According to Old Gregor, the unknown engravings on Enola’s back are numbers – latitudes and longitudes. Enola is nothing but trouble for the survivors, and they don’t want anything to do with her. The Mariner goes to the Smoker ship to rescue Enola. Meanwhile, Old Gregor has cracked the puzzle of the tattoo. The world has turned upside down.

Initially, we think that the post-apocalyptic world was created by global warming or some catastrophe orchestrated by humankind. However, the discovery made by Old Gregor changes the equation. The poles have altered positions, meaning the south pole is now the north pole and vice versa. This catastrophe is also probably the reason why the world is submerged underwater. The occurrence of the event would cause drastic changes in the planet’s geography, and this seems to be the incident that propelled the melting of the ice caps.

Where is the Dryland? Who Is the Family at The Dryland Cottage?

Fast-forwarding to the final moments, the Mariner wakes up in the aircraft and finds a seagull sitting on the rails. Seagulls indicate land, and he sees a mountain peeking through the clouds. Despite the unmovable skepticism of the Mariner, the dry land seemingly still exists. As they land on the island (presumably Mount Everest, considering the height), Old Gregor is delighted to find a fresh water source.

They advance in their ways, and the Atoll Enforcer stumbles upon an old hut. In the cabin, they find two skeletons, hand in hand, lying on a table. The pages on the table are painted with the same symbol and engravings as on Enola’s back. While the Atoll Enforcer suggests burying the skeletons in the dirt, Gregor thinks that the dead knew of their imminent fate. Enola comes into the cottage to take a closer look, and she cryptically says, “I’m home.”

The audiences may wonder who the family in the cottage is, and we are bound to speculate devoid of a concrete answer. However, the most plausible explanation is that the family at the dryland cottage is the family of Enola. She claims to have seen dryland several times, and in her simple drawings, we find traces of dryland objects and animals. Moreover, the tattoo on her back matches the illustrations found in the hut. Her genuine sadness following the discovery most likely indicates that the family was somehow related to Enola. From the extended cut, we come to know that the skeletons indeed belonged to Enola’s parents.

Does the Mariner Stay with Helen and Enola?

Although the Mariner, Helen, and Enola could have started a family of their own, natural selection has seemingly made it difficult for the Mariner to live on the ground. With gills under his ears and conjoined fingers, he is evolved as a new human for the new world. A mutant like him has no family because the humans are keen to ostracize him at first sight of the gills. That is why the Mariner parts his ways with the rest of the team at the penultimate moment. He finds a boat anchored at the shore and sets sail for the uncharted oceans. Meanwhile, Helen and Enola stay behind to reinhabit the “paradise lost.”

Read More: Where Was Waterworld Filmed?