Monkey Man Ending Explained: Swallowing The Son

This article contains massive spoilers for "Monkey Man."

The medium of cinema is brilliantly, endlessly malleable. It's an art form able to communicate so many perspectives, stories, emotions and the like, yet there are some genres that feel especially inherent to the medium. Action is undeniably one of these; even the most basic, average action movie combines elements of sound, cinematography, actors giving performances that are equal parts physical and vocal, music, choreography and more. In other words, it takes every element available to the filmmaker to construct a convincing, engaging action sequence, something that can't be exactly replicated in, say, a song, picture, or painting.

Perhaps this is one reason why so many action films dabble in myth: the very construction of an action film requires the establishment of a hyper-reality, so it follows that larger-than-life themes, tropes, and traditions would fit inside such a world. This is a quality of the action movie that Dev Patel, co-writer, star, and director of "Monkey Man," appears to understand and embrace wholeheartedly.

Most first-time feature filmmakers (Patel has only directed two short films previously) tend to be content with experimenting with the medium, using it as a calling card to show off what they can do. Patel isn't merely interested in stylistic exercises (though there are plenty of bravura shots in the movie), but rather seeks to use "Monkey Man" to get back to the core of what the action film can provide moviegoers. Influenced by the films of Bruce Lee (especially "The Big Boss," "Fist of Fury," and "Enter the Dragon"), Gareth Evans (of "The Raid" fame), and Korean thrillers (like Park Chan-wook's "Oldboy"), Patel makes "Monkey Man" a movie that embraces both the personal and political, the topical and evergreen, the street-level and the spiritual.

Monkeying around

Patel sets a grand, mythical stage for his gritty revenge thriller, as "Monkey Man" opens with a flashback to a young Kid (played by Jatin Malik) being told by his mother, Neela (Adithi Kalkunte), the legend of the deity known as Hanuman. Hanuman is a divine monkey figure whose story dates back to around 1200 BCE. Neela tells the Young Kid a tale of Hanuman from the poet Valmiki's Ramayana, in which Hanuman, overcome with hunger, believes he sees a juicy, ripe mango in the sky and swallows it, only to realize afterward that he'd just swallowed the sun. The gods, angry with Hanuman for trespassing in this manner, send Hanuman back to Earth, punishing him by taking away his powers.

In the present day fictional Indian city of Yatana (a Sanskrit word that can translate to either "struggle," "endeavor," or "vengeance"), the adult Kid (Patel) can certainly relate to how it feels to be a powerful god brought low. He's living in a slum, making ends meet by fighting in an underground fight club run by an unscrupulous South African, Tiger (Sharlto Copley). Performing under the guise of a character named Monkey Man, Kid not only wears a monkey mask and takes a dive to allow other fighters to win, but he isn't even paid his full fee unless Tiger sees him bleed in the ring.

However, Kid has bigger fish to fry. His scarred hands (which he gives others different explanations for) combined with brief, subjective flashbacks to a man with a mustache lighting a fire indicates that he has unfinished business with someone in town. After hiring street thieves to help with information, Kid makes his way into the exclusive, upscale establishment known as the Kings Club run by a crime boss called Queenie (Ashwini Kalsekar). Hired as a dishwasher and telling everyone his name is Bobby (which he takes from a brand of bleach), Kid's motives become clear as he uses his street connections to buy a gun from a local merchant. Turning down a flashy rifle that the salesman touts as being like "John Wick," Kid opts for a small pistol — "Something personal but effective," he stipulates.

Monkey see

It's not clear how much Kid knows about the Kings Club going into it, but there's a lot that he observes while there. Queenie not only has her hands in the local drug trade, using dealers like the boisterous Alphonso (Pitobash) to peddle substances, but seems to have literal binders full of women. Kid even witnesses Queenie bossing around a beautiful young woman, Sita (Sobhita Dhulipala), in which Queenie threatens to put the escort back on the street if she doesn't fall in line.

As Kid makes himself more valuable to both Queenie and Alphonso — allowing the latter to make extra cash by betting against Monkey Man during his underground bouts — he's given a promotion to waiter inside the club itself, which turns out to be a high-end brothel. As rich men from India and around the world literally order women off of menus, Kid sees Sita be aggressively groped in public by a man who threatens to get Kid fired for pouring red wine in a white wine glass. Later, during a smoke break in an alley, Sita and Kid bond over their mutual upbringing in the jungle, while Kid feeds a stray dog. "You'd better stop feeding that dog," Sita warns, explaining that doing so gives the pup hope that they can keep being fed each time they return to this alley.

Kid understands that hope is a luxury, something that people in Yatana either don't have or are manipulated by. As he and Alphonso ride around in the latter's flashy tuk tuk, Kid observes that the poor and homeless don't even see them passing by, and how the privileged aren't half as alive as those forced to struggle day by day. Surrounded by television ads and newspapers touting the holiness and humility of local celebrity guru Baba Shakti (Makarand Deshpande), Kid is increasingly disillusioned, focusing solely on his deadly mission of revenge.

Monkey do

Impatient and seething with growing indignity by working at Kings, Kid decides the time is now to claim his vengeance. Getting around the club's security is easy, as he gives his new doggy friend his pistol to smuggle into the alleyway while he walks through the metal detector with no troubles. Being granted access to the floor above the club's "restaurant," Kid spots his prey: the man with the mustache, Rana (Sikandar Kher), who is not only a corrupt police official but is currently being given a lap dance by Sita while, ironically, a remix of The Police's "Roxanne" blasts over the club's audio system.

Ducking into the bathroom in order to surreptitiously mix some bleach in with a complimentary dose of cocaine, Kid goes back into the club to offer the coke to Rana, who gladly accepts it while he and his men make fun of Alphonso and fondle the women. Once Rana's nose begins to bleed, he rushes off to the bathroom, where Kid follows, brandishing his pistol and pointing it at Rana's head. "Blessings from my mother," Kid tearfully intones, but unfortunately, a random patron in a nearby stall distracts him enough for Rana to gain the upper hand. After a brutal fight, Kid attempts to escape once the club's security bears down on the bathroom (a moment that involves a great Buster Keaton/Edgar Wright-esque pratfall where Kid tries to flee through a window that will not break), eventually making it outside the building.

Though Kid is able to steal Alphonso's tuk tuk, leading the police on a chase through Yatana, a crash leaves Kid vulnerable to the encroaching cops. Fortunately, he regains consciousness while being transported, handcuffed, inside a police van, fighting his way out of confinement and escaping to the city's rooftops. Eventually, he runs out of roofs, and his wounded body plummets into a river below.

The third gender

Fortunately, there's a higher power looking out for Kid's welfare, as he's saved by Alpha (Vipin Sharma) and their hijra compatriots, bringing him to their temple hideaway. If you're reading this and you're from a Western society, you may not have even heard of the hijra, who're often referred to as being a third gender. While their identity has some overlap with the communities that Western society is only just now beginning to accept — most notably transgender and non-binary people — the hijra have a long history in Hindu society. However, prejudice and oppression of the hijra are still an ongoing issue today, with India, Nepal, and Bangladesh only recognizing their equal rights as recently as 2014. Hijra also have strong religious connotations within Hinduism; as the film's press kit explains via a Harvard case study, "it is the third gender nature of hijras — including their sacrifice of their procreative ability to the goddess —that grants hijras this incredible religious power."

The confluence of spiritual, religious, and political is very much at the core of "Monkey Man," for on the one hand, the hijras help heal the righteous Kid from the brink of death, while on the other, Baba Shakti and Rana are staunch supporters of the Sovereign Party, a political party espousing "traditional" values while the poor and the minorities (like the hijra) are abused. To illustrate that point, while Kid is healing in their temple, the hijra are harassed by local officials, told that if they cannot afford a huge increase in rent for their temple, they will be evicted.

Vision quest

Although Kid's body heals quickly enough, Alpha realizes that his spirit is in need of salvation as well. Introducing Kid to the temple's ancestral tree, describing how every living thing has roots in the world that touch every other living thing (a philosophy that Kid also remembers Neela supporting), Alpha explains that the tree's roots contain a toxin that will reveal Kid's inner self. As Alpha puts it, Kid has been fighting only out of despair up to this point, searching for various ways to feel pain. "It's time to remember who you are," says Alpha, giving Kid a dose of the root.

Kid indeed remembers his tragic past, in which Rana (under orders from Baba Shakti) led his troops to Kid's village after the place had been declared a "holy land" and that everyone must move, or else. Seeing the villagers refuse to budge, Rana is given the go ahead to displace them by any means necessary, setting the village on fire while first sexually assaulting Neela and then setting her aflame. Kid's scars come not from an accident or any such thing, but from his attempting to put out the burning body of his mother with his bare hands.

Now that his purpose has been rediscovered, in which he'll be fighting not just for his mother's murder but for the injustices that Rana and Baba Shakti have done to the Earth and Yatana, Kid undergoes a "Rocky"-style training montage, shedding the defeated man he used to be and slowly becoming the embodiment of Hanuman like he's destined to be.

King of the ring

Of course, no hero (Hanuman included) can truly be a hero without an act of selflessness, and before Kid decides to take on his enemies, he aims to help those less fortunate than himself first. Returning to Tiger's fight club, he gets himself back in the ring, only this time he informs his street pals to bet on Monkey Man instead.

Donning the monkey mask once more, Kid easily trounces Tiger's champion, slowly winning the hearts of the crowd (which includes a supportive Alphonso). When a furious Tiger sends a huge bear of an opponent to decimate Monkey Man, Kid uses his wits as well as his skills, and the heart of the newly minted hero sees him through. As the crowd now cheers for Monkey Man, even Tiger reluctantly approves.

Shortly after the fight, Kid arranges for the winnings to be delivered to the hijra temple, thereby saving them from having to be evicted. With that good deed done, Kid begins to plan his final assault on Kings Club and those that dwell within it. Just as a young Kid saw his village put on a puppet show version of the Ramayana, in which Hanuman is sent to rescue the goddess Sita from the clutches of an evil king, Kid realizes that his quest is bigger and more righteous than he initially believed; now he's fighting with purpose.

A monkey in the lion's den

On the night that the Diwali festival begins (fittingly, a celebration of the victory of light over darkness) in Yatana, Kid makes his way into the Kings Club, which just so happens to be hosting a social event for the Sovereign Party that Rana and Baba Shakti are attending. Fighting his way in through the kitchen, Kid takes no prisoners as he ascends "Game of Death"-style up each floor of the building. At a moment when he finds himself outnumbered, he's heartened to see his hijra friends come to his aid, the group of them putting the hurt onto the club's goons.

A furious Queenie briefly gains the upper hand, however, guns blazing as she nearly takes Kid's head off. Fortunately, Sita brains Queenie with a serving tray, the woman getting her own revenge against her vicious pimp. After severing Queenie's thumb for future use, Kid travels up to the nightclub floor, encountering Rana for the final time in a room filled with reflective surfaces, a nod to the climax of "Enter the Dragon."

The vicious policeman doesn't fold easily, beating Kid to a pulp while taunting him about what he'd done to the man's village and mother. Kid's spirit is not so easily squashed, though, and he makes a comeback, brutally killing Rana, the evil man not able to continue to get up and fight the way Kid can.

Fire coming out of the monkey's head

Using Queenie's thumb to access the very top of the Kings Club castle, Kid emerges into the room of the final boss: Baba Shakti. The guru initially attempts to placate and belittle the Kid, referring to him as "my son," to which Kid replies "Don't call me son," refusing Shakti's assumed patriarchal role and obliquely referencing the way Hanuman isn't a son, but — in a way — the sun, having swallowed it whole.

Inferring that Kid is here on a purposeful quest to right wrongs, Baba Shakti tries another tactic, attempting to confuse the notion of morality by showing Kid his slippers. The footwear is engraved with a description which is an apology to Mother Earth for the wearer treading on Her, implying that merely existing on the Earth is doing harm. Of course, this is another gilded lie, as Baba Shakti's slippers actually contain small daggers, which the guru uses to stab Kid when he's momentarily distracted by a helicopter flying outside the building.

His focus and his heart clear, Kid is able to turn Baba Shakti's attack back around, using the guru's own weapons against him, stabbing him to death as the supposed holy man begs for mercy that the Kid will not grant. After the deed is done and justice has been served, a sense of peace and balance comes over the Kid, as he remembers his idyllic childhood days with his mother. The Kid, as Hanuman, has accomplished his task, swallowing the sun and allowing the triumph of light over darkness. Just as Hanuman loses his powers, the Kid appears to lose his life, collapsing to the ground as the prayer his mother taught him echoes through his head.

However, just as the legend of Hanuman continues to this day, so the exploits of the Kid, aka Monkey Man, will continue with the existence of this film. Patel has made his own action legend with "Monkey Man," and legends never die.