One Hour Photo: suspenseful ending, explained

One Hour Photo

Robin Williams’ One Hour Photo is a 2002 movie which leaves the viewers perplexed as it goes through and especially in the end. Here is the movie and its weird end, explained.

Beware, the article contains spoilers.

The Yorkins, Sy, and his photo developing work

Nina Yorkin stops by SavMart, a departmental store for developing the photos of her son’s ninth birthday. Seymour, or Sy, is the lead photo technician who works on their pictures. He calls Nina her best customer since she’s been coming to him to develop photos for a long time.

He is great at his work, being precise even about the littlest things. He gives Nina the 5×6 version of the prints instead of 4×5 which she actually wanted. He waives off the excess expense and even gifts her son Jack a disposable camera, free, as a birthday gift.

Why is Sy so friendly with the family?

Sy is revealed as a lonely man who works and comes back to an empty house. He has developed some obsession with the Yorkin’s, as evident by his living room wall full of maybe 1000’s of their family’s photos. He prints a copy for himself each time Nina gives a reel.

He daydreams about being a part of their family, which impacts his work too. He observes and imitates Nina’s interests and makes friendly conversation when he sees William. He also comments that he feels more like Uncle Sy than just the photo guy to Nina.

His imagination of a perfect family, shattered

One day, Sy discovers something unusual with a customer, Maya, who came in the store. Foul play which is confirmed when he checks his Yorkin photo wall and Maya’s recent photos. William is cheating on Nina with Maya. Sy feels distressed and slips one of Maya’s and William’s photo in the Yorkin’s photo bag.

That same day, Sy is fired from his job for discrepancies on payment and material usage at the studio (we know where it all went). He makes it a mission to protect the family and spies on their reaction from outside their home. The family seems to be going on like normal. What he does next is extreme to save his perfect family.

What does he do to protect them?

Sy gets angry and decides to follow William one day from his office. Before that, he perhaps intentionally drops off photos of the manager’s young daughter zoomed in at the studio, which prompts him to call the police.

Meanwhile, Sy cleverly checks in at the hotel, in a room near William and Maya’s and deftly poses as room service to gain access in theirs. He rushes in & orders them at his whim. While the police are searching him for the threat to manager, they see the photo wall & reach out to Nina.

Sy aggressively orders the couple to get into erotic poses in pretense and clicks their photos. When Sy goes back to his room, he sees police lights and makes a run. In the couple’s room, the officer finds the couple, traumatized.

While Sy tries to escape the hotel undetected, he is eventually caught where he infamously yells, “I just took photos!”

What the ending investigation finds about Sy?

The movie starts with Sy answering the detective’s question of why he did it, and ends with his confession of the events. In his dialogue, he reveals that a father should provide comfort, be a good man and nobody should ever have their photos clicked in compromising positions.

It seems that Sy was abused and used as a child by his own father, indicated by his lack of family. He develops a bond with the happiness radiated by the Yorkin’s in their pictures, wanting to be a part of their family.

The hotel room photoshoot is revealed to be of just random objects in the room, than the couple. Sy believes that this incident might make William realize his mistake.

The baffling ending shot of the movie

In the last shot, a picture of a radiant Sy starts zooming out, with William’s arm around him, Nina besides William and his hand on Jack’s shoulder. What does it mean? Maybe in his mind, Sy actually feels a part of the family after what he did for them? People have numerous theories, this being the most widely thought of. It’s also said that maybe the whole movie was Sy’s active imagination.

Robin Williams in an interview with Film Monthly described the film in this way,

“very disturbing, and in a weird way that’s good. Someone came up to me after Sundance and said ‘That was creepy in a good way.”