We all went into 10 Cloverfield Lane wondering how it connects to the original Cloverfield. We walked out of it analyzing the totally bonkers ending, and realizing the thriller is actually a kind of heroic origin story. io9 spoke with director Dan Trachtenberg, who explained why the ending was the whole point of the movie.
Major, major spoilers follow.
“The fun of the story for me was this wishful fulfillment of all the times you would go see a movie,” Trachtenberg said. “You get in the cars afterwards and you’re like ‘That was great, but wouldn’t it have been crazy if at the end THIS happened?’ And we finally did THAT. We finally made a movie doing that crazy thing you would have pitched in the car.”
He’s referring to the fact that, after being trapped in a bunker with the creepy conspiracy theorist/kidnapper Howard (John Goodman) and a mysterious hired hand Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), 10 Cloverfield Lane’s main character, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), finally breaks out and realizes the crazy theories are true—aliens have invaded the Earth. Aliens she fights, defeats, and, in the final shot of the movie, chooses to keep fighting.
“That ending was everything,” Trachtenberg said. “The idea of her choosing to go into certain danger is, I think, one of the coolest endings for a movie. Having that sense of character, what she’s like in the beginning and then seeing that decision in the end. It isn’t going into the sunset and everything is going to be okay. In fact, things are going to be potentially worse, but she’s ready to face it. That is the theme of the movie for me.”
10 Cloverfield Lane was produced by J.J. Abrams’ company Bad Robot, which is notoriously secretive. In keeping with that mantra, Trachtenberg wouldn’t comment on the specifics of the aliens in the film, preferring to keep most of their origins a mystery. But he had no problem talking about how much he loved the ending.
“I wanted to make sure Michelle’s arc wasn’t finished until the very last moments,” he said. “That it didn’t feel like she had a complete story and then something else happened. It felt like when she gets out, now what’s she’s going to do? Which is the thing in life. Whenever you finish something, you still have more to do and you still didn’t quite answer her dilemma.”
Michelle’s choice to continue to fight the aliens at the end of the movie is another dilemma the film doesn’t answer. And though Trachtenberg didn’t want to talk about sequels, he admitted he’d thought about what happens next.
“It always would tickle the back of my brain, ‘Oh my god it would be so cool if this really was an origin story,’” he said. “But at the same time it’s cool that even if this were the only movie, how cool is it that the only movie is a badass little origin story? It makes it even more emotional at the end.”
To be fair, we don’t know if 10 Cloverfield Lane is the last movie. There has been much talk of this film only linking to the original 2008 Cloverfield in tone; it’s also possible there’s a connection yet to be revealed or more films in this franchise on the way. What we know for sure is 10 Cloverfield Lane is not Cloverfield 2, something that was confusing to many people when the first trailer was released.
“We felt like it would be clear, based on the title, that if we wanted to make Cloverfield 2 it would’ve been called Cloverfield 2,” Trachtenberg said. “We would have jumped at the bit. But I always loved this title because it sounds like a Twilight Zone episode and it certainly would beg curiosity. But I was surprised that so many people didn’t even want to believe when we said it wasn’t.”
Trachtenberg explained that while the title itself did come in later than it would on most films, and straight from Abrams himself, very little was changed as a result of it. One thing he would cop to was a shot towards the end of the movie where we see the mailbox that says “10 Cloverfield.”
“The shot of the mailbox was very late in the game and a totally genius idea,” he said. “We always considered that would be the address, but certainly that shot wasn’t in before the title. The truth is we didn’t reshoot anything to make it fit into the universe.”
The universe of 10 Cloverfield Lane is full of unanswered questions: What Michelle does next? Where the aliens came from? Is Howard a pedophile? Did he specifically target Michelle? Did Emmett love her? How much did Howard actually know? The list goes on and on. Predictably, the director wouldn’t give definitive answers to any of these questions, but he did admit in making the movie, he, the crew, and the actors had answers in their heads just to be able to make the movie.
“A lot of how you render those things is informed by what the root of it is,” Trachtenberg said. “[For example] some people have asked me how much time has passed when she’s down there and it was very much intentional that you don’t know because you want to feel disoriented. And it doesn’t really technically matter exactly how many days have passed. You just feel like ‘Oh, it’s been a while.’ And if you get specific with it people can have a position on how bad that amount of time actually is or not. So you just really want the feeling to be right. But I and the crew did logically know how much time has passed to make decisions on the way things looked but that doesn’t really matter for the movie. You want to feel that. You want a sense of it, but you don’t actually know. But we had the technical answers.”
And actually, some of those answers are in the movie too. You just miss them on a first watch. Emmett mentions “mutant worms” to Michelle. We hear Howard’s breathing at the gas station. In retrospect, Howard referring to Michelle as a “princess” is telling about his state of mind. The film is laced with clues. So even if Trachtenberg can’t say a lot about the movie himself, 10 Cloverfield Lane does plenty of talking.