3 ways to explain The Beach Bum’s dreamy ending

Like The Beach Bum?

Join our movie club to get similar movie recommendations and stories delivered to your inbox every Friday.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

We hate bad email too, so we don’t send it or share your email with anyone.

Reader Interactions


  1. Damn this is a deeper reading of a movie tham I’ve ever had the pleasure to consume. Really a lot of food for thought… A buffet, especially with the way each possibility was so neatly lined out and wrapped in a bow. It gives the reader of your article the chance to believe for themselves what occurred. Thank you for writing this good sir.

  2. Just finished watching and I had thought ALL those thoughts about the ending. But also he says at the end, in his past self on the tv, “And that is what poetry is all about” or something like that lol. I interpreted it to mean it’s how YOU interpret it. After all that’s what poetry is all about!

  3. Theory #4. None of its real, and this is all the inner thoughts of a drunken homeless man. Each scene and character is another person he interacts with, Snoop is his dealer, Isla is his mistress, or a local prostitute. We see what he sees, but in reality, they aren’t rich, they’re all homeless or getting there. At the end of the film when he is floating in the boat, I imagine in the real world, him just sitting on a curb somewhere under and overpass, laughing while the traffic flies by in the background.

  4. He is a reverse conspiracy theorist. Life is there to make him happy. Everything that is happening around him is designed to make him happy. The story is just told from that perspective. It is straightforward as straightforward could be. You couldn’t have a movie like this without it being absurd and unbelievable. Strive for happiness and life will give you happiness. He burns the money as it is the drive of most peoples choices, ironically the entire reason he ended up on the journey he was on was for money.

  5. Wonderful analysis of the all the subtext- what’s interesting too is when Moondog goes to the boat at the end of the movie… he’s wearing a blue ‘fish-scale- dress but the FINAL shot of him still in the dinghy.. he’s wearing his classic yellow shirt….. just something I noticed…. cheers!

  6. It’s not real. He’s a broken down drunken stoner bum veering in and out of self delusional fantasies. He’s not a particularly nice person. He’s selfish, self obsessed and casually cruel. He tips horn playing buskers into the mire for cheap laughs. He is an embittered misanthrope who would “swallow up the World and see you all burn violently”. He frequently engages in other petty nastiness to his fellow human beings justifying his behaviour with the self righteous narcissism endemic in the society much of America has become. Long term drug abuse and chewing on the high hogs will do that to you. So will the cognitive dissonance formed from living a lie. Empathy for others often being the first casualty, with self proclaimed virtue being no substitute. As if so many think any of THAT matters.

    This film is not a celebration of freedom, self determination and the hippy ideal but rather a condemnation of the betrayal, through vanity and hypocritical self indulgence, of everything that those ideals promised. Vietnam is mentioned more than once. That is no accident. He might even be a Vet himself. It would make sense. You betrayed them just as you betrayed yourselves. It wasn’t just the horror of the war that broke America, it was also the ignorant complicity of masses useful tie dyed idiots aiding the advancement of tyranny as they scrabbled to signify virtue now rendered unto materialistic commodity.

    The concept of his fantasies is introduced gradually before the longer partial fantasy that forms the bulk of the movie prevails: Early in the film, after tripping around the bars being an annoying but slightly amusing drunken bum tolerated by people far nicer and far more coherent and creative than himself, he relaxes on his couch into the fantasy of being the driven writer on a yacht surrounded and fawned over by beautiful women. This is contrasted with the reality of his stoned bumbling in the arms of paid prostitutes.

    He is not the great poet, the great writer of his imagination. He is Brian Griffin. He spouts crappy poetry to those either nice enough to humour him, or too ignorant or impressionable to know any better. Near the start of the film the crowd watching the band are not acknowledging sublime artistry, they are humouring the local beach bum. Later in the film when he is looking back on the home movies of his glory days, the scant audience in the flickering flashbacks is, at best, indifferent to his inane ‘stream of consciousness’ witterings.
    Note the sceptical expressions on the faces of the young audience, and particularly the girl who suddenly finds herself more interested in her fingernails than the embarrassingly self aggrandising proclamations of the ‘great poet’. He is great only in his own self delusion. Kerouac he is not.

    The longer self glorifying fantasy trip starts and ends in the boat bobbing about just off the coast, drink in one hand, innocent kitten in the other; mind full of junk. There are few better metaphors for the state of modern America than this movie. It is a crossroads of history. Will you accept the tyranny of the crystal chalice, or grow up and bound free across the plains? Elect as you will, but honesty is all.

    • Very thoughtful and well-written. Are you saying then that you believe all of the status he believes he has is merely fantasy? That he is nothing more than an unknown beach bum that people tolerate? Or do you think he does have status, he’s just not that impressive?

    • Fantastic insight and writing. I’m with you all the way. He recites the same poem twice. Once in reality, to rowdy tourists in Havana and later in fantasy at the Pulitzer ceremony to a discerning and respectful audience.

  7. The whole movie is a comment on being an artist. Moondog is celebrated as a visionary yet obviously is producing phoned in nonsense. The end of the movie is burning a bunch of money which is in essence what the film is doing with its budget. In short, Harmony Korine is essentially moondog and examining himself and his intentions, especially working within a Hollywood framework in reality.

  8. Wow! Amazing write up!!! Now I need to watch this a few more times thinking about all of the alternatives other than straightforward.

  9. Fantastic review. I was skeptical of everything the entire time myself. I think it’s perfectly done so that the viewer can can what they want out of it.

    • Thank you! Yeah, it’s a very impressive movie that kind of sneaks up on you.

  10. In my opinion, I saw the end sequence as metaphorical for something like –‘Yes , MoonDog did spend all the fortune, and burned it all down , partying, fireworks.’
    And I think why the money sort of burns and floats down to the people watching the fireworks and they like grab it like tge way kids grab at bubbles, is to say MoonDog made the people he partied around have fun, and people kind of walked away with good memories. But at the end of the day moondog did moondog things like he fully understood why he wanted to be who he was for better or worse , and moonie accepted that and knew that, she just wanted him to write his book.

Write a response