Little Fish: Ending Explained (2020 Movie)

Little Fish is a 2020 romantic drama directed by Chad Hartigan. The film is set in a world affected by a virus that wipes out people’s memories. Amid this pandemic, the story follows one couple struggling to hang on to their relationship and memories of each other. Ironically the Covid-19 pandemic delayed the release of the film. The cast sees Olivia Cooke and Jack O’Connell, whose on-screen chemistry is excellent. The movie does give you vibes of Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind but is fundamentally different. Here’s the plot summary and ending of the movie Little Fish explained; spoilers ahead.

buy me a coffee button This Is Barry

Hollywordle – Check out my new Hollywood Wordle game!

Where To Watch?

To find where to stream any movie or series based on your country, use This Is Barry’s Where To Watch.

Oh, and if this article doesn’t answer all of your questions, drop me a comment or an FB chat message, and I’ll get you the answerYou can find other film explanations using the search option on top of the site.


Here are links to the key aspects of the movie:

Little Fish: Plot Summary

Before discussing the end of Little Fish, let’s quickly go through the plot.

What is the pandemic, NIA?

NIA stands for Neuro Inflammatory Affliction. The world has been infected by a plague that causes one of two things:

  1. Sudden wipe of all memories
  2. Slow wipe of all memories

There are a couple of things that are not made clear in the film.

  • What happens to people after they have lost all their memories? Can they make new ones, or do they keep forgetting?
  • Why is it that people suffering from memory loss forget things that should be part of their instincts (procedural memory)? For example, a person who has lost all memories still knows how to walk. By extension, they should remember how to ride a cycle or drive a car. But we’re told about moments where a pilot forgot how to fly a plane, instantly.

Who is Ben, and what happened?

Ben and Samantha are a couple and love each other very much. Ben develops NIA and eventually forgets Samantha. One day, at home, he thinks Samantha is an intruder and tries to fend her off with a kitchen knife. Sam is heartbroken and decides she has two choices, stay on with Ben and sink with him or leave him and survive. Sam chooses to leave Ben, and she is unable to get herself to accept the situation that the love of her life has completely forgotten her. We’re not told what eventually happened to Ben, but Sam does happen to move away.

Emma and Jude

Emma and Jude meet first at a water park, hit it off, fall in love, and get married. She’s a vet, and he, a photographer. After seeing what happened to Ben and Sam, Emma and Jude are constantly preparing for the inevitable. Eventually, Jude is the first to start losing his memories. While Emma successfully enlists Jude in a clinical trial, he gets rejected because there is cocaine in his system. Jude happens to meet an old friend for a short while and ends up doing some coke, but he forgets that moment. In desperation, Emma and Jude attempt the clinical procedure on their own, and that doesn’t work either.

One morning, Jude wakes up and temporarily forgets Emma. His memories of her come back to him later, and they take a drive out and stay at a cottage. He confesses to Emma that he’s very close to losing her memories. Over the next few days, Emma realizes that she’s been focusing so hard on keeping Jude tethered that she ends up overlooking her own memory losses.

Why is Emma killing the dogs?

These dogs we see are unfortunately abandoned because their owners have forgotten them. They are picked up wandering the streets and brought to the clinic. Each dog is given a period of perhaps 2 weeks, after which the assumption is that their owners are never coming for them, and Emma mercy kills them.

Little Fish Ending Explained

Little Fish final scene

The ending of Little Fish shows us that Jude loses all his memories and walks away, not recognizing Emma or his camera. Emma frantically tries to stop him, and he retorts by pushing her down. All of Emma’s pent-up emotions come flooding in, and a vast set of her memories are wiped in an instant. Right after, Jude and Emma meet once again for the first time.

What does it mean, though? Well, the film tries to talk about the concept that memories may be erased, but feelings aren’t. Jude, who has no recollection of Emma, feels terrible for pushing her and returns to the beach. By that point, Emma has no memories of Jude either. We’re left to imagine that the couple has their second chance with no memories of their previous life. None of the scenes in the film appear to be Emma and Jude’s life after that final scene, so there is no telling what would happen, but we can speculate…

Thoughts about the ending

The pandemic’s nature and its full effects aren’t really talked about much in the film other than it causing loss of memory. If the disease causes one to lose all their memories, can they form and retain new ones? Possibly not because amnesia is usually caused by a single traumatic event. In this case, it is a disease in the brain that will keep erasing even newly formed memories, sort of like Alzheimer’s. Jude and Emma have regressed to a point before they knew each other. Even if they meet again as strangers, they would forget each other repeatedly as their memories continue to regress further. Eventually, they will know so little about their adult lives that survival would become a struggle.

Without memories and the resulting human bond, the remaining human race would become a species that exists purely by instinct and impulse. The cure spoken about in the movie is shown to have overwhelmingly positive effects, but that is only the company claiming so. It’s not verified or approved. A good summary for the future of the human race in this film is the one line spoken by Emma, “What if this is just the next phase of human evolution and we should just embrace it? We screwed everything up so badly that the only way to survive this is just by forgetting.

While the film seemingly ends on a positive note, it’s an all-out tragedy.

What were your thoughts on the Little Fish and its ending? Drop a comment below.