In a nearly unrecognizable performance in “This Must Be the Place,” Sean Penn transforms into Cheyenne, a washed-up goth pop star grieving the death of his estranged father, a Holocaust survivor. While grappling with the 30 years they hadn’t spoken, the reclusive musician resumes his father’s obsessive hunt for the SS officer who humiliated him at Auschwitz.
The 2011 film directed by Paolo Sorrentino explores grief, generational trauma, and growing up. By the end of the film, Cheyenne tracks down the infamous now-blind Alois Lange (Heinz Lieven) with the help of Nazi hunter Mordecai Midler (Judd Hirsch). Rather than killing the man “with impunity,” he makes him strip down, like the prisoners at Auschwitz were, and strands him in the barren Utah salt plains. With his father’s lifelong mission complete, Cheyenne returns home and sheds his Edward Scissorhands hairstyle, heavy makeup, and all-black attire.
No longer rocking his decades-old style, he gazes up at a friend, and the two smile tearfully at one another as the film’s title track softly plays in the background.
So, what does that wordless exchange mean? Why did Cheyenne cut off his hair? Why is the film named after a new wave love song from the 1980s? Here’s everything you need to know about the ending of “This Must Be the Place,” explained.