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Spiderhead ending explained: how is it different to the short story?

The new Netflix dystopian thriller from Top Gun: Maverick director Joseph Kosinski is based on a short story by George Saunders.

SPIDERHEAD
Netflix
Published: Friday, 17th June 2022 at 9:47 am
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Few directors are having a better 2022 than Joseph Kosinski – the man responsible for helming megahit sequel Top Gun: Maverick, which has enjoyed both glowing critical reviews and incredible box office success.

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But that isn't Kosinski's only film to be released this summer, with his brand new movie Spiderhead landing on Netflix on Friday 17tth September 2022.

As with Top Gun: Maverick, Spiderhead sees the director team up with Miles Teller – with the impressive cast list also including Chris Hemsworth and Jurnee Smollett – but this is a very different beast to the Tom Cruise blockbuster.

Based on a short story titled Escape From Spiderhead by Man Booker Prize-winning author George Saunders, the dystopian thriller follows events inside a state-of-the-art penitentiary run by a mysterious man who experiments on his prisoners with mind-altering drugs.

And the film includes an interesting conclusion that deviates from the ending of the original short story – read on for everything you need to know.

Spiderhead ending explained

Spiderhead
Netflix

Spiderhead takes place inside an isolated state-of-the-art penitentiary run by Steve Abnesti (Hemsworth) – who puts his various inmates through assorted trials of mind-altering drugs in exchange for less severe sentences.

These drugs include one which creates the feeling of love, one which causes the subject to tell the truth etc, and the worst of them all is Darkenfloxx – a substance that causes the user unbearable pain.

Jeff – an inmate played by Teller – initially seems happy to go along with these experiments, which include forcing him to have sexual encounters with various other inmates thanks to the love drug, but his stance begins to change when he is asked to choose one of the other inmates to give a dose of Darkenfloxx to.

The situation is also complicated by the fact that he has begun to develop a relationship with another inmate, named Lizzy (Smollett), and when Abnesti insists that Jeff give a dose of Darkenfloxx to her, he hatches a plan.

With help from Abnesti's assistant Verlaine (Mark Paguio) he arranges for Abnesti to be given a dose instead, and while he is being tortured Jeff explains that he has discovered another of the drugs they'd been given – B6 – which makes the user obey whatever they are told to do.

This, Jeff says, is the real reason they were testing all the other drugs – and he forces Abnesti to admit that this drug was to be called Obediex, but that it hasn't worked well enough to get a "gold star" of approval.

Abnesti continues that for it to be considered a success, the drug would have had to ensure "complete obedience" – and this had not been the case, as Jeff had not administered the Darkenfloxx to someone he loved despite being told to.

Eventually, using both B6 and Darkenfloxx, Jeff convinces Abnesti to open the doors of the facility – but is not able to get him to hand over his knife, and a fight ensues.

Jeff gets away for long enough to rescue Lizzy – who had been about to kill herself due to the effects of Darkenfloxx – and the two of them manage to fight off the other inmates and escape on a boat.

Abnesti attempts to chase them in his plane, but crashes to his death – leaving Jeff and Lizzy free to make their escape.

How is the Spiderhead ending different to the short story?

The ending to Saunders' short story is rather different to the conclusion of the film – and is also far, far darker.

In the story – which was originally published in The New Yorker in 2010 – Jeff is also unhappy about choosing to give Darkenfloxx to one of the other inmates, but his response to the situation is different.

Realising that there is no way he can successfully escape – and unwilling to take part in the Darkenfloxx experiments any longer – he instead administers a lethal dose of Darkenfloxx to himself – therefore ending his life.

There are also several other differences between the film and the source material – for example, Lizzy does not appear at all in the short story, and there is no mention of B6.

Meanwhile, the reason for Jeff's imprisonment is also different: in the Saunders story, he killed his best friend with a brick whereas in the film he causes a drink driving incident which kills his love interest.

Spiderhead is streaming on Netflix. Check out more of our Film coverage or visit our TV Guide to see what's on tonight.

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