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Primal Fear Ending Explained: Ways To Look At It

Explaining The Ending Approach Of Primal Fear
A Still From Primal Ending Featuring Martin Vail (Richard Gere) And Aaron Stampler (Edward Norton) (Credits: Paramount Pictures)

We might know Edward Norton for movies like Fight Club, The Incredible Hulk, and American History X. But, the very first time Norton actually broke through was Gregory Hoblit’s legal drama from 1993 Primal Fear. Taking cues from William Diehl’s 1993 novel of the same name. The movie also stars Richard Gere in the lead role alongside Edward Norton. The regular crime procedural plot accompanied with downright amazing three-dimensional characters made the movie an interesting watch. But, throughout the years, the movie grew on the audience. There are always questions raised when it comes to the ending of the movie. Well, we have one or two ways to explain it, and here we are taking a look at what Primal Fear’s ending is all about.

Primal Fear follows the story of a Chicago defense attorney Martin Vail (Richard Gere). Upon acknowledging a case surrounding an altar boy who is accused of murdering an influential Catholic archbishop. Vail takes matters into his own hands to help the kid. The movie went on to become a huge box office success and garnered critical acclaim and audience praise. Norton, for his character of Aaron Stampler, won Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture and received a nomination for Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.

Spoilers Ahead

Primal Fear Basic Summary

So, Primal Fear basically begins with quite popular and good at his job defense attorney Martin Vail. He holds immense pride in his successful work and is at times arrogant about it. When he sees the news of an altar boy named Aaron Stampler suffering from stutter and accused of the murder of a bishop. Martin sees something in for him and in the case. So he takes it upon himself for free of cost. Thus, establishing the fact of how good he can be.

Primal Fear Martin Defends Aaron In The Movie

A Still From Primal Fear Featuring Martin Vail (Richard Gere) and his colleague (Credits: Paramount Pictures)

Throughout the movie, we explore more about the case as Martin talks to Aaron. Martin on his side now believes he is innocent. There is a psychiatrist thrown in, personal relationships, sex tapes, and much more. We also realize Aaron”s father, as well as the bishop, abused him. At one point in the film, Martin catches Aaron lying when he admits to a relationship with a girl named Linda. Martin investigates and finds out something different. It’s the bishop who told another boy named Alex, Aaron, and Linda to have sex together and get it tapped.

When Martin Vail confronted Aaron, that’s the first time we discover something intriguing about him. His way of talking and behavior change, turning the shy guy into a violent psycho one named Roy. But only for minutes. Martin realizes after the psychiatrist’s examination that Aaron suffers from a disassociative identity disorder. Thus, this becomes the main staple of the film.

Also Read: Crisis Movie – Ending Explained

Primal Fear Ending Explained

So, there are two ways to look at this ending.

The First Approach: Not only for Aaron but also for Martin Vail. The last scene in the court saw Martin convincing everyone about Aaron’s alters ego, Roy. The one which comes out occasionally and is the result of the years of abuse Aaron faced from his father and then the bishop he killed. Martin Vail insists and tries to evoke the inner Roy living inside of Aaron as he did before. But fails. So he decides to turn to violent ways.

Explaining Aaron's Psychology

A Still From Primal Fear Featuring Aaron Stampler (Edward Norton)

Janet Venable (Laura Linney) then joins in and goes to the extent to bring out the Roy inside. This, in turn, works where we see Roy coming out and taking a shot at Venable’s neck and proving Aaron’s insanity. So, the court agrees of Aaron suffering from a disassociative personality disorder and the fact Aaron slipped off when he killed Bishop. So instead of jail, a mental asylum is where Aaron is sent.

The Second Approach: The ending moments in the film saw Martin Vail meet Aaron in the mental asylum. Aaron confesses he doesn’t remember anything that happened in the court. But when Aaron asks Martin about Venable’s neck. That’s when things break down. It will seem like the whole disassociative personality disorder is all the drama that Aaron or, more preferably, Roy, came up with.

The Differeneces Between Aaron and Roy explained

A Still From Primal Fear Featuring Aaron Stampler (Edward Norton and Martin Vail (Richard Gere)

Roy doesn’t suffer from any kind of multiple personalities. He is just a psychopath who successfully fooled everyone, including the very best attorney Martin Vail. He did commit the murder on his own and acted the whole thing out as Aaron Stampler.

Also Read: The Map Of Tiny Perfect Things Ending Explained

How Aaron Stampler Changed Martin Vail?

Martin Vail on his side felt the first time defeated by someone. A proud and successful attorney for the first time lost his arrogance. He left the place and avoided media for a while. He thought for himself how he easily got tricked by a psychopath. Apart from the final revelations, throughout the movie, we witnessed the changing nature of Martin Vail.

Martin's Love For Popularity In Primal Fear

A Still From Primal Fear Featuring Martin Vail (Richard Gere) Talking To Media

Martin Vail, as we saw at the beginning of the film, is the one who acknowledged his popularity. The one who loved when media came to him. Until we witnessed his meeting with Aaron, that’s when we realized his care for his clients, which he always followed. But in turn, it led him to be fooled. In the end, the revelation almost destroyed what he was built upon.

Also Read: The Banker Review And Plot Explained

Written By

Hello there, Rahul here, I am a writer and a passionate musician. I love writing since I remember I was a kid and was made to read a lot of books. You will find me writing about anime and shows here and there. You can reach out to me at

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