Warning: This article contains spoilers for Netflix’s The Unforgivable.
If you got to the end of new film The Unforgivable feeling like you’d just run a marathon of emotions, you’re not alone.
In a Mare of Easttown-style plot, the movie focusses on what we presume to be a merciless murderer of a sheriff by a woman named Ruth Slater (Sandra Bullock), who spends 20 years in prison for her crime
When Ruth is released from prison, she faces a number of challenges as she tries to settle back into society. She’s also desperate to see her younger sister, Katie (Aisling Franciosi), though she has been forbidden to contact her by a judge.
As the story unfolds, we get a clearer picture of what actually happened when the sheriff met his unfortunate end all those years ago—and it completely changes our view of Ruth and her real intentions.
The ending is emotional, unexpected and it sparks mixed emotions—so we unpacked what it actually all meant.
The Unforgivable ending explained
Throughout the film, the question becomes more and more pertinent: Did Ruth Slater actually kill the sheriff?
As we see in the opening scene, Ruth and her sister had an awfully tough run—their father committed suicide after their mother died during childbirth, leaving the two young girls without a stable home.
The local sheriff then told the girls they have to leave their family home, and in the process, he was shot. Ruth is blamed for the incident and sentenced to 20 years in prison.
When she is released, she finds out her young sister, known as Katie, was adopted and is now a University student.
Despite being forbidden to contact her, Ruth manages to find a lawyer who helps her connect with Katie’s adoptive parents. They agree to a meeting where they reveal to a devastated Ruth that her sister has no idea who she is because they never told her and intercepted all of Ruth’s letters.
When Katie is involved in a car accident however, memories of her former life start to come back. Her adoptive sister Emily also finds out about Ruth and she meets with her in secret where she tips her off about Katie’s upcoming piano recital.
At the same time, the truth about what actually happened when the sheriff died is revealed—he was actually killed by the then 5-year-old Katie while Ruth was trying to talk to him on the phone about their relocation.
During her piano recital, Katie has more flashbacks of Ruth, finally understanding she had tried to hard to give her a good life when they lost their parents. Ruth was also the one who taught her music.
Then, things take a turn when the sheriff’s son Steve, who still wants to avenge his father, tries to kidnap Katie but instead takes Emily. He calls Ruth and tells her his location in order to corner her.
When Ruth arrives, she realises he has the wrong girl. Despite this she fights Steve and manages to free Emily.
As the police show up, Ruth gives herself up immediately, but her parole officer knows she did nothing wrong. As they stand in the parking lot where the incident went down, Katie and her adoptive parents arrive for Emily.
The film ends with Katie and Ruth locking eyes, then embracing.
Does Katie ever get convicted of the sheriff’s murder?
It’s unclear whether Katie is ever convicted nor if she ever realises she herself was the one who murdered the sheriff. Her flashbacks were largely memories of Ruth, which is what led her to remember she had a sister.
Is The Unforgivable based on a true story?
No, the screenplay for The Unforgivable is fictional and was actually adapted from a three-part ITV series called Unforgiven. The miniseries was written by British screenwriter, Sally Wainright and followed the same story of Ruth Slater.