Warning: Spoilers follow about the ending of Linoleum. Stop reading now if you don’t want it spoiled.
If you’ve seen Jim Gaffigan’s new movie Linoleum directed by Colin West, you might have grasped what happened during the ending right away. Or, if you’re like me, you might have debated what the ending means with your partner for a while afterward.
In either case, worry not — I asked Jim Gaffigan to explain it to me once and for all, and he kindly obliged.
The stand-up comedian and actor plays two characters in Linoleum — Cameron Edwin, a father of two who hosts a children’s science program on a local public access network while his wife, Erin (Rhea Seehorn) tries to get him to be a little more practical and realistic. Once an aspiring astronaut, Cameron is generally disappointed in how his life has turned out, believing that he never got the chance to do something great — until a car falls out of the sky and lands in the street right in front of his house.
In it is Gaffigan’s other character: Kent Armstrong, who by all accounts appears to be a younger, better-looking, and more successful version of Cameron. To top it all off, not long after Kent arrives, something else falls from the sky — this time, it’s a rocket from outer space, and it lands in Cameron’s backyard. As his daughter, Nora (Katelyn Nacon) befriends Kent’s son, Marc (Gabriel Rush), Cameron decides it’s his destiny to build a new rocket out of the smashed rocket’s parts and try to salvage his dreams of finally becoming an astronaut — with a little help from his father, Mac (Roger Hendricks Simon), who is suffering from dementia.
So what does the ending of Linoleum mean? Here’s Jim Gaffigan to explain
The ending of Linoleum reveals that the story we’ve just watched was essentially just Cameron’s brain trying to make sense of his life in his final years as he struggles with dementia, which impairs a person’s ability to remember details and can cause them to forget people they’ve known all their lives.
As Gaffigan explained it to me, that means that Mac, Cameron’s elderly father, is actually present-day Cameron. Marc represents young Cameron, and Nora represents young Erin. Kent is what Cameron hoped he would become — and he also represents Cameron’s memories of his abusive father.
All of these versions of himself and the people he loves are swirling around in Cameron’s brain as he tries to piece together the different parts of his life. As Tony Shalhoub’s doctor character aptly put it, “the brain has plaque on it, but there’s no brain toothbrush.”
Here what Jim Gaffigan said about the ending.
“It was kind of how he sees his life — it all becomes a jumbled mess,” Gaffigan tells MovieMaker. “We learn that Erin has stayed with him. She went back and did the show with him because that job at the museum was someone else’s dream. Cameron realized that he didn’t need to go to space, that what’s more important — what’s fantastic — is a rich, fulfilling relationship, which is not a foregone conclusion for everyone. There are different versions of Cameron throughout his life.”
“How we tell a story in our memory can determine whether it’s a positive story or a negative story,” he adds.
The Kent vs. Cameron paradox is essentially Cameron’s self-doubt and self-esteem battling each other in his imagination.
“If you look at Kent and Cameron, Kent has this absence of doubt. Kent drives a Corvette and Cameron rides a bike… Cameron’s defeated and Kent is the victor. And the reality is that we both have moments — everyone has moments in their life, sometimes in the same hour, where they feel like Kent, and they have moments where they feel like Cameron. Kent, nothing can go wrong. ‘I’ve finally figured it out.’ … And particularly creative people, like writers and stuff like that, we have these moments where we’re like, ‘Look at this, I get to do what I like!’ And then within 10 minutes, we’re like, ‘I can’t believe this is all I get to do.’ It’s just this fluid thing,” Jim Gaffigan says.
Why Cameron’s young son, Sam, never speaks
“Sam is, if you notice, played by five different kids, and two of those kids are actually my kids,” Gaffigan says of Cameron and Erin’s young son, Sam, who is seen sitting at the breakfast table as well as some other scenes throughout the movie. But Sam never speaks, and Gaffigan explains why — because Sam doesn’t exist.
“Cameron and Erin never had a child, or lost a child. That makes you go back and inform their relationship further,” he says. “The boy never says anything, right? So when Cameron is sitting at the dinner table and he’s talking to his family about this car that just fell out of the sky, he’s talking to his wife who is probably in the older version, saying, ‘Well, that’s an ambulance.’ She knows the real story, which is that his father almost tried to run him over, so she’s trying to steer it that way. But his younger version memory of his wife is the one that sees it through the prism of the patriarchy… so in that scenario, the boy doesn’t exist, but in his [Cameron’s] dementia mind, he is there. His wife is his wife, and his daughter is an earlier version of his wife.”
What does the title Linoleum mean?
“The linoleum is the floor that was present, and it’s kind of this dull flooring that you see in many different environments: in the basement, in the kitchen, in the doctor’s office,” Jim Gaffigan says.
In other words, the linoleum is the common thread that holds all the different versions of Cameron together — and it all boils down to the love story between Cameron and Erin.
“That’s why I think the movie is really this love story, because in a way, the most generous person in the whole movie is Erin, who has this caretaking role, who is taking care of Cameron, who obviously is dealing with dementia,” Gaffigan says. “That’s the greatest thing that Cameron could have ever hoped for in life, is having a caring partner that would be there for him at the end.”
Linoleum is now playing in select theaters.
Main Image: Jim Gaffigan and Rhea Seehorn in Colin West’s Linoleum. Photo credit: Shout! Studios