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Bunny Lake Is Missing Ending Explained- Who Took Bunny And Gaslighting

The classics were calling me today. Something about this era of movies really gets under your skin. The precursors to movies like Swallow and Deep Water were these movies that didn’t just dabble in madness but dove headfirst into what it means to be vulnerable and taken advantage of. There is nothing as disturbing as watching someone desperately trying to convince others she isn’t unstable when everyone around her is trying to do the opposite. Bunny Lake Is Missing is a perfect example of the unnerving films of this time period that used clever camera tricks and deceptive writing to create a dread-laden mood.

Bunny Lake Is Missing
Official Trailer Screengrab

There is something about the ’50s and ’60s that produced a glut of excellent psychological thrillers. Hitchcock’s library of thrillers, including Vertigo, the wave of gaslight movies like The Secret Fury, and the Granddame of them all, Whatever Happened To Baby Jane, are quintessential viewing for movie lovers. Based on the novel of the same name by Merriam Modell, Bunny Lake Is Missing was released in 1965 to lukewarm audiences. Director Otto Preminger(Anatomy Of A Murder) employed several techniques that largely were underappreciated until more recently. Now the film is seeing a resurgence, and his genius is being recognized.

Ann Lake(Carol Lynley) and her four-year-old daughter Bunny have moved to London from the United States to live with her brother Steven a deceptively menacing Keir Dullea, who went on to star in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Shortly after moving, Ann left Bunny at her new school with the cook in the chaos of her first day. When she returned for Bunny later, no one had any record of her being registered there and no memory of her having attended school that day. Everyone from Bunny’s teachers to the bizarre retired headmistress who lives in the apartment above the school and Superintendent Newhouse(Laurence Olivier) who comes to investigate thinks Ann is behaving irrationally and, worse, she may be delusional.

The more Ann tries to prove her daughter exists, the more things seem to work against her. All of Bunny’s possessions which she had unpacked earlier that day, are now missing. Her brother shows the policeman a check receipt proving he wrote a check for Bunny’s first month at school, but the school has no record of any registration. No one on the bus remembers Ann or Bunny, and the ship she said they took doesn’t have them as registered travelers. That is where the real culprit is finally revealed. Here’s everything you need to know about that bizarre ending of Bunny Lake Is Missing.

The ending of Bunny Lake Is Missing

After remembering there was one possession of Bunny’s that hadn’t been destroyed, Ann went to a doll hospital to retrieve a doll that was being repaired. She found the doll, and just as she was about to pay the repairman, Steven showed up and burned the doll and then knocked her out with a Vulcan neck chop to her throat. He then whisked her away to a hospital, where he told everyone she had imagined a daughter and that he was deeply worried about her. Ann escapes the hospital and finds her brother burning and burying Bunny’s possessions. She watches in horror as he lifts Bunny’s unconscious body out of his trunk. Steven kidnapped Bunny and kept her sedated in the trunk of his car where no one would look.

Realizing that Steven was the kidnapper all along and that he now planned on killing Bunny, Ann tries to outwit her brother by regressing to childhood games and behaviors designed to make him remember happier times. It works for a time, but when Ann tries to run with Bunny while playing Blind Man’s Bluff, he catches them and threatens to kill Bunny again. Ann convinces him to push her in the swing to distract him as long as possible, hoping there would come a moment when Bunny could escape, or someone would rescue them. Superintendent Newhouse found them on the swing reliving a childhood memory.

Why did Steven do it?

In the end, it wasn’t the retired headmaster, the uber-creepy landlord who was clearly a sexual predator, or the belligerent cook who quit mysteriously before she could tell anyone Bunny existed. Throughout, there were hints that Steven wasn’t the doting brother he appeared to be. Even the Zombie’s song heard on a television show in a pub Just Out Of Reach was leading us to the truth. At times Steven acted like her champion producing the check registry and demanding the school find his niece. Behind Ann’s back, though, he says odd things to Ada(Martita Hunt) about Ann’s childhood imaginary friend, also named Bunny. Although Ada is extremely strange herself spending reclusive days playing audio recordings of children reading storybooks, she inherently knows there is something wrong with Steven.

Additionally, when Newhouse asks Ann about Bunny’s father, she says Steven encouraged her to remain single despite the father wanting to marry her. When Newhouse begins investigating in earnest, he discovers Steven has been lying to them about when she traveled, intentionally hiding his sister and niece’s names on the ship manifest. That is when Newhouse starts putting the pieces together.

Steven wanted Ann to move to London to be with him, but he didn’t want Bunny getting in the way. He wanted her all to himself. The siblings were unnaturally close, and there was an implied sexual relationship that shifted our perspective. Steven loved her as a child and never stopped with his obsessive, possessive love. He tells her he was angry she let a child grow in her, but he definitely couldn’t have her married to another man.

He gaslit her into refusing the marriage proposal, and isolating her in London was step two in his plan. When she reverted to using her younger voice, he also regressed to his childhood when he was happiest. This is how Ann was able to distract him for so long. She was not the delusional one. He was. He systematically removed everything in his way, from an imaginary friend’s ceremonial death to Ann’s actual child. Steven also acts so strangely in the tub when telling Ann it doesn’t matter if Bunny is ever found. He tells Ann Bunny must be okay if her kidnapper took all her things. Steven wanted Ann to forget about Bunny and devote her life to him.

There is a lot to unpack about society’s views of unwed mothers and women in general in Bunny Lake Is Missing. The detectives defer to Steven continuously, and he is very aggressive with the entirely female staff at Bunny’s school. Their landlord Horatio Wilson(Noël Coward), was just a moment away from sexually assaulting Ann before the detectives showed up. At this time, women were often overlooked and disrespected, which is why the term gaslit even came to be. Having children outside of marriage also had a huge stigma. It should also be remembered that Bunny Lake Is Missing was written well before Roe Vs. Wade, which looks poised to be overturned soon.

The deck was stacked against Ann, who was in a strange place, being subverted by her brother. Luckily, Superintendent Newhouse figured out what was really happening and came to the rescue. Even that is slightly problematic, though, as Ann was working towards rescuing herself. Nevertheless, the stylized camera work in the final act, coupled with great performances from Dullea, Lynley, and Olivier, make this a must-watch. It is currently available on VOD almost everywhere, including Amazon Prime.