Daniel Isn’t Real: Daniel’s Origins & Ending Explained
Adam Egypt Mortimer’s 2019 horror film Daniel Isn’t Real features an ending that is thought-provoking & surreal; here is the ending & Daniel explained
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Adam Egypt Mortimer’s 2019 psychological thriller horror film Daniel Isn’t Real follows Luke (Miles Robbins) as he struggles to cope with his parents’ divorce and a malevolent and presumably imaginary friend makes an appearance to wreak havoc in his life. The film’s ending explores an array of themes that range from mental illness to demonic possession that results in a bloody end for the main protagonist. Feeling burdened by caring for his schizophrenic mother, Luke struggles with finding his own voice in the world. When his doctor recommends him to bring back his imaginary friend to confront his past traumas, he discovers that Daniel (Patrick Schwarzenegger) is not imaginary after all.
Daniel’s first appearance occurs when Luke is a child and runs away from home only to find himself at a scene of a murder. Abruptly, his new imaginary friend appears and becomes Luke’s main source of comfort. When Daniel convinces him to murder his mother by grinding pills into her smoothie, she forces Luke to confine his imaginary friend to the family’s old dollhouse. Years have passed, but when he unlocks the dollhouse, Daniel reappears and promises to make his life everything he could dream of and more. Except, he turns Luke’s life into a nightmare by possessing his body multiple times to commit atrocities.
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Daniel Isn’t Real is a film that contains a plethora of subtext that has the ability to bombard the viewer with an array of possibilities of who Daniel is and what his origins are. It is a thought-provoking story that uniquely tells the story of past trauma, the inability to escape the inevitable, healing, and desire. Ultimately, the ending finds Luke at the end of his rope with Daniel as he navigates the abyss in hopes of escaping his grasp.
Portrayed by Patrick Schwarzenegger, the son of The Terminator (1984) legend Arnold Schwarzenegger, Daniel first appears as a figment of Luke’s imagination. It is common for children to create imaginary friends during a time of crisis and, in horror movies in particular, they commonly turn out to be something much more sinister, such as the spirit of Jodie in 2005’s Amityville Horror. Daniel is entirely different from any imaginary friend featured in the genre. He is actually an ancient demonic being that goes beyond the traditional possession and appearance.
He describes himself as a “traveler” who latches on to others in order to better their lives by providing them with confidence. Except, he uses his ability to enter a person’s life to cause harm to anyone they come in contact with. When his possession grows stronger, he traps his victims in an abysmal prison where they slowly transform into disfigured versions of themselves. As the film comes to an end, Daniel reveals himself to be a parasitic, demonic entity from ancient times that will continue his reign of terror no matter how anyone tries to stop him. His origins are rooted millions of years before the existence of humankind and will continue even after all of humanity is gone.
When Luke was a child, his parents went through a tumultuous divorce that resulted in him fleeing from their home during an argument. While it is assumed that Daniel latched onto Luke due to the traumatic event, he actually did so because his innocence made him easy to manipulate. After Luke stumbles onto a crime scene where a murder took place, Daniel latches onto him immediately. The film later reveals that the murderer was the host for Daniel before Luke. Therefore, when the naïve child showed up at the scene of the crime, the parasitic Daniel took hold of him, as he was the closest individual that he could manipulate without issue.
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Daniel continued terrorizing Luke into his adulthood because he was just as lonely and innocent as he was as a child. The entity was able to take control of his life with promises of popularity, sex, and success in his romantic life. When Luke grew comfortable with allowing his supposed imaginary friend to lead him towards these golden opportunities, Daniel took hold of his body to wreak havoc. He feeds off of innocence and naivety, Luke just so happens to have both.
Throughout the entirety of the film, mental health is a core concern to the main character whether for himself or for his mother. Luke’s mother was diagnosed with schizophrenia when she was his age. He hospitalizes her after he comes home to discover that she was breaking mirrors and claiming something was staring back at her. Daniel convinces him to hospitalize her, but as the story progresses, Luke becomes concerned that the existence of his imaginary friend could be an indication that he’s developing schizophrenia as well.
The use of mental health in the film is to establish the importance of seeking help when an individual or loved one is experiencing severe symptoms of mental illnesses. While Daniel’s existence is not an indicator of schizophrenia, Luke consistently seeks his doctor’s assistance in order to better his mental health. It speaks volumes toward the greater conversation around mental health and the importance of admitting the need for help. Daniel Isn’t Real is a story that speaks to the aftermath of childhood trauma and its impact on individuals as they grow into adulthood.
After attempting to get rid of Daniel, Luke realizes that he will never be able to fully detach from the parasitic entity. Even after breaking through the abyss of Daniel’s prison and challenging him in an otherworldly battle, he continues to feed off of Luke. The two can never be fully separated from one another. As a result, Luke commits suicide by jumping off of the roof of an apartment complex. Now that he is deceased, Daniel can no longer feed off of him, so he flees the scene to find his next victim.
Ultimately, Daniel begins his vicious cycle over again. He will search high and low until he finds another host body to feed off of and lead them towards committing crimes similar to what he made Luke do. There is no way of stopping Daniel. If Daniel Isn’t Real gets the green light for a sequel, it could be an astounding addition to the story of what and who Daniel is while providing an explanation as to what happens once his host bodies die.
Daniel Isn’t Real is unlike any other supernatural horror film that currently exists. It complicates the understanding of what a supernatural entity can be, how it manifests, and what a possession can be like for the individual experiencing it. Furthermore, it invites an array of discussion on societal norms and expectations alongside an important discourse on mental health. While the ending prompts more questions than answers, it does set up powerful potential for a Daniel Isn’t Real sequel.
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