Buster’s Mal Heart Explained (What Did It All Mean?)

Buster’s Mal Heart is a 2016 psychological drama written and directed by Sarah Adina Smith, starring Rami Malek as the leading actor. The story follows a night manager who is one day approached by a mysterious man who claims to be living outside the system with no identity. The film leaves us far too much to think about and debate, so let’s go through the plot and all the theories that could help analyze it. Here’s the plot and ending of Buster’s Mal Heart; spoiler’s ahead.

In this episode of the Film Exploder podcast we take a deep dive into Buster’s Mal Heart:

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Here are links to the key aspects of the movie:

What is Y2K?

Given that Buster’s Mal Heart is set in the backdrop of Y2K, let’s talk about it quickly. Computers started getting used for data storage excessively in the 70s. And when I say the 70s, I mean the 1970s because it is obvious. But not to a computer. Back in the day, the dates were all stored with just two digits for the year. So 80 meant 1980, and 99 meant 1999. With the birth of the Year 2000 or Y2K, the date entered would be 00, which would be interpreted as 1900 and mess everything up. As grave as this sounded, this was identified and tackled worldwide and didn’t really amount to any serious issues when 2000 was born; people just had regular New Year parties.

Buster’s Mal Heart: Plot Explained

Let’s do a quick overview of the movie and its characters before we discuss theories about what actually happened. 

Buster’s Mal Heart is the story of Jonah, a night manager at a hotel who trusts a man to stay at the hotel and, in turn, ends up losing his wife and child, is wanted for murder and is finally tracked down as Buster, a local home invader.

Jonah’s Story

It all begins with Jonah struggling at his job as a night manager. He’s stressed, has a toxic boss, and is unable to spend time with his family, especially his daughter. One day, a mysterious man shows up asking for a room but refuses to provide an ID or a Credit Card. Jonah entertains him and eventually allows him to stay. This person declares he’s the last free man, responsible for the fabric of life and works outside the system. He also mentions an event called the Inversion coming, which will send people in the reverse direction of time and bring chaos. The two collaborate to steal from the guests in other rooms.

Last free man Mal Heart movie

Instead of fixing Jonah’s working hours, his boss suggests that Jonah’s family have a weekend staycation at the hotel, and so they do. The last free man shows up and requests a room again, and this time, Jonah allocates the room adjacent to his family. Unfortunately, the man kills Jonah’s family and disappears. When the police investigate, they don’t see the last free man in any security footage. Jonah makes a run for it and, at a crossroad, physically splits into two and heads both down and uphill.

Buster’s Story

Alongside Jonah’s story, we see the life of Buster, who is homeless and has been invading empty homes and living in them. He’s considered a local menace, and the authorities are tracking him down. Buster is seen saying the same bizarre things that the last man alive tells Jonah. In the end, the authorities corner Buster in his cave and fire at him, only to find that there is no dead body.

Adrift At Sea

The third storyline that we see parallel to the other two tracks is the life of Buster, who has been lost at sea for a very long time. He does his best to stay alive and is finally joined by home-invading Buster after he’s shot at by the cops. After this, the boat gets sucked into a revered wormhole and Buster is thrown out as young Jonah on a beach with what appears to be his family behind him.

Buster’s Mal Heart Theory 1: It’s All In Jonah’s Head

One of the most obvious possibilities is that Jonah was overworked and overstressed, and his mind eventually snapped. He imagines the last free man, proven by the fact that he is not in any of the security footage. This means Jonah was stealing from the various residents. This also means that Jonah kills his wife and kid during their staycation and doesn’t even realize he’s done it. Once confronted by the cops, he makes a run for it and escapes and lives as a recluse, breaking into homes. He is given the name Buster by the local news, but no one realizes that Buster and Jonah are the same person. Finally, he’s cornered and gunned down by the authorities.

Buster’s Mal Heart Theory 2: The Inversion Is Real

The other possibility is that everything the last free man says is the truth, which means the Inversion is real. The man claims he has been sent to fix bugs. The bug has been identified as Jonah’s family. According to Jonah’s ideal path, he should not have had a family. He was supposed to be single and follow a different destiny. As a correction, the last free man, an agent who operates outside the human social sphere, kills Jonah’s family and disappears.

Jonah Manager Busters Mal Heart

Before Jonah met his wife, he was a lost soul, and with his family removed, Jonah was forced to follow one of two lives. In either case, Jonah ends up a lost soul – one invading homes and the other lost at sea. Both Busters unite on the boat and wrestle with each other, knowing the Inversion is coming as the year 2000 (Y2K) approaches, and only one will be spared. One of them is tossed back in time as a young Jonah who is free of his stressful life. He will now need to make his choices again until the higher powers are satisfied that his choices align with their defined storyline. This is a weak theory as it only amounts to a little. We don’t even know what the ideal path is, which gives terrible vibes of the TVA from the Marvel Universe.

Buster’s Mal Heart Theory 3: This Is Jonah’s Story

According to the Bible, Jonah was a prophet who was commanded by God to go to the city of Nineveh to preach against its wickedness. However, Jonah disobeyed God’s command and fled to Tarshish instead. As a result, God sent a great storm that threatened to sink the ship Jonah was on. The sailors on board eventually threw Jonah overboard, and he was swallowed by a whale, where he spent three days and nights. After this, Jonah repented, and God commanded the fish to vomit him onto dry land. Jonah then went to Nineveh and preached to the people, and they repented of their sins.

The above story is a metaphor used in the movie to represent Jonah’s state of mind. He wants to do one thing but feels life is forcing him to go in just the opposite direction. He doesn’t want to pay rent; he wants to buy a house, but those are not his life’s options. The stress of his existence is represented by the fantastic narrative. This also means that the last free man is not real, his family doesn’t die, he doesn’t become Buster, or the man lost at sea. They are all only charaters in the coversation of his inner mind. Note how the man lost at sea only speaks Spanish, possibly because Jonah thinks in Spanish.

Buster’s Mal Heart Theory 4: Jonah Got Lost At Sea

Buster's Mal Heart lost at sea

In this theory, there is no family, there is no dead-end job, there is no nothing. Jonah or Buster is just a person who went on a trip at sea and got lost at sea on a boat due to an undisclosed accident. His mind slowly dilapidates as he struggles to stay alive, and that really is it. The rest of the characters and scenes are merely imagined by a poor soul lost at sea before dying.

Buster’s Mal Heart Theory 5: Jonah Merely Has A Flash Of His Life

In this final theory, Jonah just had a bad dream or a terrible vision of his life ahead. As he is on a beach holiday with his family, Jonah imagines the dark plight of his and his family’s life if he doesn’t take control of the situation and embrace his otherwise happy life. He’s got a loving wife and child and has to stop obsessing about the negative aspects of his life.

Buster’s Mal Heart Ending Explained

The ending of Buster’s Mal Heart suggests that Jonah had his life flash in front of him, and he witnessed a bizarre turn of events similar to the story of the biblical Jonah. He has the choice to stop dwelling on his lows and focus on his highs to build a happy life. Why does Jonah imagine such a complicated story? Well, firstly, he’s a man of Christian faith; hence, he witnessed himself being swallowed by a whale and spit out. Secondly, he feels trapped in his life because of the responsibilities on his shoulders to provide for his family. A mix of the two and a bad summer afternoon dream can really produce the crazy story we’re told in Buster’s Mal Heart.

Buster's Mal Heart

Remember that the movie’s name is not Jonah’s Sad Heart. Buster is the persona who has lost everything and has nothing left to live for other than the need to go back to his family. ‘Mal’ in this movie’s context is the ‘misplaced’ heart. The bottom line is that Jonah sees a flash of how terrible (mal) things could become and end up like Buster if he doesn’t set things right.

Who Killed His Family?

No one killed his family. His family is alive and well; the death of his wife and child is a metaphor for Jonah loosing his family if he doesn’t get his head out of the harping, negative space it is in.

And that’s that. What were your thoughts on the plot and ending of Buster’s Mal Heart? Do leave your comments in the section below.