I Saw the TV Glow Director Confirms What We All Suspected About the Ending

By Richard Nebens Updated:
Justice Smith as Owen in I Saw the TV Glow

Following I Saw the TV Glow's release from A24, the film's director spoke on what exactly the movie's ending means.

The 2024 psychological horror movie centers on two troubled young friends with a connection to a TV show, which drives them insane and leads them to question reality. Using supernatural elements, the film terrified viewers as the idea of identity was questioned throughout its 100-minute runtime.

Showing a look into the trans community, the film ends with Justice Smith's Owen never seeing his friend Maddy again after bonding over the TV show years before. He realizes he's no longer the same person he thought he was, freaking out and having a mental breakdown before starting to find his true self looking in the mirror.

I Saw the TV Glow Ending Explained by Writer-Director

I Saw the TV Glow bathroom ending scene with Owen opening himself up
I Saw the TV Glow

Speaking with GQ, I Saw the TV Glow writer-director Jane Schoenbrun and star Justice Smith shared their thoughts and interpretations on the film's ending.

Smith explained that in the end, Owen realizes that his friend Maddie was right all along. They come to grips with the fact that they identified as the characters in the show they watched, The Pink Opaque. For him specifically, he realizes he suppressed his identity after seeing himself as the character Isabel.

After The Pink Opaque's villain, Mr. Melancholy, ripped out the main characters' hearts, Owen sees a version of the truth that he's "been running away from for so long" coming to fruition:

"It's a spoiler, but I'll tell you. It's validation that Maddie was right, that Owen is not himself. He is this other character. He is her. And when he rips his chest open and he sees all of the TV light, he realizes that Mr. Melancholy has created this fake reality where he's slowly dying because he's really underground without a heart. And it's so funny because we shot a different ending, and the way Jane edited it is actually beautiful, where he finally has tangible validation of his truth, of the thing that he's been running away from for so long, and it feels so good. And then he immediately returns to apologizing for his existence."

Smith also teased an extended ending where Owen bursts out of the bathroom and apologizes for his freakout before wondering if he will ever escape the reality created around him. Ending the movie here plays on the uncertainty many trans people feel after coming out and accepting that part of themselves:

"There's an extended ending where he comes out of the bathroom, he's apologizing to everyone for his panic attack, and as he slowly picks up speed, he runs through the arcade and the [light], and essentially, gets out. And Jane decided to cut that and just end it on him apologizing for his existence. And so it creates this dynamic of, 'Will he ever get out?'"

Smith and Schoenbrun both see that ending as "hopeful" by leaving it a little more vague, with Owen being happy with himself as he gets "closer to who he truly is." He also sees the moment as "something that a lot of people experience" in real life:

"Well Jane and I think it's actually hopeful. Because it's more vague, because you see his expression in the mirror, he's very happy and he's moved by the light that he sees, and there's no denying it. And so, obviously, he's apologetic to everybody, but at least he's closer to who he truly is. At least he's accepted now who he truly is because he's seen it. [But it] is bleak. It's something that a lot of people experience. There are people who are lying in the graveyard right now, who never, ever lived their truth. There's a lot of people like that who will never accept who they are out of fear."

Schoenbrun spoke further with Polygon about the film as they were asked if there was ever a version of the story that focused more on Maddy, the other main character in the film.

They admitted that Owen is "the least interesting character" when looking at it a certain way as he "doesn't so much grow as he decays" until the very end:

"I think if you’re thinking about, like, what’s-his-name’s Hero’s Journey shit, then Owen is the least interesting character, in that he doesn’t so much grow as he decays. Until perhaps at the very end of the movie he’s discovering or seeing something that explains the decay. And in this sense, he could be called, by, like, a hack studio executive, a passive narrator."

In a separate interview with GQ, Schoenbrun delved into the idea that this is an allegory for trans stories, particularly considering their own experience with transitioning.

The movie's ending was their way of staying true to that experience, including the feeling that "you are an imposter from birth." Part of the transitioning experience is the "need to protect yourself, and your true identity," working through the need to apologize to people for simply existing:

"...to be trans is to be told — and I think to a certain degree, in my case, convinced — that you are an imposter from birth, that the person you know you are and should be is off limits to you, and that you need to protect yourself, and your true identity from all of the people around you. That you essentially have to be apologizing for existing in your authentic self from the beginning of your life."

The transition, according to Schoenbrun, "takes years, if not a lifetime" in terms of damage being undone, looking at the way trans people are still treated in 2024. They felt like they wouldn't be "doing [their] job as an artist" if that wasn't conveyed through the end of the film:

"This isn't something that happens the moment you see that glow inside you. In fact, I think it takes years, if not a lifetime, to undo that damage. And to undo it in our case in 2024, in a world where, at best, cis people want to be PC and nice and use the right pronouns but don't see me the way that I want them to, and, at worst, want me dead — it's kind of psychotic, and for the movie to end in any way beyond this, like, fledgling, furtive, maybe a first step that's still rife with trauma and all of the consequences of it, would have felt to me like I wasn't doing my job as an artist."

Furthermore, Schoenbrun touched on Owen's apology feeling relatable and real during an interview with USA Today.

Noting how it would "take at least another movie" to get Owen to a place where he loves and accepts himself, the director explained how the "lifetime of damage that repression has instilled in you" does not vanish. Unfortunately, those who feel that way have to fight to get rid of that instinct over time:

"To get Owen to a place of true self-love and self-acceptance would take at least another movie. I knew that I wanted it to be really honest to the fact that just because you've now finally seen yourself clearly doesn’t mean that the half a lifetime of damage that repression has instilled in you is going to go away. I don’t view it as a cautionary tale or a definitively sad ending; I just think it’s truthful to the fact that if you’ve been taught your whole life to think of yourself as an impostor or apologize for being yourself like many trans people are, that instinct doesn’t go away overnight."

I Saw the TV Glow is now available for rent and purchase digitally.

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- About The Author: Richard Nebens
Richard Nebens joined The Direct in March 2020, now serving as the site's Senior Writer and also working as an assistant editor and content creator. He started his journalism career as a hobby in 2019 and is passionate about sharing news and stories from the entertainment industry, especially comic book movies, comedy, and sci-fi. Richard looks to expand his knowledge about movies and TV every day, and he is eager to stay locked into the latest releases and breaking news at every opportunity.