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What is Anatomy of a Fall about?
Anatomy of a Fall is about storytelling. Specifically, the relationship between reality and fiction. The film, initially, frames this as the way in which Sandra uses reality in her fiction. But by the end of the movie we see how humans utilize fiction to construct their perceptions of reality. The whole trial is a demonstration of the way in which we make up stories to make sense of people and events. Each of the main characters, Sandra, Daniel, and Samuel, is an example of the stories we tell ourselves, for better or worse.
Movie Guide table of contents
- Sandra Voyter – Sandra Hüller
- Samuel Maleski – Samuel Theis
- Daniel Maleski – Milo Machado-Graner
- Vincent Renzi – Swann Arlaud
- Maître Nour Boudaoud – Saadia Bentaieb
- Marge – Jehnny Beth
- The Prosecutor – Antoine Reinartz
- Zoé Solidor – Camille Rutherford
- Written by – Justine Triet | Arthur harari
- Directed by – Justine Triet
The ending of Anatomy of a Fall explained
The end of Anatomy of a Fall begins following the conclusion of Sandra Voyter’s trial. Her son’s testimony caused the court to acquit. When she first calls home, Daniel isn’t ready to talk to her on the phone. Sandra goes to dinner with her attorneys. There’s a moment where she and Vincent have the room to themselves. She buries her head into his shoulder. He caresses her face. There’s something old and intimate between them.
Back at home, Daniel’s asleep. Marge says goodbye and there’s a moment where Sandra asks “Not staying over?” Marge leaves. Daniel wakes up and mother and son have a cathartic moment. They embrace. Cry.
We cut to Sandra entering Samuel’s office. She curls up on his bed. Snoop, the dog, joins her.
Did Sandra kill her husband?
You won’t like this answer but Samuel’s death is really just a MacGuffin that allows Triet to explore the idea of storytelling. That’s why Anatomy of a Fall doesn’t provide a clear answer. We are, like Daniel, supposed to choose and live with the choice.
This kind of philosophical ending isn’t common but does happen. The Lobster is one example, ending with viewers uncertain as to what choice the main character will make. It does so in order to challenge you to think about what decision you would make if you were in that situation.
The key scene in Anatomy of the Fall is the conversation between Marge and Daniel. Daniel, overwhelmed by events, asks his court-appointed handler what he should do. He really can’t decide if his mom is guilty or innocent. Marge doesn’t want to influence him, so simply gives him the advice that sometimes when we don’t know what to do, we just have to choose a version of events and believe it.
That isn’t just Marge talking to Daniel but Triet talking to the audience. It signals that we won’t get closure and will have to decide for ourselves what version of events we want to believe. Which ties back to the film’s main theme about the relationship between fiction and reality.
Triet told The Wrap: “But finding, in the end, this place of doubt was the moment that we knew we’d found the ending. And it’s articulated in that scene between the kid and his auxiliary guardian. The question of choice, plain and simple.”
It also sets up the question of how we live with doubt. Even though Sandra won’t face charges and is technically not guilty, will people believe her? Will Daniel believe her? Does she believe it herself? That’s the reason we have her speech about winning the case and not feeling very satisfied, like there’s no reward. Things just continue on. That’s true for the world at large—it keeps going—but when she goes home, she has to live with Daniel’s doubt. And under other circumstances, maybe Marge does “stay over”. But not when she’s also uncertain if Sandra is a murderer. Many other people in her life will feel the same, will distance themselves because they don’t know what’s true or not.
So this thing will haunt her for a long time. If you believe she’s guilty, that’s some form of justice. If you believe she’s innocent, it’s a form of tragedy.
But, really, did Sandra kill her husband?
Personally, I don’t think Sandra killed Samuel. It would be so sloppy. Sandra seemed pretty regimented. I imagine if she were to kill someone that, being a novelist, she would plan a little better. “But what if it was a crime of passion, spurred on by a fight, like the day before when she smacked him?” Sure. But would she really just leave the body for Daniel to find?
The other thing to consider is the dog.
Samuel and Snoop
The story that convinces the court to acquit Sandra comes from Daniel. He talks about riding with his dad to take Snoop to the vet after Snoop had fallen ill. And how Samuel began to prepare Daniel for the idea that Snoop might not survive and how to cope with something like that. He tells the court that he realized his father wasn’t just talking about the dog but about himself.
So you have this moment where Samuel and Snoop become metaphorically linked. Not every movie will do more with that but it can be a set-up, a technique that allows a narrative to establish a larger connection across the story as a whole rather than the single scene. The Banshees of Inisherin does something similar by setting the story during the Irish Civil War then having two former friends, who are Irish, fall into a conflict. Their fight ends up as a parable for the war. And we get several references to the war, even hearing the sounds of battle, in order to signal to audiences that the connection is there.
If Anatomy of the Fall only had Daniel’s story, then extending the connection between Samuel and Snoop would be a bit of a reach. But we have that final scene where Sandra ends up in the office bed where Samuel spent most nights. When Snoop joins her and Sandra cuddles the canine, it’s hard not to think about who Sandra would be with in that bed—Samuel.
So there we have two instances of a formal link between Samuel and Snoop. In storytelling, writers are generally trained to use the rule of three. Humans on a whole tend to feel satisfaction when things come in threes. There’s something to the rhythm of it. Knowing that it’s a popular, common technique in narrative means that the rule of three is something you should generally keep an eye out for. Especially when you notice two of something like we did with the Samuel and Snoop connection.
The third instance actually comes in the film’s opening scene. To understand that, we have to discuss another technique—opening summary.
Storytellers of a certain caliber tend to do a thing where the first scene of a story summarizes the story. In film, the summary is often an encapsulating image. On first watch, you don’t think much of it. On the second watch, there’s that ah-ha!
On the basic level, you have something like The Lion King where the first shot is of the rising sun. It’s not a coincidence that the film’s main theme and plot are about “the circle of life” and the cyclical nature of the world. A rising sun has metaphoric connotations that align with that concept.
Fight Club is a movie about someone’s identity crisis and self-perception in relation to the world. Again, not a coincidence that the film starts in the main character’s brain and travels past neurons and synapses and what have you only to come out a pore and arrive at a moment where Brad Pitt has a pistol in Edward Norton’s mouth. The weapon serves as a violent bridge between these two men who are actually the same person. That’s the whole story in a nutshell.
Parasite opens with a shot of a street-level window. In the foreground, inside the room, you see socks hanging from a little ceiling-fixture. Out the window is a street with shops and cars and people. The camera then lowers into the apartment and we see the main character on his phone, trying to connect to Wi-Fi. We soon find out the family had been stealing Wi-Fi from their neighbors. What that opening prepares us for is economic disparity. The basement apartment is indicative of the family’s station in the world—low. By the end of the movie, we know how much they had yearned for more. And the window is the promise that more is out there. But also a tease. Just because more is out there, doesn’t mean you’ll get to enjoy it.
With that in mind, what’s the first thing we see in Anatomy of a Fall?
It’s the staircase. A ball falls down the staircase. Snoop follows it. So you have something falling and Snoop. Snoop is the reason the thing fell. What else falls in the movie? Samuel. So the ball encapsulates the whole engine of the film. In and of itself, it’s just a cool thing to note. But. When we have the metaphor that connects Samuel and Snoop. Then the ending that puts Snoop in Samuel’s place on the bed. We should consider if the opening tells us something more.
The objective way of looking at it is just to acknowledge that the opening foreshadows Samuel’s fall. Nothing more, nothing less. But if you want to get subjective, you could try and build the argument that because Snoop serves as this metaphor for Samuel, and it’s Snoop who causes the ball to fall, it indicates Samuel jumped.
You don’t have to read that far into it. And I don’t think the movie wants to provide a definitive answer. But given the metaphor, it’s possible to argue/view the opening moment as a subtle indication of what really happened.
The themes and meaning of Anatomy of a Fall
The relationship between fiction and reality
The opening conversation between Sandra and the interviewer establishes Anatomy of a Fall’s main theme. The interview makes a point to ask about Sandra writing from experience and the way in which she mixes truth and fiction. Which is which.
This comes back into relevance during the trial, as the prosecutor attempts to read from Sandra’s novel as a way to claim she committed the murder, citing how previous novels were based on real events from her life and how her most recent features a character who thinks about killing her husband. Of course, the pushback is that Sandra is not her characters, that Stephen King isn’t a serial killer, etc. There’s even that quote from Sandra about how her job is to “cover the tracks so fiction can destroy reality.”
The idea also comes up in discussing Samuel’s recording of moments. Sandra mentions that she believed it was to gather material for a novel. It seemed that Samuel was someone who struggled to create stories, despite his desire. So he was recording real exchanges in the hopes he could convert them into fictional material. Similar to what Sandra did. Except Samuel didn’t seem to have the ability to bring such alchemy to fruition. And it tormented him.
So we have all that material that establishes a connection between fiction and reality, but through the lens of the way in which writers utilize reality in their fiction. But by introducing one side of the coin, it opens up the door for the opposite conversation—the way in which fiction influences reality.
And that’s the actual core of the movie. Because we don’t know what happened to Samuel, we are, like everyone else, left to figure it out based on bits and pieces of material. We take those things and try to reconstruct events. But the only way to do that is to tell a story. We substitute fiction for reality. That’s what the prosecutor does in telling his version of events. That’s what Sandra’s lawyer does in creating reasonable doubt. What story is more believable?
That brings us to Daniel. He’s in the same position as us, torn between what to believe. Did his mom do it? Or did his father jump? Marge’s advice is that when you have such doubt all you can do is make a choice and invent belief. And really accept that choice as reality. In court, Daniel even says that when he thinks about his mom committing the act that it doesn’t make sense to him. But when he thinks about his dad taking his own life, he could see it.
The implied twist is that the story in the car probably never happened. It’s a story Daniel told because he knew it would sway the court to acquit. And everyone believes it because based on the rest of the information—it makes sense. It sounds right. So the fiction becomes the reality. That’s something that we’re told before the trial, that it’s not what actually happened but what the court believes happened.
We see this concept at play in the fight between Samuel and Sandra. Samuel says he doesn’t have any time to write and blames Sandra for putting him in such a situation and that he wants to take back control. It’s a theory that Sandra not only deconstructs but absolutely shreds. He was, as another character says, a “project” guy. Someone who bogged himself down with different projects, starting many but struggling to finish any. Instead of facing the truth about himself, he blamed her. He created a story that allowed his ego to remain intact. We all do it. “If not for [blank], then I could finally [blank].” But often the hurdle isn’t as high as it seems. Or even there at all.
Sandra, on the other hand, has decided she will write. So she writes. It’s as simple as that for her. She obviously has hang ups and issues in other aspects of her life. But when it comes to being a writer, she made her choice. That’s her project. Not a million other things.
If this concept is still a bit confusing
Think about social media. The idea of “Instagram versus reality”. It’s become a trope for people to present their lives as perfect only for the reality to be far from it. Most of us have probably experienced a couple who gush about each other on socials only to break up and say all these horrible things about one another. There are famous examples, too, like Colleen Ballinger and Joshua Evans. Or Liza Koshy and David Dobrik, who had split then continued to make YouTube videos together for six months and everyone still thought they were happily together.
The image someone presents on social media is a story. And we often think of the story as reality. Especially if we don’t know the person all that well (or at all). You create a version of them in your head that can be completely different from who they really are. That’s the root of the idiom “never meet your heroes”. Because who we think someone is often differs from who they really are. And that doesn’t mean they’ll be bad. But rarely is someone what we think they’ll be. Even someone you know.
It’s kind of like Jerry on Parks and Recreation. At work, Jerry’s this bumbling guy who is a bit overweight and nice but kind of dumb and everyone just rolls their eyes at him. None of his coworkers think much of him and they believe that must be how others outside of the office feel. But they eventually find out that Jerry’s married to a beautiful woman (played by Christie Brinkley) and has three daughters who are smart, pretty, and wonderful. He actually has a really fulfilling, happy life.
People tend to be multifaceted. Who someone is around their family might not be who they are around their friends. Who they are at work might be different than who they are at home. The person being a loud drunk at an NFL game could actually be a tremendous parent who decided to indulge for a single afternoon. But because we only see them as the loud drunk, we make up a story about who they must be in every other facet of their life.
So those are some of the real-world equivalents of the relationship between fiction and reality and the stories we tell ourselves.
Anatomy of a Fall leaves viewers with a sense of doubt. Is Sandra guilty or not? And that mirrors real life. Often in cases like this, there isn’t closure. Many people treat a court’s ruling as if it’s the end-all, be-all. “They weren’t guilty? So they must be innocent.” But that’s not always the case.
Triet said to The Wrap: I was obsessed with the idea of how someone manages their life after a verdict. A happy verdict for them, let’s say. An acquittal, in the case of the movie, for Sandra. On one hand, she should celebrate this but on the other hand, I don’t know. What is going on after the happy ending? In reality, that’s a question. This woman, she doesn’t want to go home. She doesn’t want to face her child because it is not finished. The child did save her, in a way, but how do they actually feel about each other?
…Finding the ending was all about finding the heart of the film. It was about finding what deep questions of the entire intrigue were there. When we found this ending, the question that emerged and re-emerged, from all the bits that had been parsed out, was the question of doubt. Doubt and indecision and what you do with incertitude.
But we’re supposed to look at this not just in relation to the case but in terms of life in general. What do we do when we doubt? What do we choose to believe? How do we choose? Are we comfortable with doubt? If you were Daniel, could you just…go on with Sandra being your mom, despite your doubt? Are there versions of that in your own life? People you doubt but nonetheless you believe in the best version of who they are?
And what about the doubt of self? That’s what we saw with Samuel. He clearly struggled with trying to be a writer. And every failed attempt was a blow to the ego. How do you deal with the doubt that emerges? The questioning of self. Can you navigate it in a healthy way? Or does the stress build until something volcanic happens?
Why is the movie called Anatomy of a Fall?
There’s a movie from 1959 by Otto Preminger called Anatomy of a Murder. It’s also a courtroom drama. And based on a novel from 1952 by Robert Traver, who was actually Supreme Court Justice John Voelker. The novel was inspired by an actual case in which Voelker worked as a defense attorney. Which is kind of funny given Anatomy of a Fall’s thematic thrust about the relationship between reality and fiction.
The American Bar Association actually published a list of the 25 greatest legal films. They named Anatomy of a Murder as the 4th best—three was My Cousin Vinny, two was 12 Angry Men, and one was To Kill a Mockingbird.
In an interview with Variety, when asked about her inspiration, Triet said: Otto Preminger’s Anatomy of a Murder. I could even describe Anatomy of a Fall as an homage to Preminger’s film. It was one of the first criminal cases that was adapted into a film and while it seems classical and slow by today’s standards, it was a very modern at the time. I’ve seen it so many times and it’s a film that has strangely haunted me for the last 10 years.
Important motifs in Anatomy of a Fall
Snoop often serves as a metaphor for Samuel. The first direct reference is the story Daniel tells the court, where Samuel explains how Snoop might actually be tired of caring for others and so death could be a relief, with the implication being that Samuel was talking about himself. The second reference comes when Sandra curls up in Samuel’s bed and Snoop joins her, taking the place of Samuel. With those instances in mind, the opening scene where Snoop drops a ball down the stairs seems to foreshadow Samuel’s fall a few minutes later.
There are many instances of characters talking about the way in which reality inspires fiction, all of which set up the subtle, nuanced discussion of the way in which fiction inspires reality.
“P.I.M.P” by 50 Cent
This is the song Samuel blares on the day of his death. If you were alive in the early 00s, then you probably heard this song 100 times. Probably more. It was everywhere. So the lyrics come through even if the version used in the movie is acoustic.
When you look at the lyrics, they’re very…male…masculine.
I don’t know what you heard about me/but a b*tch can’t get a dollar out of me/No cadillac, no perms, you can’t see/that I’m a motherf***in’ P.I.M.P
Much of the song focuses on 50 Cent’s male superiority and the way in which this woman fawns all over him but he stays above it and is constantly dominant in relation to any woman in his life.
Early in the movie, it’s a strange, almost comedic choice that can seem pretty harmless. But later in the film it comes out how emasculated Samuel feels by Sandra. Her artistic success. Her cheating. With that context, the song starts to feel far from innocent. Instead, it’s quite a hissy fit. But it certainly sets the stage for the feminist dynamics that Anatomy of a Fall makes a point to explore.
Questions & answers about Anatomy of a Fall
Why Did Daniel give Snoop aspirin?
So everyone was pretty doubtful when Sandra first mentioned remembering a time when she found Samuel passed out and vomit was on the floor with some white foam and there were blister packs in the trash and how maybe that was a suicide attempt. The note I wrote down was “pill theory – lol”. How could anyone believe it? Samuel’s therapist calls out the idea as preposterous. It reeks of Sandra trying to create reasonable doubt.
Except Daniel remembers Snoop being sick. And wonders if maybe it’s because the dog had licked up the vomit that had the pills. So, he tests out the theory by giving Snoop more pills. It’s a psychotic thing to do but the kid was desperate to try and figure out whether or not his mom killed his dad.
Did Daniel kill his dad?
During the press tour, Triet did say they had tried writing a few different endings, including ones with some twists. I imagine Daniel committing the crime was on the table, at some point. But, no, there’s no implication of that in the movie. We purposefully see him away from the house.
Where does Anatomy of a Fall take place?
Grenoble. It’s in the southeast portion of France, closer to the Alps, which is why we see the towering mountains. The house they’re in is called a “chalet”. It’s a style of house that’s popular in mountainous terrain. If you close your eyes and picture a house you’d rent on a ski vacation—that’s a chalet.
What song was Samuel playing?
“P.I.M.P” by 50 Cent, an acoustic version by Bacao Rhythm & Steel Band.
Why did Samuel play the music so loudly?
Sandra did say that Samuel often played really loud music. Daniel didn’t say otherwise. So we can assume that was probably true. I’ll have to check this when the movie is available to rent, but I had the impression Samuel was a musician? So loud music being part of his life makes sense.
Is Anatomy of a Fall based on a true story?
No, Anatomy of a Fall isn’t based on a true story but Triet told press that the Amanda Knox trial was definitely a source of inspiration.
If you don’t remember the Amanda Knox trial, it was a huge topic from 2007 to 2011, concluding in 2015. Knox was studying abroad in Italy and lived in this suite with a few other students. ONe of them, Meredith Kercher, ended up murdered. For no good reason, Italian authorities decided Knox had to be responsible and arrested her and her boyfriend (of less than a week). They were held in prison for a year before being found guilty. Even though the police had already arrested Rudy Guede for the murder, and had scientific proof it was Guede, and the court had sentenced Guede to 30 years for the murder. Somehow Knox was still also found guilty.
It took three years of appeals before the court finally acquitted. But for some insane reason, hearings continued on multiple levels until, four years later, it reached the Italian Supreme court. They gave a full exoneration. In total, Knox spent four years in jail.
Was the dog okay? Did they really give it aspirin?
Triet answered this in that interview with The Wrap:
It was the most difficult scene in the movie, especially for the actor and the crew. The dog had been trained how to look a certain way so that he appeared to be sick. The dog’s vomit is all fake and we added it in post-production with CGI.
The dog was really amazing. But despite the very good training, a dog will still react to heightened emotional states in humans. So how do we get the kid to act in the way we need without having the dog leap up to help the distressed child? So that is what the training was for.
And the dog was actually not in pain?
No, no, of course not. On set, at all times, there was a big team for the dog. Everyone was so careful with [the] dog, all the time. He’s the mascot of our movie. And I love him. He’s a border collie and we chose him because of his energy.
What’s the dog’s real name?
Messi! So Anatomy of a Fall one the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. And Messi won the top award at the Palm Dog. The Hollywood Reporter did a story on it.
Now it’s your turn
Have more unanswered questions about Anatomy of a Fall? Are there themes or motifs we missed? Is there more to explain about the ending? Please post your questions and thoughts in the comments section! We’ll do our best to address every one of them. If we like what you have to say, you could become part of our movie guide!