Netflix’s Stromboli follows Sara, a 40-year-old divorcee wandering the streets of the titular volcanic island in a drunken, depressed stupor, finding a way to recreate the happiness lost and also a way out of her misery.
Warning: This article contains heavy spoilers
Sara is a middle-aged divorced woman who’s traveling to Stromboli, the Italian volcanic island, in order to recreate the days of happiness she experienced when she used to have visited it earlier with her family.
She’s fast and loose with booze and sex, and drinking a bit too much leads her to meet a millionaire old man, Harold, who keeps her company while she gets high; later she ruins the Airbnb she was staying at, resulting in her getting evicted by the old owner named Pietro.
She keeps apologizing to her 14-year-old daughter in texts but doesn’t get a response back. Later, she loses her bag that also had her phone in it. With no place to stay, she takes a short refuge in a local church.
When she wakes up, she’s met by a pale-blonde-haired Jens, who takes her with him, to a retreat called From Fear to Love. There, she meets Harold and other people who carry traumas and pain as she does.
The program begins and the offbeat exercises to open up participants to dig deep and engage with their pasts seem to work on Sara, who soon grows cold feet and decides to bail.
However, Jens manages to convince her to stay in the program. During the following days, there are many exercises and bonding sessions between the people who all open up to each other and as sparks fly between Sara and Hans, the two have sex, which is ended abruptly by Hans, who’s visibly made suddenly uneasy by something.
Later on, Jens manages to unearth what traumas plague Sara, as well as Hans. While she has been struggling to contend with the traumatic memories she’s been repressing all this time, Sara finally gives in to the program and through unconventional exercises, she confronts her trauma.
She decides to open up to her daughter about her past and calls her, with her daughter finally responding to her with some semblance of cordiality. Stromboli ends with a retreat of participants all departing from the island, including Harold, who Sara asks to visit sometime, before she looks onto the sea, and is embraced by Hans.
Stromboli ending explained in detail:
What happened to Sara in her past?
Sara was raped when she was a teenager, just about as old as her daughter is right now. She got incredibly inebriated at a party one night and the rapist took advantage of her helpless state.
While she threw up outside the party, he snuck up on her and after consoling her, he forced himself on her. What transpired next scarred Sara for the rest of her life.
One of the worst impacts of said event was that she could never talk to anyone about it. And while she kept it all to herself, the trauma grew and festered to a stage where all she holds dear starts shattering.
As a result, her relationship with her husband ends, and her relationship with her daughter sours to the point that she now hates her mother.
Why is Sara divorced?
Sara suffers from a trauma that stemmed from her rape in her adolescence, and she never found it in herself to open up to others about it. She didn’t tell her parents about it, nor did her husband and daughter.
Midway through Stromboli and all throughout the runtime in short glimpses, her strenuous relationship with her husband is shown. She used to have a happy relationship with him but as a result of her repressing all her trauma within herself, their intimacy begins vanishing.
The understandably non-reciprocal involvement from Sara’s side whenever her husband wanted to have sex, gave birth to tensions among them and he grew frustrated. On top of that, Sara would not open up to him which gnawed at him even more.
Ultimately, their relationship would become highly dysfunctional and the two would divorce.
Why does Sara’s daughter hate her?
At Sofie’s 14th birthday party, Sara stormed in and pulled her daughter away from the teenage boy whose lap she was sitting on. Following that, she throws the boy out of the house, much to Sofie’s dismay, protest, and embarrassment.
Ever since that, Sofie hates her mother intensely. She doesn’t know the context behind Sara’s actions which were essentially her effort at protecting her daughter from the same kind of trauma that she went through.
Sara tries apologizing to Sofie multiple times during her vacation at Stromboli, but Sofie would have none of it, until the last day of Sara’s retreat when she finally talks to her mother and tells her that she ruined her birthday.
At end of Stromboli, she remains upset at her mother, she seems ready and willing to see her mother again and hear from her about the terrible pain she harbors — a far cry from the time she lashed out at her mother and told her she hopes she dies.