Gracie’s Hunting Scene Makes Joe’s May December Ending Even More Devastating

WARNING! This article contains spoilers for May December (2023)!


  • In May December, Gracie’s hunting hobby reflects her predatory nature and control over Joe, while Joe’s butterfly hobby represents his vulnerability and desire for autonomy.
  • The symbolism of their hobbies is highlighted in Joe’s emotional final scene at the graduation ceremony, where he releases his children from Gracie’s grasp, similar to how he releases his butterflies into the wild.
  • Joe’s character arc in May December encompasses mourning his lost childhood and finding relief in the freedom his children have from suffering the same fate under Gracie’s control.

In May December, Gracie and Joe’s hobbies each reflect their respective roles in their predatory relationship, making Joe’s poignant final scene all the more evastating. Directed by Todd Haynes, May December follows an actress named Elizabeth (Natalie Portman) who is starring in a film based on the major public scandal surrounding an adult woman who preyed on a 12-year-old boy. To prepare for the role, Elizabeth spends time studying Gracie (Julianne Moore), the woman she’s playing in the movie, and her much younger husband, Joe (Charles Melton), who was her victim.

May December is inspired by the true story of Mary Kay Letourneau, a schoolteacher who was convicted of statutory rape for preying on her 13-year-old student, Vili Fualaau. Like Gracie and Joe, Mary Kay and Vili later got married and had kids after she was released from prison, and the controversial nature of their relationship was heavily covered and sensationalized in the media. Among other cinematic devices, May December uses masterful symbolism to depict the true internal states of both the predator, Gracie, and the victim, Joe, through their hobbies.

Gracie’s Hunting & Joe’s Butterfly Hobbies Tragically Parallel Their 23-Year Dynamic

In May December, both Gracie and Joe’s hobbies are a reflection of their predator-prey dynamic. Gracie has a penchant for hunting, as shown when she takes to the woods with her shotgun on the morning of their children’s high school graduation. Not only is Gracie a hunter for sport, but she’s also a hunter in life. She turned Joe into prey by making him the target of her predatory perversions when he was just a child. Despite Gracie’s ploy of innocence and naïveté, her controlling, manipulative nature is also evident in her relationships with her children, who view her as a suffocating force.

The symbolism of Gracie’s hobby is more blatant and direct, while Joe’s is more complex and layered. In May December, Joe raises monarch butterflies before releasing them into the wild. In contrast to the violent hobby of hunting, this caring and gentle hobby is both a reflection and a product of the abuse Joe suffered from Gracie. He sees butterflies as his child self, innocent and powerless, which is why he finds comfort in fostering the growth of these delicate creatures and protecting them while they’re still vulnerable.

Joe’s hobby also allows him to gain a sense of autonomy and control that was stripped from him by Gracie. The safety and preservation of a living being rests in his hands, but instead of exploiting this like Gracie did, he uses it to nurture these beings and keep them safe. He wields his power over the butterflies by setting them free once they’re ready, a fate he secretly desired but never received. This need to protect and release also translates to Joe’s relationship with his children, whom he feels responsible for protecting from Gracie until they’re able to break free.

How Joe’s Most Agonizing May December Scene Reflects The Symbolism Of Their Hobbies

Joe (Charles Melton) covers his mouth with his hand and cries next to a fence in May December.

The symbolism of both Gracie and Joe’s hobbies and how these reflect their dynamic is especially cutting in Joe’s heartbreaking final scene in May December‘s ending. At the kids’ graduation ceremony, Joe opts not to sit with Gracie and observes from a distance instead. As Joe watches his children cross the stage and receive their diplomas, he finds himself overcome with emotion and begins to sob. It’s not an unusual reaction from a parent seeing their children grow up and reach this milestone, but, as highlighted in the Oscar-worthy performance by Charles Melton, it goes much deeper for Joe. He’s not just experiencing the typical mixed feelings of pride in his children’s accomplishments and sadness at letting them go.

For Joe, his children are also like his butterflies: he has tried to protect them and keep them safe in the hostile, controlling environment Gracie created, and now, he’s releasing them from her grasp. It’s a bittersweet moment because he recognizes that they’ve been granted the freedom from Gracie that he never got, the same freedom he grants his butterflies when they fly away. Joe’s character arc in May December concludes with him mourning the childhood that Gracie took from him while also experiencing relief that their children did not have to suffer the same fate and stay trapped by her.

May December Poster

May December

May December is a drama romance film that follows a married couple who once controlled the headlines with their tabloid romance. Two decades later, the couple’s supposed marital bliss begins to crack under the weight of an actress researching them, preparing to star in a film about their lives.

Release Date
December 1, 2023

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