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Vivarium Movie Explained: What is the meaning of it all?

Vivarium is a 2020 Science Fiction, Thriller movie directed by Lorcan Finnegan. The plot is centered on a couple who are looking to purchase their dream house, but soon find that they are unable to leave the house shown to them by a mysterious real estate agent. The Vivarium cast has Imogen Poots and Jesse Eisenberg in the lead roles. It’s a lovely film and shares some themes with films like Under The Skin and The One I Love, but it is more fast-paced. Thanks a ton for the recommendation Tisha. Here’s the plot analysis and ending of the movie Vivarium explained.

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Contents

Here are links to the key aspects of the movie:

The Cuckoo Bird: Nesting Habits

We must first talk about the cuckoo bird. Many consider the bird cute and sweet sounding. That might be, but the cuckoo is a Brood Parasite and sneaks in one of its eggs into the nest of a smaller species of bird. It finds the right moment and knocks off one of the poor bird’s eggs and lays its own. Now, this is not all. When the cuckoo chick is born, the first thing it does is throw over the other eggs and young chicks from the nest. It does this insidious deed so that it can trick the poor mama bird into feeding it the quota of the full nest. But wait, there’s more. The cuckoo can produce a sound that tricks mama the bird into hunting and gathering food endlessly. Eventually, the cuckoo chick grows larger than the feeding bird, and the nest, and exists the nest, leaving the poor mama bird with an empty nest and heart.

vivarium cuckoo connection

Vivarium: How is the Cuckoo Bird Connected to the film?

The cuckoo bird is key to Vivarium’s plot. Apart from quickly witnessing the act of the cuckoo bird destroy another bird’s family at the film’s beginning, this is precisely the thing that happens to the two leads in the movie. In the beginning, Gemma tells her student that the cuckoo’s doing is part of nature, and that’s the way things are. To this, the child says that it’s terrible. Gemma replies by saying it’s only horrible sometimes. And unfortunately, she and Tom are going to be a victim to one such horrible thing.

Vivarium Ending Spoiler

Let me say this right in the beginning. The Vivarium spoiler is that humans are trapped, using the bait of low-cost homes, by a species (alien or otherwise) to bring up a non-human child as a human (this is in the same sense as a cuckoo chick that tricks another bird into raising its young). Once done, the proxy-parents are killed off, and the non-human man goes out into the world to trap more humans.

Vivarium Movie: Plot Explained

Gemma and Tom, a loving young couple, go to a real estate agent looking to buy a home. The agent turns out to be someone straight out of a Courage: The Cowardly Dog episode – a creepy man with creepy mannerisms and a creepy intention. They laugh it off and follow him into a maze of row houses that they are unable to escape from. 

vivarium houses

Vivarium: Where is the house?

House Number 9 in Vivarium seems to be placed in a reality of space that folds on itself. It is later shown that other people are trapped in various such realities. One needs to take the right set of turns to get in and out of the maze. Magically, a box that contains assorted tasteless food is left behind each day. In fact, everything about this place is tasteless. There is no variety to the houses, the clouds, the sunshine, the weather, the wind, nothing.

Vivarium: What is the boy?

A box arrives that has a baby in it with a note that reads, ‘Raise the child and be released’. It’s never mentioned, but release is death. This baby is not human and belongs to a different unnamed species, possibly aliens, because they can warp reality to trap humans. The creepy real-estate agent is also one from this mimic-species. Like the cuckoo, the boy grows quickly, imitating humans and screaming when in need of food and attention. I’m not saying that a human child’s scream is that horrendous, but they do come close at times. Parents will know best.


As the director explains, we now witness three stages in Gemma’s and Tom’s life – youth, the middle years, and the old-age. While they don’t age in years, their life is still being sucked out of them. The mimic child drains them of all energy demanding for timely food and playing around creepily while calling Gemma mother, which she detests. Tom happens to toss his cigarette on the artificial lawn, which gives way to disclose the ground beneath. Looking for a way out, Tom begins digging in desperation. He does this till the film’s ending, and his health deteriorates thanks to the plastic food and physical strain.

vivarium movie what is the boy

Kill the kid!

Tom even tries to starve the kid to death, but Gemma being a good person, saves him. She regrets this later when the kid returns from someplace with a book. This book has been handed to him by an elder of his species. And no, this is not a demon from hell. It is, however, something that is hideous, and the kid transforms for a short moment to show its original form. We see this creature with the inflated neck in the book too. Would Gemma and Tom have survived had they killed the kid? Not likely, they would have probably just got another box with another baby. What did you guys think?

Vivarium: What does the boy watch on TV?

The patterns on TV are analogous to the mindless repetitive programming that kids are addicted to these days. The visuals and sounds are indeed quite annoying to parents when their kids are watching these shows in full volume.

The Child grows rapidly into a man

Before they get a hold of the situation, the kid grows up to be a strong man. And like the cuckoo chick, the kid becomes much bigger than the force-adopted parents. It’s not shown on screen, but a fight may have ensued between Tom and the man which turned out badly for Tom. His ailment has increased and is in considerable pain, perhaps from wounds caused by the man, the plastic food, and the strain from the non-stop digging.

tom gemma the man what was in the hole vivarium

Vivarium: What was in the hole?

Tom continues to dig the hole and finds a dead body deep below. All he has been doing is digging his own grave. There is no light at the end of this tunnel, only death. This dead body is perhaps the previous resident who was similarly trapped in this house. It looks like Tom wasn’t the first one to dig a hole in desperation to get out. 

Vivarium: Gemma falls through other realities

The man locks Gemma and Tom as he leaves for his day. Tom dies on the pavement, and the man returns with a box that contains a body bag. He seals Tom’s body and tosses him over into the hole, and Gemma cries helplessly. Gemma tries to attack and kill the man as she knows it was a mistake saving him. The man suddenly stops mimicking a human and drops on all fours and moves like a critter. He escapes under the pavement, which he lifts up like a carpet. Gemma chases him down. She crosses over from the fabric of her warped reality and falls through others where different couples are held prisoners. But sadly, she comes tumbling back into her own reality-prison and breaks down crying, knowing there is no escape.

vivarium multiple realities gemma

Vivarium Movie Ending Explained

The ending of the movie Vivarium shows us that Tom and Gemma were both utilized as proxy parents to raise the child that belongs to an unnamed species. This is analogous to the cuckoo chick being raised by another species of bird at the cost of the bird’s family. It’s sad, but in the context of this film, it is part of nature, which is only horrible sometimes. Tom and Gemma were trapped in a warped reality, and many such humans were trapped in their own reality-prisons. 

Here’s the final conversation between man and Gemma:

Gemma: What am I in this? A mother?
Man: Yes. Someone who prepares her son for the world.
Gemma: What does a mother do then?
Man: She dies.

According to the mimic species, humans are required only to raise them, to prepare them for the world, precisely what a cuckoo bird wants. After that, the parents are fit for just one thing, death. You can see how the father is of no relevance. The man picks up the British accent, the mother’s. This cycle is also endless as this is done by force, no one is going to be good parents to the young boys. They will all grow up cold and heartless, a classic case of bad parenting.

Vivarium Ending Scene

The final words in the conversation are:

Gemma: I am not your f#*king mother.
Man: Whatever.

The ending scene in Vivarium shows that the man is now able to fully mimic the subtleties of humans and their way of expression through body language and words. He is ready and sets out with Tom’s and Gemma’s car to the real-estate shop. The real-estate agent, in this short while, has aged till the point of death, as the species ages rapidly. The man puts the agent in a bodybag and folds him up like a newspaper showing us that they decay quickly too, and their human form is only a cover. The man takes on the name tag and continues on his work of luring other humans as the film comes to a close.

Vivarium Explained By The Director

Have a look at this interview with the Director, Lorcan Finnegan.

Vivarium, as explained by the director, talks about two things. The first is a metaphor for all the soulless, half-built, rowhouses sold in many parts of the world, which went uninhabited when the markets crashed. Those who owned it were left “trapped” in debts that sucked them [financially] dry. The second is the existential crisis that one species of bird (the cuckoo) puts another in by replacing the bird’s eggs with its own. The film is a what-if humans were put through something like that? For a summary from the video, read on.

Vivarium Movie Meaning: What’s the point?

In a nutshell, the movie Vivarium shows the absurdity of life by amplifying reality. A vivarium literally means a container, often with a glass-front, in which small animals, especially small reptiles, are kept as pets or so that they can be studied. Tom and Gemma are put in a warped science-fiction version.

Is Buying A Home Really A Dream?

If you take a look, the only commodity that is skewed way out of order in terms of cost is property (a house). This is the situation all over the world because builders have found a way to endlessly price it up. While you can manage with all other costs of living, property is mostly unaffordable, and super inflated. Purchasing a house is a dream for most people, just like Gemma, and end up doing this by getting a mortgage, which runs for decades. These loans are enormous, and people begin feeling the strain when it comes to supporting their families and kids. This is when they get caught in the corporate grind of jobs they hate for the sake of paychecks, which pays back the mortgage. As the director mentions, young people take loans, pay it back most of their lives, and then die. The irony is that it’s the buyer who takes the effort to get the mortgage.

During the crash of 2007-2008, the builders were constructing residential rowhouses with hundreds of identical houses. It was maximum utilization of minimum area to create the look and feel of a luxurious home. Being overpriced, these houses were left unsold and were as empty as the place where Tom and Gemma are taken to. Because many were unfinished at the time they were sold, owners moved into mostly uninhabited grids of houses.

vivarium movie meaning

Cuckoos are a lot scarier than they look and sound!

The element of a Cuckoo infiltrating a next with its egg is ominous enough. But the idea that a newborn cuckoo has the genetic programming to throw away the other eggs and chicks that have hacked is evil. A concept like this taken and applied to humans provides for that day-time horror masterfully. There is, except for that one inflating neck scene, nothing hideous about that kid. But when something is devoid of expression, the resultant insipidity is cringeworthy. Oh and the screams, the screams, ouch. The cuckoo angle was used to provide the horrific aspect to the film and is not a metaphor like the rowhouses.

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