Warning: Spoilers ahead for both The Power of the Dog and, of course, Drive My Car
It was surprising that some thought the end of The Power of the Dog was ambiguous. The film makes it fairly clear the bullied Peter finally gets his revenge on Phil by having him construct a poisoned whip from infected hide.
Apparently that needed explaining to some viewers of Jane Campion’s highly-strung Western.
The ending of Drive My Car, an outside bet for the Best Picture Oscar, is much more open to interpretation.
Quick recap: actor Yūsuke Kafuku, four years on from losing his wife, decides to direct a production of Uncle Vanya in Hiroshima where he is assigned a driver, Misaki Watari, who has her own trauma in her past.
The two bond in Yūsuke’s red Saab 900 as she drives him to and from the rehearsals, listening to tapes of Yūsuke’s wife Oto reading Uncle Vanya.
However days before opening the multi-language production is thrown into chaos and Yūsuke must decide if he can return to acting, something he has struggled with since his wife’s death.
He asks Misaki to drive him to her home town where they open up to each other about their grief, their regrets, their lives and what they want from the future.
Uncle Vanya then goes ahead.
The film flashes two years forward and we see Misaki in a supermarket, wearing a facemask, buying some food shopping before returning to a car (a red Saab), which has a dog in and driving off.
There is no dialogue (bar some sparse Korean), nothing is explained to the audience by director Ryusuke Hamaguchi who, despite cramming the 179 minutes of Drive My Car with ideas, frequently underplays his hand.
On first watch you might miss the change of language from Japanese to Korean or that Misaki has decided to have surgery on her facial scar, something she said she did not want (prior to her conversation with Yūsuke at Hokkaido).
Also, the red Saab 900, is it the red Saab 900, Yūsuke’s treasured car that Misaki came to love?
It has a different registration plate — a Korean one, not Japanese — which means that she has definitely left Japan, something she confessed to Yusuke she has longed to do. There’s also a dog in the backseat (not the same dog she met earlier in the film).
What does it mean?
The best supported theory is that Yūsuke, with his worsening eyesight owing to his glaucoma, has simply given the car to Misaki.
She has taken it with her to Korea to move on with her life: having finally dealt with her troubled past on her own terms and removed her physical reminder of it (the scar).
For the first time in the film she is driving for herself. This would also mean Yūsuke has finally been able to let go of his past (the death of his wife) as the car was where he would listen to her voice over and over again — and the car he used to drive her in, and so loathed her driving.
Misaki also appears to have adopted a dog, something that shows her commitment to Korea (along with the updated registration plate). This is not a temporary move, she has settled in Korea and has started a new life.
And the final shot of the film shows Misaki, driving her car, on the open road and taking on her future herself.