The Ending to 'Passing' Is Ambiguous — Let's Break It Down (SPOILERS)
Warning: Spoilers for Passing ahead.
The black and white film Passing initially premiered at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival and has now made its way to Netflix. This film follows two mixed-race women who each grapple with their racial identities in different ways; Irene (Tessa Thompson) identifies as Black and married a Black man, while Clare (Ruth Negga) "passes" as white and married a white man.
The film's final scenes focus on Clare's death following a falling out between the two women, but did Irene kill Clare?
What happens at the end of 'Passing'?
Passing is based largely on a novel by the same name published in 1929 and written by Nella Larsen — and the ending of both works are similar in that it's very ambiguous as to how Clare exactly died.
Irene's relationship with her husband becomes more and more fraught as she becomes convinced that he is having an affair with Clare. This jealousy is what leads Irene to tip off Clare's husband, Jack (Alexander Skarsgård), as to Clare's racial identity (which she has hidden from him).
In the novel, Irene is also clearly worried that were Jack to take action against Clare for hiding her racial identity from him, her husband could also leave her for Clare, resulting in more tension and animosity between the two.
While Clare, Irene, and Brian (André Holland) are out at a party, Jack interrupts them to confront Clare, calling her a "damned dirty n----r."
In her distress, Clare goes to Irene (who is standing next to an open window) for comfort, only to fall out of it to her death.
In the novel, it's unclear what exactly happened to Clare, whether she was pushed or if, in her distress, she tripped and fell to her death. It's also implied that another at the party may have pushed her out the window, leaving Irene in the clear, though again, it's unclear the exact circumstances that led to her death. All we see in the plot is a series of moments where Irene is upset about Clare's passing, though nothing very solid to confirm one way or another.
Did Irene kill Clare at the end of 'Passing'?
In both the novel and the film adaptation, it's never explicitly stated if Irene is responsible for Clare's death, though in literary discussions it is often concluded that Irene did, in fact, push Clare out the window.
The novel, specifically, describes Irene's final moments with Clare with "ferocity" as she runs across the room to her friend, painting her as though she's angered at her friend's seemingly perfect life.
It's this jealousy that many consider the catalyst for Irene's alleged killing of Clare. Couple that with her continued muttering that it was "an accident, a terrible accident," and many are led to believe that Irene caused Clare's death, even if she didn't actually intend to.
Really, this literary-work-turned-film is entirely up to the reader or watcher's interpretation, and there is no clear answer.
Passing is now available to stream on Netflix and in select theaters.