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Spoilers ahead for Hamilton on Disney+
There are hit Broadway shows, and then there's Hamilton. Lin-Manuel Miranda's beloved musical became a pop culture sensation when it opened in 2015, and is showing no signs of slowing. The original lead actors have all had successful careers since, and now their performance have been immortalized with Disney+'s Hamilton movie. And for the countless people who downloaded the app and streamed the film over the last weekend, there are some overarching questions about the movie's ending.
Despite knowing from the very top of the show that Alexander Hamilton is eventually shot and killed, that hasn't stopped the Disney+ movie's final moments from being the subject of much conversation. Let's break down exactly what we're shown, and what this somewhat cryptic moment really means.
What Happens At The Very End of Hamilton
In many ways, Hamilton ends in just the way that the opening number revealed: Lin-Manuel Miranda's title character is fatally shot in a duel with Leslie Odom Jr.'s Aaron Burr. The bullet that's been chasing him the whole show finally gets him, with Eliza and Angelica left to mourn him throughout the rest of their respective lives. And on the "other side" he's able to finally be reunited with the likes of John Laurens, George Washington, Phillip, and his late mother.
The show's finale "Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story" reveals how the world continued on without Alexander, and the legacy Eliza (Phillipa Soo) protected in her long life. We learn how she started New York City's first private orphanage, raised money for the Washington Monument, and shared her late husband's life with anyone who would listen. In the final moments of the song Eliza looks out into the audience, and gasps/weeps. It's a powerful final gut punch to the show, but what exactly does it mean?
Theory #1: Eliza Went To Heaven
One popular theory is that "Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story" ends with Eliza finally dying, 50 years after her husband's fatal duel. In real-life Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton lived to be 97 years old, and basically became a Founding Mother due to her lifetime of work. Hamilton's finale and the sudden gasp from Eliza could seemingly signify her reaching heaven, and seeing her loved ones on the "other side" as Alexander had. She lived for so long in the memory of her husband, and this type of emotional reaction would make a great deal of sense.
Elizabeth Schuyler's life contained a ton of loss, more than is even shared throughout Hamilton's runtime. For instance, both her father and sister Peggy died around the same time as Alexander. So the theory that she's overwhelmed with emotions after finally seeing her loved ones after decades has legs to stand on.
Theory #2 Eliza Saw The Hamilton Audience, And Alexander's Legacy
Another more metatheatrical take on the Hamilton ending is that Eliza's cry in "Who Tells Your Story" is actually a reaction to the audience, rather than heaven. Phillipa Soo looks directly into the house during this moment, seemingly overwhelmed with her feelings in the process. Considering how long Eliza spent honoring her husband's legacy and hoping that he'd be remembered, seeing a huge theater full of people would no doubt be shock to the system.
Hamilton is available exclusively on Disney+. You can use this link to sign up for the new streaming service.
Hamilton is very much about legacy, and how history is told. Prior to the musical, many of us didn't realize how much the Founding Father shaped systems that we still use today. Additionally, Aaron Burr laments how his now infamous duel with Alexander makes him into the villain of history. While trying to desperately to make a difference and have power, both Burr and Hamilton ultimately self-sabotaged these attempts. Since Eliza spent so much of her time trying to preserve her late husband's memory, this theory about Hamilton's ending was also quite popular.
What Does Phillipa Soo Think?
Actress Phillipa Soo was nominated for a Tony Award for her performance as Eliza Hamilton. She was with the show since its Off-Broadway run at The Public, so she knows the character's arc throughout Hamilton very well. And since she's the very actress who physically looks into the audience to end the show, Soo would have a more informed interpretation of the Disney+ movie's ending. And that she does.
Back when she was still playing Eliza Schuyler, Phillipa Soo did an interview on Build about her time with Hamilton, and show's massive success on Broadway. When asked about the very final moments in "Who Tells Your Story?", Soo opened about that gasp's journey to the stage, and its meaning to her. As she put it,
It didn’t always exist. The cue always existed; I stepped forward and looked out and lights out. It kind of always changes, and to me the moment always belongs to all of us in the entire room. It's a culmination of the entire experience that we just had. As the audience, as the cast, as the characters. People are like ‘Is it Eliza going into heaven? Is she seeing Alexander? Is she seeing God? What is it?’ It’s kind of all those things. Sometimes I look out and I see the audience and that’s what it is. But I think the idea of transcendence is present in all of that. Whether it's in Eliza’s mind or in Phillipa’s mind. They’re both one in the same which is beautiful about that moment.
How delightfully cryptic. It looks like in a way both theories are correct, at least according to how Phillipa Soo played the character during her long run with Hamilton. She seems to be open to both interpretations of the show's ending, and Eliza's reaction to the audience. Namely because she's used both theories as well as her own personal feelings to bring the moment to life.
As more people watch and re-watch Hamilton on Disney+, the debate about its ending will likely continue. What did you think about the show's finale? Sound off in the poll below and make your voices heard. And be sure to check out our 2020 release list to plan your next trip to the movies.