An interesting aspect of both the book and movie is that it sets up the young woman as the main character, but somewhat pulls her away from the audience at the end. The scenes that follow Jake rushing off into the high school actually constitute the conclusion of her story arc. This is confusing, because the audience expects the movie to end with her, but she actually becomes the third most important character, at best, in the final scenes.
We see her trapped in the car, at first frustrated and angry, then crying. She then ends her silent internal monologue and begins speaking it aloud. At first it sounds like her chiding herself for going on the trip, but we soon find out that her self criticism is about ever agreeing to date Jake at all: “It’s hard to say no. I was never taught that. It’s easier just to say yes. Anyway, sometimes you’re just caught off guard. And the request comes, can I have your number? And the easiest way out of it is just to say yes, and then that yes turns into more yes, and then it’s yes, yes, yes.”
I feel a great deal of empathy for the young woman in this moment, sometimes what begins as a casual yes can turn into a lifelong commitment. The weight of individual decisions is often unknown in the time that they are made. She returns to silence after this, and then delirious laughter. She then returns to the self talk “he’s not a monster, he’s …” then she buries her face in her right hand. She tries calling to him to no avail.
And then we get the very sad self back talk women sometime hear from others, but often just from their inner voice, when trying to explain why a man is wrong for her. “He doesn’t beat you, right? I’m certain the sex has been good. At least some of the time. Just …” The low standards she grudgingly accepts are terrible and hopeless. She wonders how long it takes to get hypothermia, then says “maybe it’s not a bad way to go if I have to go.” Again crying and shivering, she finally leaves the car and starts yelling for Jake. She then realizes that she’s been locked out of the car and has no choice but to enter the school.
As she walks up the stairs to the school, she notices the dumpster. The Tulsey Town Brrrs are disposed there — as are dozens of others. How many times has this scene repeated? It’s a fascinating touch that Kaufman throws in — a bit of Nietzsche’s Eternal Recurrence — and something that was not in Reid’s book.
She walks down the hallway and gets her first glimpse of the janitor. She hides in a doorway so he doesn’t see her. Then she starts moving in the general direction of the janitor and again calls out “Jake. Jake, I wanna go. Please?” She continues walking in the direction of the janitor. He crosses the hallway again and she hides in another doorway. Action like this goes on for about 30 pages in the book, but the movie condenses it considerably.
Finally, sitting in a doorway, the janitor starts mopping the hallway and humming. The book about humming in Jake’s boyhood room comes to mind — there’s a bit more in the book about humming that Kaufman cut out or ignored. The janitor mutters something, then slowly approach the young woman with her back to him.
When she finally see the janitor she says “Hello. I’m sorry, my boyfriend came in here, I think he went to school here a while back. Maybe you know him … I don’t know if you were here when he was a student.” She asks if he’s seen anyone and the janitor replies “what does your boyfriend look like?” Except the dialogue doesn’t sound spoken, it sounds like it’s in her head — and we can’t see the janitor’s lips moving. And then it gets really interesting.
She replies “it’s hard to describe people. It was so long ago, I barely remember. I mean, we never even talked is the truth. I’m not even sure I registered him. There’s a lot of people. I was there with my girlfriend, we were celebrating our anniversary, stopped in for a drink, and then this guy kept looking at me. It’s a nuisance.” I’ll stop here to note that this harkens to the David Foster Wallace discussion about gazes and then return to the action.
“The occupational hazard of being a female. You can’t even go for a drink, always being looked at. He was a creeper! You know? And I remember thinking, I wish my boyfriend was here. Which is … that’s sort of sad, that being a woman, the only way a guy leaves you alone is if you’re with another guy. Like you’ve been claimed, like you’re property, even then. Anyway, I can’t remember what he looks like. Why would I? Nothing happened. Maybe it was just one of thousands of such non-interactions in my life. It’s like asking me to describe a mosquito that bit me on an evening 40 years ago. Well, you haven’t seen anyone fitting that description, have you?”
The janitor replies “I haven’t seen anyone. I mean you, I see you.” She says that she’s a little worried about him. The janitor says there’s no need, that’s it’s safe and quiet in here. The woman puts her head down, starts to hum a bit, and approaches the janitor. She then embraces him and asks if it’s ok if she looks around for him. The janitor nods, then says “maybe take your wet shoes off. I’ve just cleaned the floors.” And he attempts to give her the same slippers she had at the house. She says “no, they’re yours” and pushes the slippers back to him.
She waves goodbye, smiles, then resumes her search for Jake.
The way I interpret this scene, the final one with any dialogue for the woman, is that she has rewritten the story of Jake, grabbing her personal agency by rejecting him at the moment of their meeting and redefining him as a creeper who did nothing but stare. The janitor sees her in this crucial moment and allows her to emerge as her own character.
But Kaufman doesn’t make it clean and simple for us. The young woman doesn’t quite have an epiphany, she resumes her search for Jake and doesn’t connect the janitor to Jake, even with the evidence of the slippers. She’s too deeply immersed in the spectacle by now to pull out of it, too deep into the dreamscape.
So she’s allowed to emerge as her own character, but cannot escape her destiny. The finale will begin with an Oklahoma! theme ballet in the next scene.