Thoughts on, and a place to discuss, the plot details we can’t reveal in our review.
As anyone who’s been subjected to the film’s ubiquitous ad campaign already knows, The Gift harbors a secret—a past event that links its apparent good guy, Simon (Jason Bateman), to the apparent bad guy, Gordo (Joel Edgerton), making his life difficult. The film doesn’t just withhold this information. It more or less conceals the fact there’s any information to withhold. Until about the midway mark, we’re led to believe that the two barely knew each other as boys, and that Gordo is, per his nickname, just an intense weirdo, coming on way too fast to an old classmate who barely remembers him.
But once Simon puts the kibosh on their strained adult friendship, basically telling Gordo to leave him and his wife Robyn (Rebecca Hall) alone, the truth comes out: When they were teenagers, popular kid Simon spread the lie that Gordo—a shy outsider, stuck at the bottom of the social pecking order—was seen being molested by an older boy in a car. The fabricated story essentially ruined Gordo’s adolescent life; his father nearly beat him to death, before shipping him off to military school. Why did Simon do it? As another former classmate puts it, “because he could.”
This revelation effectively transforms The Gift from a slightly above-average variation on the Fatal Attraction model to something more troubling and morally ambiguous; having set Gordo up as an invasive creep, violating the main characters’ boundaries, the film reveals Bateman’s peeved yuppie to be the true villain—an unrepentant schoolyard bully who’s never atoned for his past cruelties, and who still views the world through the blinkered lens of a “winner” stepping over “losers” to get what he wants. (That Simon clearly came from an upper-middle-class home, while Gordo did not, seems significant.) For a little while, the film thrillingly flirts with dropping the whole element of overt danger, the focus shifting to the domestic discord caused by Robyn, who’s now pregnant, learning who her husband really is.
And that’s why the film’s twist ending feels so ruinous; it ditches this promising (if admittedly less commercial) course in favor of the kind of nasty final turn Park Chan-wook might devise. Gordo, as it turns out, is something of a creep, one who’s been setting an elaborate revenge scheme into motion. Receiving one last gift from his stalker, Simon watches a video Gordo took of himself sneaking into Simon’s home, a creepy monkey mask pulled over his face, and looming over Robyn, who mysteriously passed out that afternoon. Did he rape her? Is Simon’s new child not really his? What this ending does is turn Robyn into collateral damage in the war between these two men, robbing her of the agency the film’s second half otherwise provided her, while creating a pretty ugly dangling mystery out of the unanswered question of whether she was raped or not. (The film seems more concerned with how this affects Simon than how it affects Robyn.) Beyond that, the careful work Edgerton has done in dividing our sympathies goes up in flames, as it would take a drastically false equivalency to suggest that Simon’s actions justify Gordo’s, even if the latter didn’t actually do what he might have done. In the end, we really are watching a film about some freak who torments a couple. And it leaves a sour taste in the mouth.