Nightmare Alley Ending Explained: Of Monsters And Men
Stan Carlisle is a mystery to much of âNightmare Alley,â introduced in a 15-minute wordless streak – in which he throws a body into a hole in a dilapidated house, sets the house on fire and gets on a bus. for nowhere – before he finally delivers his first line to a resident carnival “geek” who had escaped from his cage. “I’m not going to hurt you,” he promises, before the geek pounces on him, leading him to reciprocate and beat the poor bloodstained man. In this single action, we get a glimpse of who Stan is: a man of contradictions, bad news in a beautiful face, an enigma hiding a violent temper. But as the movie unfolds, we learn that Stan isn’t much of a mystery, he’s just another man.
“Everyone’s in trouble. Someone they hated. A shadow of their past,” alcoholic Carnie Pete (a calmly devastating David Strathairn) told Stan. Every man comes down to a series of issues and traumas, and while he may consider himself a brooding loner, even Stan can be easily read like a book by Pete, which is part of an act of clairvoyance with his wife. Mrs. Zeena (Toni Collette). Even the men who become the resident carnival “geeks” – often destitute alcoholics or drug addicts who are kicked out of Nightmare Alley by itinerant carnival owner Clem Hoatley (a wonderfully skeevy Willem Dafoe) – are just ordinary men after a bad day. Geeks were a common act in circuses at the turn of the 20th century; billed as the most shocking and frightening part of the “freak show”, they were “wild men” who would entertain the masses by chasing live chickens and biting their heads in a display of bloody violence. It was a kind of comfort to the audience, who got the temporary thrill of witnessing something so primitive and brutal, yet being assured that he looked nothing like these wild creatures. But maybe the differences between the civilized and the savage are not so rare, and maybe the distinction between light and dark is not so obvious.
Despite his questionable morals and secretly violent temper, Stan is presented as a character who believes in this distinction. He’s disgusted by Clem’s underhand tactics to “recruit” Nightmare Alley geeks once his current one dies – luring them in with promises of booze and temporary employment before essentially kidnapping them – but does not express not his dissatisfaction. At least he’s not like them, Stan seems to be sure. And who would just miss another Nightmare Alley bum?