Let’s explore what happened at the end of 2017’s The Florida Project.
The critically praised film, which also stars Willem Dafoe, follows a group of young kids who live at the Magic Castle motel (and some neighboring establishments) on the tourist strip of Kissimmee, Florida, just down the road from Walt Disney World.
Despite being close to such a happy place, the lives of Moonee, Scooty, Dicky, and Chauncey are anything but. However, the group tries their best to find stuff to do, even if it gets in the way of other locals in the area.
The Florida Project Ending Explained
Throughout the movie, audiences get to be a fly on the wall, watching life unfold in this little, rundown slice of life in Kissimmee, Florida.
Moonee is one of the leading characters and the young daughter of Hailey. While Hailey used to work at a strip club, things go from bad to worse as she gets fired and is forced to illegally solicit products from tourists on the streets to make money.
She eventually resorts to prostitution in her room at the motel, with her daughter hidden away in the bathroom. While audiences aren’t explicitly shown these moments, they start to catch on—as do characters like Willem Dafoe’s Bobby and Mela Murder’s Ashley.
After an intense physical altercation with her former friend downstairs, Hailey finds herself face-to-face with Florida’s Department of Children and Family (DCF).
While the organization's first visit doesn’t result in anything substantial, amounting to a clear warning, their second time around proves more problematic. They have security footage and other evidence that indicates her prostitution, giving them the power to take Moonee away from her mother while they investigate further.
After saying goodbye to her friend Scooty, Moonee starts catching on that the DCF will take her to live with a new family. So she makes a run for it.
Escaping from the not-so-Magic Castle, she makes her way over to the only friend left at the neighboring motel: Jancey.
The final scene of the film seemingly sees Moonee and Jancey run away from all their problems, going straight to a happier place: Walt Disney World, notably Magic Kingdom, where they visit Sleeping Beauty’s Castle.
The Meaning of Moonee's Disney Trip in The Florida Project
The film intentionally leaves everything open-ended, never going back to tell audiences what happened to Moonee or her mom. In doing so, it also leaves it up to viewers to determine if the children’s impromptu trip to Walt Disney World is real or their imagination.
But seeing as the rest of the film is firmly rooted in real life, it’s hard to interpret the ending as anything but a desperate child’s escape into her imagination to avoid the sudden, soul-crushing reality of her circumstances.
After all, two children wouldn’t be able to waltz into Disney willy-nilly. Plus, the Kissimmee Tourist Center (roughly around where the film takes place) is about seven miles by road to Magic Kingdom—a lengthy walk for kids to make successfully without being caught by the DCF and police.
That, and the distinct shift in style as they ditch, is a pretty tell-tale sign.
It’s clear that the entire movie heavily played on how, despite being next door to Disney World, the Magic Castle Moonee grows up in is far from a happy-perfect life. Her final escape to Disney with her friend (real or not) helps drive that home.
What probably happened next is that Chancey’s mom catches on to what might be up, and Moonee gets to stay with her friend a little longer before being handed off to the services.
When it comes to Hailey, well, things probably aren’t going to go well for her. Audiences probably watched the family get cataclysmically fractured for good.
The Florida Project is now streaming on Netflix.