Passing (2021) summary and ending explained

‘Passing’ follows the story of two childhood friends belonging to the Black culture, navigating through life where one of them is passing as white. The film is based on a 1929 novel by Nella Larson.


Irene is in a toy store seeking a birthday present for her son when the film begins. She then bumps into Clare, a childhood friend, at The Drayton Hotel. Clare, who has blonde hair, is masquerading as a white woman. Irene inquires whether her husband is aware of her true identity, to which Clare responds that he is not and she would like to keep it that way.

Irene is then invited to Clare’s suite. Clare discusses the tales she’s previously told to pass as white and how despite the passing, she is not happy.

Clare’s husband, John Bellew, comes soon after. He openly exposes his racist sentiments while Clare entertains him, assuming Irene to be white. John then jabs Clare for “becoming darker and darker,” and explains that this is why he calls her “Nig”, short for a derogatory term for Negroes. Irene is disgusted and goes back home.

She is visibly happy with her family. She receives a letter from Clare the next day but disregards it. Brian, on the other hand, persuades her to open the letter and reads it aloud. Clare’s statements reveal that she wants to be in touch with Irene and miss the Black culture she left behind.

Clare shows over at her place the next day. Irene begs her not to jeopardize her identity and expresses her displeasure at having to pass for white in front of John. She recognizes her position when Clare begins to cry. The latter expresses her willingness to attend the Negro Welfare League event that Irene has arranged, and is welcomed by Irene.

Clare has a good time at the dance. Hugh Wentworth, a close friend, and a writer learn about Clare’s secret via Irene. The two discuss how Black people are simultaneously rejected and insulted. Clare eventually becomes a regular visitor to the Redfields’ home.

Zu, the maid, as well as Ted and Junior (Irene’s son), become her friends. Even while she enjoys Clare’s company, Irene grows to hate her casual attitude. Clare, on the other hand, admires Irene’s strong moral code and sense of motherly and spousal responsibility.

Irene and Brian’s relationship gradually deteriorates. Whether or not to expose their sons to facts concerning racial violence is a point of contention between the two.

During a party one night, Hugh exclaims that Clare likes to play the victim, and Brian strongly defends her. In addition, despite his wife’s disapproval, Brian speaks to his sons about the lynching of John Carter. He justifies his telling by saying that it’s important for the sons to know how the Negroes are treated in this country.

A few days later, he invites Clare to a tea gathering organized for Hugh a few days later, unaware that Irene had purposefully avoided calling her. Irene gets an emotional reaction as she watches Brian and Clare converse.

‘Passing’ ending explained in detail:

Irene’s attraction towards Clare

While the film progresses, one thing that is apparent is that Irene had started to consider Clare more than just a friend. She was drawn to her carefree attitude, and often expressed her desire to be physically near her through her behavior.

She also seemed to be flattered when Clare complimented her and started paying more attention to her than her husband.

Was Brian having an affair with Clare?

It is quite evident that Irene gets concerned in the second part of the film about Brian cheating on her with Clare. She notices how he switches from insulting Clare behind her back to publicly protecting her. She saw them talking while standing very closely with one another, and had let them go to dinner alone because she couldn’t bear with the thought of them being together.

When Brian had invited Clare to the tea party, Irene’s suspicions and emotional dilemma grew much stronger. However, Brian did not agree, nor deny Irene’s confrontations.

Clare’s Death

While Irene was shopping with her Black friend, Felise, she met John Bellew. She was shocked and decided to warn Clare that John is in this part of the town and he might come to know about her Black roots. However, she ditches the idea.

Brian, Irene, and Clare then attend a friend’s party. Moments later, John appears, having discovered Clare’s actual race. Irene reaches out to protect her as he lunges at her in rage.

In a split second, Clare falls off the balcony. The police arrive, take statements, and determine that her death was an accident. While Brian consoles a horrified Irene, John sits immobile by Clare’s body.

However, the cause for her fall seems unclear. We witness Irene attempting to push Clare out of the way of John. However, moments before, Irene had asked Clare what she’d do if John found out her race. She had replied that she would come to Harlem and live with Irene. So maybe, in an attempt to save her marriage and remove Clare as a threat, Irene pushed her.

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