The Empty Man Explained (Plot And Ending)

The Empty Man is a 2020 horror movie that revolves around the deeply philosophical abstract concept of manifesting one’s thoughts in a physical world. While the idea itself is quite fascinating, the execution is less than stellar. The pacing is incredibly slow, there are a lot of loose ends, and the majority of the film feels… well, empty (the irony). With that in mind and without further ado, here’s the plot and ending of The Empty Man explained; spoilers ahead.

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Here are links to the key aspects of the movie:

The Empty Man: Plot Explained In Brief

The Empty Man Plot

James, a former detective driven out of the force by his guild, helps a former friend/lover trace her missing daughter. The daughter went missing after summoning the Empty Man with her friends a couple of nights before. The way this urban legend ritual works is that you find an empty bottle on a bridge, blow into it, and think of the Empty Man. Soon after, the group starts going missing one by one.

Eventually, James discovers the bodies of the group members hanging below the bridge, in what is believed to be, a massive ritual suicide, seeing as how there were no signs of struggle.

James then traces the origin of the ritual back to a cult and finds the daughter of his friend not just alive but also the leader of the cult.

The Empty Man: What is James? – A Human Antenna

One of the most exciting concepts of the movie is the extraterrestrial or paranormal forces that the cult is trying to get in touch with. You see, in this universe, there are forces beyond our world that use the Empty Man to send commands to the cult.

Who is transmitting? What is this other plane of existence?

Well, there are so many different theories. The simplest one is that they’re aliens sending signals from a distant universe. In this scenario, the Empty Man would act as a radio tuned in to the right station. They could also exist in a different frequency – a parallel world.

There’s also an interesting theory about the existence of creatures in worlds with a different number of physical dimensions. Unlike us, who exist in 3D, there could be creatures that exist in 1 or 2 dimensions. Now, these creatures could, technically speaking, share the same space as us and never actually encounter us. A being in 1D would see our world in spots, while a creature in 2D would see it as a combination of dots and lines. This is the same way in which we would see beings in 4D. This is one of the concepts explored in Netflix’s adaptation of The Three-Body Problem trilogy.

Also, remember that this ‘receiver’ concept is not foreign to our world either. Every prophet who ever lived claimed to simply be the messenger and that the message itself came from a higher power. Even mediums claim that it’s not they who are talking but that the spirits speak through them instead.

The Empty Man: Ending Explained (Spoiler)

The Empty Man ending explained

The massive plot twist at the ending of The Empty Man is the fact that James is a product of a cult’s concentrated power of will; a cult Amanda is part of. There’s even an equation in the movie that goes -> Thought + Concentration + Time = Flesh.

In other words, if enough people concentrate their thoughts long enough, they can will anything they want into existence, similar to how tuning works in Dark City. Everything James is, everything he knows, and everything he has experienced is not real. In reality, he’s been only alive for three days, and now, the cult intends to use him as a sort of antenna for the messages from forces that live beyond our realm of existence.

The Empty Man: Why does the Empty Man kill?

As far as we can tell, the Empty Man kills for two reasons. The first one is to protect the ‘antenna’ person, and the second is to enhance the level of fear within the community. The more people believe in the Empty Man, the more people think about it. In a world where thought can be harnessed and physically materialized, this is more than enough in terms of motivation.

The Empty Man: What is the skeleton in the beginning?

The Empty Man - What is the skeleton?

The skeleton the group encounters at the movie’s beginning is the remains of the former extraterrestrial ‘antenna’ (the recipient of the message from a world beyond our own). By touching it, Paul takes over the role until, ultimately, James takes over from him.

The Empty Man: What happened to Paul?

By touching the previous ‘antenna’, Paul took over its role. A similar thing, eventually, probably happened to James. Still, James is not like other recipients. He’s not a human in a traditional sense but an actual embodiment of the ‘will’ of the cult. So, he might actually be able to receive the message from the spirit world without going into a comatose.

The Power of Will

No one can deny that the power of will is almost limitless. With it, creatures who were never meant to be able to fly to space, survive some of the world’s vicious illnesses, or hunt some of this planet’s most dangerous creatures, are now able to do it with ease.

Even simple civic engagement project ideas can completely transform entire communities and reshape the lives of our youth. Sure, this movie takes it all a step further and requires us to suspend our disbelief; however, the message itself is nothing uncommon.

The biggest question is one regarding the moral aspect of the story. If a concentrated thought could make physical manifestations, what would it be used for? Here, the message of the movie becomes quite chilling – aliens, gods, spirits, etc.

The Empty Man: Experience Vs Reality

One of the oldest philosophical contexts is – is the world is real if we’re not there to experience it? If a tree falls in a forest and there’s no one to see/hear it fall, did it really fall?

Our experiences form our personalities, but they are far from being objectively real. Some people suffer horrible traumatic experiences that leave no trace on them, while others get scarred by something seemingly trivial. The most straightforward roadmap would go something like this:

An Event Occurs –> We Experience It –> We Memorize It –> We Remember It

Now, memories are deeply flawed, but the process itself creates a lot of room for misinterpretation. You see, humans are more likely to remember the experience rather than the event itself. If we remember a unique dish that we tasted once in our childhood as delicious, chances are that, over time, this deliciousness will be amplified many times over.

When it comes to the movie’s example itself – James believes that his wife and child died in a car crash while he was with his mistress. He’s guilt-ridden, and this guilt is reflected in everything from his demeanor all the way to his decision-making. So, regardless of what happened (or didn’t), one might argue that these events were real for James.

The Empty Man: Conclusion

While some of the concepts sound pretty interesting, the movie can hardly be considered a success. Early on, some predicted this movie might turn out to be a cult classic, but such a thing is doubtful. Even at 1h 30 minutes, this movie would probably feel empty, but the film itself is over 2 hours long (2h and 17m, to be more precise). In other words, while the ideas were quite ambitious, the execution left a lot to be desired.

What were your thoughts on the plot and ending of the movie The Empty Man? Share them in the comments below.