MAJOR SPOILER ALERT for “Where the Crawdads Sing!” If you haven’t seen the movie or want to read the book, steer clear!
A central question of “Where the Crawdads Sing,” adapted to film from Delia Owen’s popular novel, is: Who killed Chase Andrews (Harris Dickinson)? At first, it seems the answer might elude viewers — until the final moments of the story subtly reveal what happened to him.
First, some backstory: “Where the Crawdads Sing” recounts the life story of Kya (Daisy Edgar-Jones). Kya’s earliest memories of her family are loving ones, but as she tells her story from a dank jail cell after getting arrested for her suspected killing of Chase Andrews, she reveals that her family left her all alone to fend for herself in the marsh where they lived.
The Sheriff tracks down Kya because she used to be in a relationship with Chase, before she found out that he was engaged to another woman. But before Chase, Kya fell in love with Tate Walker (Taylor John Smith). Tate introduces Kya to poetry in Owens’ book, and poetry helps Tate uncover a shocking revelation at the end of the story, but the film does not include this element at the end.
“There’s so many amazing parts of Delia’s book and it was a very hard and painful decision of what to include in the movie and what we had to leave out,” director Olivia Newman said in an interview with TheWrap. “We hope that [Kya’s] poetry comes through in the visual language and in the way that she talks and the way that she observes the world. We didn’t feel we were losing too much of telling her character’s story if we couldn’t fit that into the movie.”
In the book, Kya recites poetry to herself when she is alone. Most of the poems are by Amanda Hamilton, a local poet who gets published in regional outlets. At the end of the book, Tate realizes that Kya used Amanda Hamilton as a pen name and that she wrote those poems. The book concludes with a poem by Amanda Hamilton aka Kya called “The Firefly,” which draws on the symbolism Kya finds in how female fireflies attract male mates through false signals only to lure them to their deaths.
“We never considered changing the ending. For me, the ending is the story. That ending is everything to understand who Kaya is and the choices that she was faced with,” Newman said. “You have to have that ending. That was always incredibly important to me.”
The Firefly poem gives Tate the first clue that Kya might have actually been responsible for Chase’s death. Then he finds a shell necklace that Kya made for Chase hidden in her shack. Chase never took the necklace off after Kya gave it to him, but when his dead body was discovered, the necklace was gone. In the film, a detailed painting of a firefly as well as one of Chase in a journal visually hinted at what Kya had actually done.
“We did discuss shooting a slightly more explicit version of the ending,” Newman added. “The book leaves so much to the imagination, and you get to understand who Kaya is, but never fully. That’s part of what’s mysterious about her. We wanted to maintain that there’s a mystery to it.”
Kya’s trial paints a picture of what could have happened the fateful night Chase Andrews fell out of the fire tower, especially when his family’s attorney tries to speculate based on evidence. Newman suggests there are other scenes available out there for those who miss certain parts of the book.
“The first cut of the movie was three hours long, so there are a lot of deleted scenes,” she said. “But a lot of them will be available on the DVD – extras so the fans can see.”
The shocking ending realization that Kya did actually kill Chase leads to Taylor Swift’s original song “Carolina,” which accompanies the end credits that contain illustrations by art director Kirby Feagan. “Crawdads” is far from the ending of Newman’s career — as she has signed on to direct another Hello Sunshine adaptation of a best-selling book, “The Last Thing He Told Me,” which sounds as suspenseful as “Where the Crawdads Sing.”
“It is such a fantastic project. It’s a seven-episode limited series starring Jennifer Garner, who’s just wonderful,” Newman said. “It’s adapted from Laura Dave’s novel ‘The Last Thing He Told Me’ and it’s a story of a woman whose husband works for a tech company that is busted for fraud and he goes missing. So she sets out to figure out if he’s involved and what happened to him and why he disappeared and she’s left with his 16-year-old daughter who can’t stand her. So it’s really this incredible, you know, suspenseful mystery. But also a mother sort of a mother, stepdaughter love story in the end. It’s great to be working with Hello Sunshine again and Laura Dave and Josh Singer, the showrunners are fantastic.”