Anatomy Of A Fall Ending Explained: Who did it?

The 2023 Palme d’Or winner, Anatomy Of A Fall, is a well-scripted French crime drama that follows the proceedings of a court case where a woman is tried for the murder of her husband, which she claims was a suicide. While the film doesn’t spell it out, it leans to one of the three possibilities – accident, suicide, murder. Let’s look at the elements from the movie to see which one fits best. Here’s the plot and ending of Anatomy Of A Fall explained; spoilers ahead.

Here’s the Film Exploder episode where dive into the three possibilities of what might have happened and narrow down on the one logical option:

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Here are links to the key aspects of the movie:

Anatomy Of A Fall: Quick Plot Summary

How did Daniel lose his eyesight?

One day, Samuel was lost in his book writing and got late to pick up Daniel from school. So he calls for a babysitter to bring him. She gets late, and Daniel ends up being hit by a bike, causing him to lose his eyesight. Samuel is flooded with guilt because of this.

What is Sandra and Samuel’s past?

They are a couple who met in London and decided to move to France to help reduce their cost of living. They are both writers. While Samuel is struggling with writer’s block and self-doubt, Sandra is a more successful writer as she gets her more straightforward ideas to publication.

Sandra is a bi-sexual and has had affairs with multiple women – to be precise, only one of them was an affair which she hid from her husband; with the others, she was open about it to him, and it was her coping with the grief of her son’s blindness.

The Case

One day, Daniel finds his father dead on the outside of the home, and given the nature of Samuel’s wounds and blood spatter analysis, Sandra becomes the prime suspect in a possible homicide. Ultimately, it comes down to Daniel’s testimony, which would decide his mother’s fate.

Daniel’s Testimony

Daniel is torn and asks to spend the night before his testimony away from his mother, and Sandra is devastated. The audience, too, is wondering if Daniel suspects his mom to have murdered his father. But then Daniel drugs his dog in an experiment and says that his father was suicidal.

Finally, Daniel’s testimony states that there was once a time when his dog smelled of vomit and was sluggish for days. When he hears his mother state in court that her husband once overdosed on aspirin and puked (in an attempt to commit suicide), Daniel claims to connect the event with his dog to Samuel’s vomit. He reproduces the state of his dog by overdosing it with aspirin.

Daniel also goes on to narrate the story of his dad driving him and the dog to a vet, where Samuel states that one day, his dog is going to die, and it is okay; Daniel would be fine. In court, Daniel states that he now understands that his father was really talking about himself and not the dog.

The Verdict

Because of this, Sandra is found not guilty. While both Sandra and Daniel are afraid to meet each other, they reconcile at the end of the movie when Sandra returns home.

Anatomy Of A Fall: Theory 1: Accident

The first theory is that Samuel leaned out of the attic and smashed his head on the balcony first and then on the outhouse and finally fell to the floor. This aligns with the spatter analysis. As stated during the court case, the DNA on the roof was washed away as the ice melted through the day.

What does this mean for Daniel’s testimony? Did he lie about his dog and the conversation he had with his father about the possible suicide? This could suggest that Daniel did what he could to save his mother, who he believes is innocent.

Anatomy Of A Fall: How did he die? – Theory 2: Suicide

The movie heavily leans towards the theory that Samuel was suicidal and attempted to end his life one time by overdosing on aspirin. While it wasn’t evident to Sandra, and at the time when she wanted to talk about finding white specks in Samuel’s vomit, he avoided the conversation.

This means Daniel is not lying in his testimony, and everything about his dog and the conversation with his father on the way to the vet was the truth, and Samuel ended his life.

Anatomy Of A Fall: Theory 3: Murder

Anatomy Of A Fall: Was it murder? Did she do it?

Sandra killed Samuel because she was angry with him for being a spineless writer who was afraid to complete any of his work and made the family’s life miserable by moving to a small town in France. She is also unable to forgive him for the accident that caused Daniel to go blind. This means Sandra struck Samuel on the balcony while she had him leaned over, and the strike to the head caused him to fall over and bleed out.

Since Daniel supported the event of his dad’s vomit in his testimony, this also means that Daniel knowingly lied about everything in court and has to figure out his new life with his mother, who is a murderer. His motives could have been that if his mom goes to jail, he’ll be orphaned, and so he picks the devil over the deep blue sea. We can also speculate that Sandra might re-kindle a missed relationship opportunity with her lawyer. I find this theory to be the weakest and most implausible.

Anatomy Of A Fall Ending Explained: How did the husband die?

The ending of Anatomy Of A Fall shows Daniel deciding the truth about his mother and then getting himself proof that corroborates his decision. His testimony in court leads to Sandra being declared not guilty, and the story ends as mother and son reconcile. No matter what really transpired, Daniel has seen and heard too much and it’s a long arduous path ahead for the two of them.

Let’s try and understand what really might have happened.

What we know from the film

Sandra and Samuel fought; it was merely a messy couple’s fight. They had tough lives and a blind child. Samuel was riddled with guilt, and this got him on a downward spiral, with creative block and self-pity. 

We see Sandra’s character in the film, and she doesn’t give off the vibes of a murderer. Instead, her past doesn’t give her reasons to be murderous. The event with her son was an accident. 

Daniel is a small child, and his narrations are a little unreliable. If you remember, he first claimed with confidence that he was outside when he heard his parents argue and later changed his statement to being inside.

Daniel is a scared child. He’s just lost his father, and he has sat through the entire trial, hearing every dirty detail. He’s come to discover sides of his parents that were hidden from him. All the facts presented are not conclusive enough to say his mother didn’t kill his dad. 

As Marge tells Daniel, he needs to believe in what might have happened, as he’ll never know for sure. His choices are to believe that his mother is a murderer and she’s locked away for a long, long time or believe his father, who is already dead, was suicidal, so he gets to have one parent. But he has a moral dilemma and can’t blatantly lie.

What might have actually happened

Daniels testimony - it was suicide

Assuming Samuel did overdose on aspirin but survived. He hasn’t repeated an attempt in six months, indicating that it was a spur-of-the-moment thing. And if we rule out Sandra suddenly turning murderous, we are left with the highest possibility that it was an accident.

To satisfy his moral needs and to make his testimony the ultimate truth (to himself), Daniel needs his own proof. He drugs the dog and connects it to an event many months ago. But Daniel is a small child who’s an inaccurate narrator. There is no evidence to say that the event with his dog was at the same time as his father’s alleged pill popping. It could have been at any other time. Even the memory of Daniel’s dad talking about how the dog will die one day was probably Samuel actually just talking about the dog.

But for Daniel, in his head, these two events help him make peace with the decision he’s made – that his mother is innocent. At the ending of Anatomy Of A Fall, since there is no proof for the “accident” theory, Daniel adopts the theory that is most plausible according to his evidence, and that is suicide. If not for this presentment of proof, there is nothing that could save Sandra.

A Curious Question

Is it my extremely limited knowledge, or were the professionals in this film who were to give their unbiased opinions about their respective subject matter constantly taking the side against Sandra? The judge even allowed the prosecutor to read paragraphs from Sandra’s work of fiction to put her in a negative light. I understand that for the sake of a film, some creative liberties are taken, but in this film, it felt a bit much, don’t you think?

That’s my take! What were your thoughts on the plot and ending of Anatomy Of A Fall? Drop your theories in the comments below.