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Neon Lights Movie Explained- What The Colors Mean, Who Is Denver Kane, And What Was Real?

Rouzbeh Heydari’s Neon Lights is a visually arresting, confusing mix of emotional cues, ideas, and themes. Reminiscent of the movie Braid, it is as much style as substance, and you have to question everything you see and hear. Films like this are more about feeling and discussion than script. As such, the dialogue can feel clunky at times, but the performances are good, and the ambiguous ending is worth talking about. Here’s everything you need to know about the ending of Neon Lights, Denver Kane, those colors, and whether any of it was real.

Clay(Dana Abraham) is a failing tech millionaire who retreats to a palatial country house after a disastrous, very public interview. The interview was supposed to strengthen the company’s position and Clay’s perceived ability to run it. Unfortunately, he reacts poorly when questioned about some stressful things. Specifically, when he is asked about “depressed” company profits and a rumor about the board wanting to replace him, he flips out. Intercut between this family reunion and emotionally charged talks with his father, there are strange conversations with a therapist who is trying to help him heal from something as yet unknown.

Needing to lick his wounds, he invites his estranged family, including his brothers, sister-in-law Clarissa(Brit MacRae), niece, and father Denver(Kim Coates). His brothers, James(Stephen Tracey), an obnoxious clinger who wants to leach off Clay’s money, and Benny(René Escobar Jr.), a jealous bully, are awful. Clarissa and his niece, on the other hand, read as kind victims stuck in a bad situation. Early on, his brothers poke at him and each other as Denver hovers in the shadows. Then, one by one, Clay’s family gets killed off in gruesome ways.

First, James gets stabbed with a pitchfork; then, Benny is taken hostage after seeing documents about Clay’s adoption and their deaths. Next, Clarissa is attacked in the woods and found injured but alive by Clay the next day. Benny comes face to face with Denver, though, and is killed in the basement. Finally, after a harrowing dinner in which it becomes clear Clay is deeply disturbed, Clarissa and Blair are killed by Denver. Clay tries to intervene, but he ultimately fails.

The ending of Neon Lights

It is clear that Clay is unhinged. His childhood trauma, mixed with his intense guilt, has destroyed him. After watching his entire family die, Laila, who has suddenly appeared in the house, calmly tells Clay to end it, and he hacks Denver up with an ax. The film ends with Clay sitting back in his doctor’s office and being congratulated on getting rid of his guilt. He smiles as he looks at a news story detailing the gruesome deaths of his brothers and Clarissa by his father. Curiously Blair is not listed in the article. But, according to the legal papers Benny found, she is alive and is the trustee of the substantial family estate.

Clay’s driver picks him up and pulls away. There is one final shock though Denver is his driver. Does this mean Denver isn’t gone? Likely, it just means Denver won’t ever completely stop haunting Clay. Clay will probably always wrestle with his inner demons. This is why he continues to go to therapy even after his breakthrough.

Is the hospital scene real?

Everything that happens is filtered through Clay’s perspective. As such, we can’t definitely say whether anything is real or not. Halfway through Neon Lights, the setting shifts to a hospital where Clarissa visits him. The doctor tells her the damage to Clay’s frontal lobe may never heal. He is in a vegetative state. Clarissa tells Clay about Laila getting married. She isn’t old enough to get married in the scenes we see at the house, so presumably, years have passed. After she leaves, a twisted nurse gives him a sponge bath and threatens to drown him before he is snapped back to his family’s vacation. In the final moments of Neon Lights, Clay walks by the same nurse on his way out of the doctor’s office.

Whether any of that is real depends on how optimistic you are. Taken at face value, this nurse could have wormed her way into Clay’s delusions because she worked with the doctor pushing him to do painful things. But, on the other hand, it could also be possible that she is a nasty piece of work, and Clay is stuck in a hospital somewhere, and everything that happened with his doctor and at the house is a product of his mind. In this reality, very little would be real beyond the hospital, Laila, and the nurse.

Based on the news story and alluded tragedy, it is most likely that Clay may have spent time in a facility after his meltdown on air or his family’s death. It could be speculated that he attempted suicide, and that’s how he ended up in the hospital. Considering that Clarissa was there visiting, though, it is unlikely this is a real event. Therefore, that scene must be taken with a grain of salt unless Denver’s murder-suicide never happened. Denver was a monster who hurt his children in unspeakable ways, and the specter of him is enough to continue to hurt Clay now.

Assuming Clay is no longer(or never was) in the hospital, he is working through his trauma. The biggest clue is in the phrase that Denver constantly chants. “Round and round you go. Into the shadows, you will go.” The nurse says the same thing as she is drowning Clay. Considering Clay’s neurodivergent behavior and his father’s abuse, he probably grew up thinking he was brilliant but damaged, and his mind concocted an entire backstory where his brain was injured.

Who is Denver Kane?

He doesn’t exist, at least not anymore. Denver is Clay’s father and worst nightmare. He killed his brothers and Clarissa before killing himself years ago. He represents what Clay is most afraid of. Denver is violent, sadistic, controlling, homicidal, insane, and everything Clay is worried about. He is scared of disappointing him and becoming him. The man that invades Clay’s every moment is a figment of his imagination. He isn’t in the dressing room before the interview and never at Clay’s house. A strong argument could be made that Clay was never at Clay’s house. Denver Kane is all of Clay’s childhood fears and adult anxieties wrapped up into one nasty Daddy issue. Clay confronts and kills his guilt in that house because he feels responsible for his family’s deaths.

Neon Lights

What the colors in Neon Lights mean

Each guest has their own room with a specific color of neon light. The choice of color for their room is important. Blair’s room is pink, representing feminine youth. It is a playful, innocent color. This is how he sees Blair. Clarissa’s is violet. It is one shade over from pink and is feminine maturity. Violet can sometimes symbolize innocence and modesty and can also represent lust. Clay views her as a victim and an object of his desire. She bridges the gap between Benny and Clay. Her interactions with everyone convey a wealth of information. She knows her husband is a bully and yet gives us insight into why.

James’ room is green because he was jealous of what his siblings have. Green is the color of envy, and James coveted everything everyone else had but didn’t want to have to work for it. Benny’s room is red, the symbol of violence and rage. Clay’s room is gold at the beginning as the primary personality. After he kills his father, it sharpens into a bright orange. Orange is symbolic of energy and positivity. Like colors on a wheel, each is adjacent to the one next door and encompasses some of the same hues. Clay is worried he has aspects of each of his family members in him. He worries he is mentally ill, aggressive like his father, violent like his brother, and a taker like James.

These aren’t the only important colors, though. Laila, Clay’s therapist, is always shown in white because she represents the angel to Denver’s devil. Denver always wears a red and black tuxedo jacket and preys on Clay’s worst insecurities and impulses. He consistently encourages Clay to lash out at his family members while simultaneously belittling him. Yet, simultaneously, Laila tries to help Clay face his trauma and past. She is the light to Denver’s dark. Laila is his salvation, while Denver is Clay’s ruin.

The colors also compartmentalize each character or identity depending on your view of the end of Neon Lights. Violence is signposted when each of them sees their room color, as in the basement when Denver confronts Benny and when Clarissa sees James’ body. It is a straightforward way to reduce each character to a fixed point in time visually. They probably all died in the manner and place we see, just not when we saw it. Clay was playing the event back to defeat his survivor’s guilt.

Everything we see at the house is a ghost of the past or a byproduct of childhood trauma. Denver was a terrible father. He was mentally and physically abusive. He used his fists on Benny and James while whittling away Clay’s self-esteem and sanity with constant ridicule and fear. Everyone represents a person Clay lost but, more importantly, an archetype in Clay’s life. Benny and Clarissa are absentee parents who don’t abuse Blair but don’t spend any quality time with her either. Likely Clay views Benny as a younger version of his father and Clarissa as a sainted but impotent mother.

A few facts are concrete. James and Benny’s father adopted Clay. The hideous man hurt all three of his boys. When Clay was younger, he ran far away from his family and left his brothers to navigate the abuse their father regularly meted out. Clay didn’t kill anyone. Denver killed all of his family members and then committed suicide years ago. Laila has Clay remember and confront his grief and guilt. In fact, at one point, she says he needs to “kill off the guilt.” He blames himself for being unable to save everyone the night his entire family died. This is what Benny meant when he said Clay abandoned them.

Neon Lights is a trippy movie that wants to defy explanation. It is about fear, trauma, pain, and the lights that lead us out of the shadows. It is currently streaming on Netflix.