The Awakening Ending Explained (2011 Film Plot Analysis)

Hi, this is Barry, and welcome to my site. The Awakening is a 2011 horror film set in the 1920s. The plot is centred on a woman who exposes fraudulent groups who claim to be able to talk to the dead. She gets a request to look into a haunting incident at a school that unearths far more than she expects. The Awakening cast includes Rebecca Hall, Dominic West and Imelda Staunton in leading roles. It’s an impressive film with some well-developed characters that leaves a few questions open. Here’s the plot analysis and ending of the movie The Awakening explained, spoilers ahead.

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Here are links to the key aspects of the movie:

The Awakening Ending Explained: The Spoiler

The Awakening ending reveals that Tom is a ghost and Florence was once a resident at the mansion which is now a school. Many years back, Florence’s mother and father get into a nasty fight which ends with the father shooting the mother with a shotgun and chasing after Florence as he taunts her by her nickname, Mousie. Accidentally, the father shoots Tom instead and, as a result, commits suicide. Tom is the illegitimate child born to the father and the housekeeper, Maud, who Florence was very close to, her only friend. Florence gains the wound on her shoulder in the process. 

This childhood event’s trauma causes Florence to block out everything she witnessed and develop an alternate past where her parents were killed by a lion in Africa while she was saved by the village people, who named her Mowa-Zee. She attributes the scar to something the lion gave her. In reality, after Florence’s father commits suicide, she sees the picture of a lion in the place he stands and shoots himself and concocts this false memory.

Does Florence die in the ending of The Awakening?

the awakening 2011 does florence die in the end

No, Florence does not die in the ending of The Awakening. There are various supporting statements for this.

First off, we have the director, Nick Murphy, stating that she’s not dead in his interview – “Rebecca and I decided she’s alive and then she smokes and she gets a car“.

Secondly, we have what Florence tells Tom as the poison begins killing her – “You’re the only friend I’ve ever had. But if I go with you now, my soul will never be happy, and I can be, thanks to you”. Thanks to Tom, Florence got to meet Robert and fall in love; she finally has a shot at happiness. She will stop seeing Tom as she isn’t lonely anymore, but can feel his presence now. 

The ending scene of The Awakening shows Florence standing happily in the arms of Robert sharing a cigarette. She’s not a ghost; she’s alive and happy and so is Robert. Florence also says, “Not seeing them… It’s not the same as forgetting“. The Awakening doesn’t attempt an ending where she doesn’t know she’s dead and refers to ghosts in the third person as “they” even though she is one. The Ghosts in The Awakening know pretty well that they are dead.

I know that Florence appears to be dead in that ending scene of The Awakening and that the other people simply ignore her as though she wasn’t there. But that is just how the men of the time were; they don’t believe an educated woman who claims to hunt ghosts (or hoaxers) is worth interacting with. The headmaster even makes a comment saying, “Ladies’ minds often can’t cope with further education“. The director has stated in the above interview that though he knows that Florence is alive he wanted to to toy with his audience. But there are enough clues in the film that point to the fact that Florence is indeed alive.

Are there ghosts in The Awakening, or is it just Florence’s imagination?

Yes, the ghosts are real. We see only one, Tom. But we are told that ghosts reveal themselves to those who are very lonely—this core concept of the film. Maud, Robert (who sees his dead friends from war), Florence and Victor are examples of lonely people who see ghosts.

The Awakening: Plot Explained

The Awakening movie begins with the following lines:

Observation: Between 1914 and 1919 war and influenza have claimed more than a million lives in Britan alone.

Conclusion: This is a time for ghosts.

The film is set in an era when there were far too many fraudulent mediums claiming they could connect with the dead, each with an elaborate setup to trick their customers. 

What is Florence’s profession? The Awakening beginning explained

Orphaned Florence grows up to become a well-read, educated woman. Florence specializes in tracking and exposing those that claim to be able to communicate with the dead. The opening sequence of the movie The Awakening shows precisely this, Florence exposes a group of people who are tricking a woman into thinking she’s seeing her daughter’s ghost.

But there is a catch, Florence is not doing this because of her disbelief in ghosts, but the hope that one day she will be proved wrong. That one day, she will run into an authentic ghost claim. Why does Florence subliminally hope for this? Because she misses both her fiance and only friend from her youth, Tom. And that one day, she will be able to meet them again. But I mention subliminal because this hope that Florence has is subconscious. She has blocked out all memories of her family and Tom’s death. Her conscious reason for hunting ghosts is to reunite with her dead fiance to whom she wrote a letter in her insecurity saying she doesn’t love him and repents it be cause he died soon after in the war. The cigarette case she keeps is his.

What is Mowa-Zee? What is that story about the lion in Africa about?

This is another false memory Florence has formed. In reality, her crazy dad flipped and shot her mother in cold blood, attempted to kill her, accidentally killed his illegitimate son, and shot himself. As he falls, Florence sees a lion’s painting which she uses to create an alternate fabricated memory of herself and her parents being attacked by a lion in Africa. That they died and Florence survived with only a scratch. The village people who saved her named her Mowa-zee, which she claims means “white doll”. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but there is no such word in any African language. It’s just an African sounding phrase which is the word “mousie” mispronounced. Mousie is what Florence’s father used to call her; she especially remembers this because of the way he called out to her in a playful tone to locate and kill her.

Who is Robert Mallory? What does he want from Florence?

The plot begins with Robert, a teacher from a school, arriving at Florence’s residence telling her that one of the kids died from the fear of seeing a ghost. While Florence believes this is just kids making up stories, Robert explains that the kids are scared to death and are orphans, much like Florence, with nobody to help them. Florence also disregards the photographic evidence that Robert shows.

While initially, Florence refuses, she eventually decides to take up the case and goes to the school with Robert. Why? Because she believes this ghost might be real. Little does Florence know what she’s being set up for.

More on Robert – he’s a war veteran and is tormented by survivor’s guilt as many of his friends died during the war. He regularly inflicts pain on himself as a punishment for surviving. He’s a lonely man and also sees his dead friends’ spirits, but we are told this only in the ending of The Awakening.

Who is Maud? What’s her role in The Awakening?

maud tom the awakening

Maud is the caretaker who was practically a mother to Florence when she was young. She also happens to have an affair with Florence’s father and is the mother to their illegitimate son, Tom. Florence’s parents constantly fought over the affair, and Maud loses her son to Florence’s father’s fit of rage.

Maud is left all by herself and, in her loneliness, begins seeing and interacting with Tom’s ghost. The house eventually becomes a school for orphans, and Maud takes up a job there. Over the years, she learns that Florence is now a ghost hunter. Tom and Florence were very close, and he misses her terribly.

Given the kids have been encountering Tom’s ghost, Maud convinces Robert to bring Florence over to help with the ghost problem. When Florence arrives, she immediately sees Tom but doesn’t realize he’s a ghost and doesn’t recognize him. She doesn’t remember Maud either but does refer to the school as a ‘house’.

Maud wants Florence to remember everything. She wants her to reunite with Tom in death. Yes, she intends to kill herself and Florence so that their ghosts can join Tom. This is revealed only at the end.

What were the kids up to in The Awakening? Who is Victor Parry?

Victor Parry is another kid who has run into Tom’s ghost. He’s also bullied by other kids at school for claiming this. To earn their niceness, Victor agrees to dress up as the ghost and attempts to terrorize Florence. In the night, Florence tracks down the kid who’s been playing pranks. Unfortunately, Victor is caught because of the chemical he has on his legs.

Florence happens to see two kids in the night; it is later revealed that the second child was Tom’s ghost. Victor gives up the other kids who put him up to this, and Malcolm McNair steps in to punish them and extract the second kid’s name, but Florence stops him.

victor gets caught

Who is Malcolm McNair? What has he done?

Malcolm is a teacher at the school and appears to have served in the army with Robert. He believes that kids need to face their fears and only then can they grow up to be strong men. While he may have the right intentions, his methods are crude.

When one of the kids, Walter, begins to claim that he has seen a ghost, Malcolm decides he’s going to toughen him up by locking him out alone. Unfortunately, Walter has an asthma attack and dies. In fear and guilt, Malcolm doesn’t disclose this.

Florence had earlier smelled Malcolm’s balsam on the handles and Walter’s teddy bear. She concludes with evidence that Malcolm snatched the bear from Walter and left him alone in the dark, causing an asthma attack. Robert asks Malcolm to leave the school before the Walter’s parents arrive

Florence is disappointed as this, too, has turned out to be the case of a prank, and there is no ghost involved. Robert notices this and is confused with her reaction.

The Awakening Explained: What happens to Florence at the lake? 

florence falls into lake

Florence heads to the lake to smoke. She drops her cigarette case in the lake, and a ghostly hand comes to grab her as she tries to fish it out. Florence calms herself but soon falls into the lake. Florence carrying the cigarette case represents the guilt that she has in her heart for giving up on her fiance the way she did. By telling him that she didn’t love him and he taking that thought to his grave. Florence feels she deserves death for such a thing. As she stands by the lake, disappointed that this haunting was also merely a prank, tired of waiting for the occurrence of a real ghost, and tired of her mental baggage, she allows her self to fall into the lake. She wants to find out what really happens when you’re dead. Robert saves Florence.

The Real Ghost Hunt

Back at the house, Florence can no longer ignore the spiritual presence she’s feeling and the collective delusion that so many have experienced in that house of a boy walking through walls. Florence resumes her set up to locate the ghost. Eventually, her equipment starts going crazy, and she encounters the vision of a man with a shotgun. This is a memory of her father returning. She sees various dollhouses which visually narrate the events that have occurred during her stay at the house. I’d reckon that this is Tom’s doing to get Florence to drop her guard, become afraid and embrace the forgotten memories of her family and Tom.

When Florence develops the photographs, she and Robert find one photo with the ghost of a boy. This is a rare moment in horror films where the lead characters are overjoyed to verify a ghost’s existence, bond emotionally over it and have sex. As random as that moment was, it’s two massive things coming together for Florence. One, her ability to conquer her guilt and fall in love again. Two, she’s finally succeeded in her long-standing pursuit of ghosts, a moment she shares with the one she loves. 

Who is Edward Judd? What did he want?

Edward is one of the school employees and is jealous of the relationship that is developing between Robert and Florence. He’s a creep. When Robert gets locked inside a room, Florence is attacked by Edward. Tom comes to the rescue, and Florence hits and kills Edward in defense. 

I believe Tom locks Robert in the house because he wants to be the one to save her. He wants her to connect with him so that she can remember him again.

Later, Robert buries Edward’s body in a secluded place.

The Awakening Climax: Maud’s true intentions

poisoning scene the awakening

After a cat and mouse chase, Florence eventually meets Tom and remembers her past. His dollhouse strategy, and taunts with the word Mowa-Zee (mousie) works. She realizes that Tom is the disfigured ghost that has been haunting the mansion and he has no control over his appearance. He was killed by accident by his own father, and Tom has been a lonely ghost ever since. He’s been terribly missing Florence.

Unknown to the rest, Maud has promised Tom that she will poison and kill herself and Florence to be together forever as ghosts once Florence remembers them. As per the plan, Maud offers celebratory wine, which she’s has poisoned. Florence drinks it and begins dying. She calls Robert for help, and he rushes to find something that would make her throw-up.

Florence tells Tom that she is thankful to him as he enabled her to meet Robert. She also says that if she dies, she will be an unhappy spirit. Tom understands and rushes to get her medicine that makes her vomit, and she’s saved. In the end, Florence and Robert get together and look forward to their new relationship. The Awakening comes to an end with the audience left wondering if Florence was dead, but she is not.