The Ending to Squid Game<\/em> Depicts a Moral Battle Between Egoism and Altruism
There’s a lot happening during the ending of Netflix’s battle royale thriller Squid Game, something of a cross between Bong Joon-ho’s Oscar-winning film Parasite—with its body horror trojan horsing a more complex message about class conflict, stratification, and predation—and Saw.
The series follows several “players” recruited into a multi-day survival game. The players are renditioned to an island and forced (?) to compete in playground games, with the winners advancing to the next game and the losers being shot, stabbed, plummeted, or killed in some other creative and gruesome fashion.
After six games, the winner is awarded the monetary amount assigned to everyone who has been killed—the final prize being some ₩ 45 billion.
At the end of the series, we learn several things about the game. We learn the game has been going on for decades and has featured thousands of participants. We learn one of those participants (and winner) is the Front Man, brother of detective Hwang Jun-ho—who he shoots and who falls off a cliff (fate unknown). We learn that the organizer of the games is in fact Oh Il-nam (No. 0001), the old man. He founded the games with several wealthy friends after the group had become bored with their fortunes and wanted to have “fun.”
We also learn that despite Oh’s death and the photos Hwang attempted to send to his Seoul police partners, the next year’s games are in full swing. The series ends with Seong Gi-hun (No. 0456) determinedly leaving the airport to stop the organization’s next game.
Here’s what it all could mean.
Who won Squid Game?
While the nature of the tournament allowed for multiple winners (the final game, squid game, is possible to play in teams) only Seong managed to survive all six games. He left the games as the winner.
How much is 45.6 billion won?
Seong takes home—by means of a gold debut card shoved into his mouth—approximately $39 million, which he promptly puts into a bank account and never touches until over a year after the games. He then uses some of the money to repay Cho Sang-woo’s (No. 0218) debt as well as take Kang Sae-byeok’s (No. 0067) brother out of his orphanage, connecting him with Cho’s mother as a foster parent.
Aside from these acts, Seong still has a considerable amount of earnings for whatever he has planned to take down the organization.
What does the ending mean?
In one of the final scenes, Seong reunites with Oh and learns the old man’s role behind the games. During the meeting, while Oh lies minutes away from death, the two play one final game, betting on the fate of a homeless man, himself minutes from death, below on the street.
Oh’s wager: Before midnight no one will stop to help the man. He is proven wrong. A person, who stopped beside the man earlier, returns with police a minute before midnight. Oh dies shortly after, prompting Seong to ask if he saw—if he saw that he had been wrong.
As low stakes as this final game appears, it may be one of the most important of the series.
Their wager is one of moral belief. Oh had first asked Seong if he still retained hope in others after witnessing the manipulation, betrayal, and selfishness demonstrated throughout the games. Seong doesn’t answer, though throughout the games he had tried to never kill another player. (He even choses Oh during one of the last games in an act not dissimilar to the person on the street bending to help the dying homeless man.) The irony is that the only player Seong choses to betray is Oh—the only player for whom betrayal doesn’t matter; he is outside the game. (And, obviously, a further irony is that before entering the game, Seong is shown to be one of the more selfish characters—stealing money from his mother, failing his daughter, etc. By the end, even under extreme duress, he emerges as the most selfless.)
This battle between egoism (where self-interest dictates moral decision making) and some form of collaboration/altruism represents the crux not only of the games themselves—where one must first decide if the game is competitive or cooperative—but also the inner conflict for each player.
It is also, one might assume, a decision at the root of the show’s portrayed income inequality. (It’s telling that Oh and his rich friends, bored with their fortunes, never think to actually spend their money altruistically.)
The moral beliefs of the extremely wealthy, Squid Game leads us to believe, are essentially egoistic. They also believe that everyone shares this ethic, making it acceptable to prey on others. Oh’s final game with Seong is significant because it shows that this assumption isn’t necessarily true. Other people do not always act out of self-interest. According to Seong, they also deserve the same treatment in return—even if they agree to the violent games.
Before Oh dies, we learn that the “MVPs” gambled on the fate of players. During the final scene, Seong tells the organization that people are not horses; they cannot be treated as such. (We first meet Seong in the beginning of the series gambling on horse races; by the end, he has become the horse.)
While he struggled with this egoism vs altruism dilemma throughout the series, Seong is now certain: the organization’s treatment of others is wrong, and the organization must be destroyed.
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