Black Box Explained (2020 Movie Ending Explained)

Black Box is a 2020 science-fiction psychological thriller written and directed by Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour, and this is his first full-length feature film as a director. The plot follows an amnesiac who’s struggling to recover his memories and opts for an experimental technique in desperation. The problem is, the memories he begins recollecting don’t appear to be his. The cast has Mamoudou Athie, Phylicia Rashad and Donald Elise Watkins in the leading roles. The story is intriguing, but if you’ve seen a lot of mind-bending movies, you’re probably going to guess what’s going on. Here’s the plot and ending of the movie Black Box explained; spoilers ahead.

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Here are links to the key aspects of the movie:

Black Box: Plot Explained

Who is Nolan, and what happened to him?

black box nolan ava

Nolan and his wife were part of a terrible car crash. His wife died on the spot, and Nolan was brought to the hospital in a comatose state and suspected of being braindead. Ava, their daughter, was not in the car at the time and is real mature about the situation and tries her best to be positive.

Who is Dr Lillian?

Dr Lillian has been experimenting on digitally storing a person’s consciousness and a concept that it can be restored inside another’s brain. However, her study has been theoretical and has not been approved for practical application.

Who is Thomas, and how did he die?

Thomas is Dr Lillian’s son who died by tumbling down the stairs at his apartment two years ago. He’s shown to be an abusive husband and father. Thomas regularly beat his wife, and in one such moment, his daughter tries to stop him. In his rage, he hit his daughter, and his wife retaliates by pushing him. Thomas falls down the stairs and is rushed to the hospital. He is declared dead, but before that, an EEG of his brain was taken and stored. Dr Lillian secretly copies his brain scan and transfers it to her device, the Black Box.

What did Dr Lillian do to Nolan?

Given Nolan was brought in and declared braindead, Dr Lillian decides that this is the perfect body to download Thomas’ consciousness, and she goes ahead with the procedure illegally. Nolan gains consciousness, or so it appears, but in fact, it is Thomas who has woken up. Nolan isn’t dead, but his consciousness is broken in is extremely weak.

Wait, who have we been seeing – Thomas or Nolan?

Thomas in Nolan

Short answer – Thomas is the prominent consciousness in Nolan’s mind.

Thomas’s consciousness inhabits another person’s brain, so his memories are not accessible to him yet. The procedure would be complete only when Thomas’ memories are wired back to his subconscious. Till then, Thomas (in Nolan’s body) is as good as an amnesiac. Given Thomas has no memories, including even his own identity, he ends up believing that he is Nolan and is trying to do his best to recollect his memories for the sake of Ava, who he thinks is his daughter.

Ava assumes that it is her father who is struggling to remember, so she’s very patient and supportive with him in the hope that her father’s memory will soon return.

What is the treatment Dr Lillian is conducting?

Black Box movie blurry faces

Dr Lillian has slyly been waiting to complete the procedure so that Thomas can be reconnected with his memories and take complete control of Nolan’s mind and body. Believing that he is Nolan, Thomas lands up at Dr Lillian’s office, seeking her help.

What is that creepy creature in the dream?

The creepy creature is Nolan’s broken subconscious, desperately trying to throw out Thomas’s parasitical consciousness. Dr Lillian lies by saying that the apparition is his own mind trying to protect him. Thomas begins connecting with his memories as the therapy progresses, but the faces are initially a blur. He is confused why the memories of his wedding and apartment don’t match the ones in the photo albums. The memory of the bruises on the faceless lady makes him wonder if he was an abusive husband. Nolan’s friend, Greg, rejects these claims as he knows Nolan was a good man. Eventually, Thomas takes control of Nolan’s mind by fully connecting with all of his memories. Dr Lillian is overjoyed to have her son back, and Thomas now becomes self-aware. He’s shocked to know that it has been two years since he died, and now somehow, he is alive in the body of another man.

Black Box Thomas' wife daughter

Thomas goes back to his wife and tries to patch things up with her. She’s dumbstruck because, for two years, she’s been happily living with her daughter and is glad Thomas is dead and gone. Her nightmare comes true with Nolan standing there claiming to be her deceased husband, Thomas. Within minutes, he goes back to being his abusive self, forcing himself in the house and demanding to meet his daughter. Thomas has not yet recollected that he fell and died because he was pushed down by his wife. Before Thomas can meet his daughter, he is quickly knocked unconscious by his wife and thrown out of the house.

How is Nolan back in front of Ava?

When Thomas goes unconscious, Nolan takes brief control of his mind and body and goes to Ava and Greg, where he feels safe. But soon, Thomas wakes up and drives away to meet his mother to tell her that he’s not in full control of his body and that he saw the creature in the reflection of his car window.

Killing the creature in the dreams

Dr Lillian says Thomas needs to face the creature and kill it to take complete control. She has a doubt that the apparition could be Nolan. She plugs Thomas into her machine, where he faces Nolan’s broken subconscious. By this time, Greg and Ava show up in Dr Lillian’s lab and try to stop whatever is going on. 

Initially, Thomas is surprised to find that the creature is Nolan, but Dr Lillian instructs Thomas to kill Nolan, and Thomas starts beating up Nolan’s broken subconscious. Just before he can kill him, Thomas remembers how he died – that he hit his little daughter and got pushed over by his wife. Thomas gives up and resigns to the fact that he was an abusive father and husband and that his family is happier without him. He exits the safe space of the subconscious and gets lost in the darkness. In the outside world, Nolan re-emerges and takes control of his mind and body. He does his secret handshake with his daughter as proof and leaves with Greg and Ava.

Black Box Ending Explained

Black Box Treatment

The ending of Black Box reveals that Dr Lillian’s intention was to put her son’s consciousness in Nolan’s mind and then get her son to kill whatever was remaining of Nolan’s subconscious. But remembering his abusive past and realizing why his wife is happier without him, Thomas recedes to the inner parts of Nolan’s mind and gets lost. Nolan gains complete control of his mind, returns to his daughter, and mourns his wife’s death but looks forward to being a great dad to his daughter. 

Greg ensures Dr Lillian is removed from the hospital for what she tried to do with Nolan. The final scene of Black Box shows that Dr Lillian uses the data dump of Thomas’ brain scan and resurrects him inside her device. Damn. With a mother like this, who needs the devil? Thomas gets endlessly experimented on. He can neither live nor can he fully die! Ouch.

What did you think of the movie Black Box and its ending? Do drop a comment in the section below.