Based on the 1929 novel by Nella Larsen, the Netflix film Identity marks the directorial debut of actress Rebecca Hall. The name symbolizes the harsh judgment of white people who flaunt their ability to “pass” a person off as black or white.
To add an extra layer to the already rich storytelling, Rebecca Hall shoots scenes in monochrome. This is probably done to portray that in a prejudiced society, the ruling people “make” their judgments based on two bright colors. Little attention is paid to “gray” people or people of mixed race.
Irene and Claire, the film’s two protagonists, are mixed-race black women who appear white due to their European appearance. In a country divided between two races, these two women struggle to find their ultimate grounds. As such, the film explores the themes of identity, racism, and existentialism. In this article, you can read the explanation of the ending and find out how it all ends.
Two lives separated by shades
Claire was beautiful, friendly and charming. She fabricated her life with a fake identity and a bunch of lies. In Irene, Claire saw a woman who was happy and content with her skin. Maybe Claire was jealous, or maybe she wanted to live a carefree and modest life like Irene.
When Irene didn’t answer Claire’s letter, she came to Harlem looking for her. Irene tried to warn Claire of her visit as she already knew of John’s bigotry. But Claire was willing to take the risk. She invited herself to Irene’s Negro Welfare League dance event there and met her close friends. She played the victim card and captured Irene’s husband, Brian. Irene felt that a romance was going on between them, but she tried her best not to notice it.
When Claire wasn’t around, Brian would often talk about the issue of race in the country. In conversations, he always tried to convince Irene to leave the country and settle somewhere else, for example, in Brazil. However, Irene never intended to leave. During the fight, she noted that Brian was less pleased when Claire wasn’t around. Claire’s presence seemed to satisfy him.
After this argument, Irene felt emotionally devastated. She could predict the crack in her marriage, which was also depicted by the crack in the ceiling through Irene’s point of view.
Explanation of the ending “Identity”
Irene was convinced that Brian was having an affair with Claire and thus distanced herself from both of them. During the Christmas season, Irene went shopping with Feliz Freeland (Antoinette Crowe). On the street, she met John, who greeted Irene and stared at her black friend (Feliz). Irene ignored John’s look, pretending not to know him, and walked forward.
Irene believed that John had seen her with an obviously black woman and might have tried to connect the dots. She feared that John would suspect Claire’s secret identity and that the revelations would destroy their marriage. Irene immediately tried to call Claire to warn her, but suddenly changed her mind.
Later that evening, Brian and Irene attended Dave Friedland’s party with Claire. Dave’s apartment was on the sixth floor, and going up the stairs, Irene asked Claire what she would do if John found out about her secret escapes to the black party. Claire, without hesitation, said she would leave him and come to Harlem to live with Irene. With this key statement, Irene held back the fact that John already suspected Claire’s identity. She believed that after the divorce, Claire would use the victim card again and steal her husband forever.
During the party, John arrived at Dave’s apartment looking for Claire. John revealed that he had already been to the Redfield house and knew Claire’s secret. Claire walked over to Irene, who was standing near the open window. She looked at Irene as if she wanted to protect her.
John accused Claire of being a dirty liar and rushed over to her. Irene tried to protect Claire from John and reflexively pushed her away. Irene accidentally pushed Claire out the window.
When Claire first visited Irene’s house, she accidentally dropped a flower pot out of the window. Claire asked if she should come down. Symbolically, this scene hinted at the impending destruction Claire would bring to Irene’s life. And, probably, it will end with a “fall”.
The fatal fall led to Claire’s tragic death. The police arrived and Brian accused John of pushing Claire. The officer asked Irene to check, but she told the officer that Claire fell by accident.
At the end, the officers believed that Claire had died in an accident. The screen went white and the movie ended.