This Deep Water article contains spoilers.
Ben Affleck! Ana de Armas! Based on a book by Patricia Highsmith (who wrote The Talented Mr. Ripley and Strangers on a Train)! The first film in 20 years from the master of marital strife thrillers, Adrian Lyne (who made Fatal Attraction and Indecent Proposal)! Deep Water should really have been a steamy romp, but instead it’s a bit of a wet fish.
But wet fish can be fun too, and Deep Water at least contains twists, murders, and a “huh” ending (which is a bit different from the one in the novel – more on that later).
So what does it all mean? We break it down, including that bonkers credits sequence.
What is Vic and Melinda’s deal?
Horrendously dysfunctional married couple Vic and Melina have an arrangement. They stay married and Melinda gets to sleep with other men. Why? Well they have a child, but that doesn’t especially seem like a good reason. The book by Patricia Highsmith, which the film is based on, was published in 1957 when avoiding the scandal and inconvenience of divorce might have been a strong enough motivation, but Deep Water is set in the present day. Instead it would appear that the couple stays together essentially because he is very rich and she is very pretty. And therein, they become the Worst Couple Ever.
Did Vic murder Martin McRae?
Probably not. We understand Martin is one of his wife’s former lovers, and Vic tells Joel, his wife’s latest squeeze, that he killed Martin with a hammer. Later though, Martin’s body is found and he’s actually been shot. It’s Vic himself who starts the rumor that he’s the killer and seems to rather enjoy the notoriety it brings him. Though we don’t actually find out who killed Martin in the film, certainly in the book Vic isn’t Martin’s murderer, though the film diverges on other plot points.
[Edit: in the book this character is named Malcolm, our initial version of the article called him by the wrong name – it’s changed for the film.]
Who did Vic murder?
He probably killed Charlie De Lisle (Euphoria’s Jacob Elordi), the young pianist that Melinda is seeing and openly flaunting to Vic. Charlie is drowned in the swimming pool, and while Vic says he didn’t do it, flashbacks (which could also be Vic’s imagination) show him drowning Charlie. Melinda certainly thinks he did it, as does her friend Don (Tracy Letts).
Vic definitely murders Melinda’s old friend Tony (Finn Wittrock) by hitting him over the head with a rock, then weighing down his body and disposing of it in the creek. Vic has grown careless. There’s no way Tony’s death could be mistaken for an accident and Vic is even caught by Don when he’s trying to poke Tony’s body down into the water with a stick. Lucky for Vic that a shaken up Don is driving like a crazy person trying to get away from Vic (who is on a bike…) and crashes off the edge of a ravine swerving to avoid Vic.
Meanwhile, Melinda has found Tony’s wallet in Vic’s snail farm (!). She’d easily be able to implicate her husband who has clearly gone full-blown psychopath. But Melinda decides to burn the evidence she’s found and tells Vic she has seen Tony, which they both know is not true.
What does the circle back to the start indicate?
[Edit: as pointed out in the comments, the start and end call backs aren’t the same scene – Vic isn’t wearing the same clothes in the final shot, even though Melinda is, and the dialogue is largely the same – edited for accuracy.]
Deep Water appears to have a bizarrely boring opener for an erotic thriller.
Vic comes back from a bike ride. He takes off his trackie bottoms, leaving him in a pair of cycling shorts (not erotic). Melinda gives him a smile and a funny look. “What?” says Vic. “Nothing,” says Melinda. Cut to title screen! Boom! Or whatever the opposite of “boom” is.
But by the end of the not-in-any-way-erotic erotic thriller we learn that the boring opening has a greater significance…
At the end of the film, after Vic has gone to poke Tony’s corpse and keep it hidden, then run Don off the road to his death, he cycles home and he and Melinda have exactly the same interaction (only this time she adds that she has seen Tony).
What does it mean? Perhaps that it will be business as usual for a man turned cold blooded murderer and a woman who has decided to turn a blind eye.
Is that how the book ends?
It is not. The original story does not end well for either half of the toxic couple. In the book, Melinda orchestrates a way for Don to discover evidence of Tony’s murder while Vic is checking Tony’s body (a bit like in the film), though Don doesn’t crash his car, he survives. In the end, knowing he’s going to be taken to the police by Don, Vic goes home and strangles Melinda, before Don and a police officer arrive at the house.
The film has an ending which is more reminiscent of Gone Girl, which also stars Affleck as a man suspected of murdering his wife. In that instance his wife (played by Rosamund Pike) is the bigger psycho and by the end of the film the two are stuck with each other. It’s interesting to note that Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn lists Deep Water among her favorite books, so it seems fitting that this film version shares DNA with her work.
Let’s talk about that credits sequence!
Deep Water contains more than an average number of scenes of people singing along to things. Often, but not exclusively, these are jollied along by Melinda, though Vic and Melinda’s daughter Trixie enjoys a bit of a sing-song. So at the end of the film, just after the beat where we understand that murderous Vic and adulterous Melinda are forever stuck together, torturing each other and causing damage to those who are in their orbit, the credits play out to Trixie (Grace Jenkins) singing “You Make Me Feel Like Dancing” in the back of their car.
We see her sing this song with her dad earlier, one of the very few scenes where he actually cracks a smile. There is some very odd energy going on with this ending. What does it mean? Maybe nothing. And maybe it’s just a joke. But maybe it’s more.
From the off it’s clear that Melinda isn’t exactly the maternal type and Trixie clearly has a stronger bond with her father. Early on Trixie is annoying her mother by getting Alexa to play “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” over and over (which doesn’t seem to bother Vic). Vic interacts with his daughter with warmth, although he talks to her as if she was an adult. He proudly calls her brilliant, they let her decide where she wants to go to school even though she is only six, we see her experimenting with a potato battery by herself, and at one point Vic even lets his daughter have a glass of wine (even though Vic himself isn’t really a drinker, that’s Melinda’s thing). Trixie chats to him about the murder in the swimming pool, and although he initially denies it, she says she thinks he did it and doesn’t seem all that bothered.
So what is this final gag? Is it a humorous nod to the possible future of this precious 6-year-old with a lush mother who uses men as her play things, and a murderous father who is both disgusted and turned on my his wife’s behavour? Stay to the very end of the credits and you get an additional gag: “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” plays. The filmmakers might as well have added a post-credits sting reading: Grace Jenkins will return in “Deep Water 2: Trixie’s Revenge. “
What are the snails for?
“THE SNAILS ARE NOT FOR EATING!”
Deep Water is out on Hulu now.