Cáit Finally Finds a Family


The Big Picture

  • The Quiet Girl’s
    ambiguous ending reveals a deep bond formed after confronting hidden traumas and neglected love.
  • The film subtly hints at abuse and neglect, culminating in a heartwarming connection between Cáit and Seán.
  • Cáit finds the father figure she deserves in Seán, healing both their past traumas and filling a void with love.

What does that beautiful, ambiguous ending of The Quiet Girl mean? This year, The Quiet Girl (An Cailín Ciúin in Irish) received a much-deserved Oscar nomination for Best International Feature, and with it, Colm Bairéad’s excellent feature debut is sure to rack up a fair share of attention. It’s also gone on to become the highest-grossing Irish language film of all time. The Quiet Girl is a wonderful film filled with quiet, beautiful moments, elevated by lush cinematography and succinct performances. Simply, it would make a neat little double feature with Charlotte Wells’s magnificent Aftersun.

The story is simple: A shy and soft-spoken girl named Cáit (CatherineClinch) is sent by her mother (Kate Nic Chonaonaigh) and father (Michael Patric) to live with, Seán (Andrew Bennett) and Eibhlín (Carrie Crowley), a pair of distant relatives. Out in the countryside, Cáit spends the summer with her relatives on an idyllic Irish farm, and along the way, she comes to terms with an unexpected reality. Through a simple, hushed narrative, The Quiet Girl accomplishes the impressive feat of changing its protagonist’s life in 90 short minutes. It ends with some ambiguity, but the ultimate meaning of its conclusion is spelled out throughout the movie.

The Quiet Girl

In rural Ireland, a quiet, neglected girl is sent away from her dysfunctional family to live with relatives for the summer where she blossoms and learns what it is to be loved.

Release Date
May 13, 2022

Colm Bairéad

Carrie Crowley , Andrew Bennett , Catherine Clinch , Michael Patric

94 minutes

What Happens at the End of ‘The Quiet Girl’?

Throughout the summer spent with Seán and Eibhlín, Cáit comes out of her shell, becoming more comfortable with herself and forming an intimate bond with her temporary guardians. Seán, while at first withdrawn and emotionally distant, soon treats Cáit like the daughter he never had. Near the end of the film, it’s revealed that Seán’s initial coldness towards Cáit is rooted in the trauma of losing his son, who drowned in the farm’s slurry pit. While spending time with Cáit, he learns to let his guard down and confront his grief in order to give Cáit the love and attention she needs.

Cáit is due home as the summer holidays have come to an end. But after falling into a well trying to fetch fresh water, Cáit catches a cold and is bedridden for a few days. Soon after, while still recovering, the Kinsellas bring her home, as her mother has given birth. There’s sadness all around, with neither Cáit nor her temporary guardians wanting their time together to end. Nonetheless, they return Cáit to her house, where she’s welcomed with general indifference by her parents and siblings.


Irish Cinema Is Having a Moment

It’s a proud day for the Irish!

Her father, on the other hand, notices the remnants of the cold and criticizes and berates her for sneezing and sniffles. Seán is visibly agitated by the subtle cruelty of Cáit’s father, and the couple cut their visit short. They depart, heartbroken to leave Cáit behind at a home where she’s, at best, outright neglected. After a moment’s hesitation, recognizing the suffocating reality of her home, she sprints after Seán and Eibhlín, catching them just as they’re opening the gate at the edge of the property. This recalls a pivotal moment earlier in the film where Seán challenges Cáit to sprint to the mailbox, which she does with blissful peace.

Cáit and Seán lovingly embrace, whether it’s bidding farewell or reuniting. Just up the way, Cáit’s father approaches steadily, angrily, in pursuit of his daughter. Cáit softly mutters “daddy,” as a sort of warning to Seán about her approaching father. A moment passes, she melts into Seán’s embrace, and repeats “daddy” much more fondly this time around as the film cuts to black.

‘The Quiet Girl’ Alludes to a History of Abuse

In order to properly and fully unpack the film’s restrained ending, it’s important to first look at a crucial plot point that is only alluded to, rather than outright stated. Apart from the unnatural discomfort that Cáit shows around her father, there are a few other signs that hint at the sinister truth that Cáit has been abused, perhaps even sexually, by her father. Repeated instances of bedwetting also hint at a hidden trauma. When Eibhlín asks Cáit to come with her to the well, the girl becomes sheepish. “Is it a secret? Am I not supposed to tell?” she asks timidly. Eibhlín understands what she’s saying, but she responds with remarkable calm, “there are no secrets in this house. If there are secrets in a house, there is shame in that house”.

The bedwetting and fear of late-night walks and the secrets they hold leave some ambiguity towards the abuse itself. What specifically happened at Cáit’s home is left unspoken, and it’s ultimately up to the viewer to decide what such a secret might hold at Cáit’s house. Even with such specificities undeclared, however, there’s an undeniable shame hidden, and all that is due to Cáit’s cruel and drunken father.

Seán Is the Father Cáit Never Had

Sean (Andrew Bennett) speaking with Cait (Catherine Clinch) outside near trees in The Quiet Girl
Image Via Break Out Pictures

Because of her father’s cruelty and abuse, Cáit has rejected him as a proper father figure. Through the abuse, as well as her mother’s general neglect, Cáit had become timid and reserved. She’d been cheated out of the unconditional love that a parent owes their child. Ironically, it’s only through Eibhlín and Seán (her mother’s cousin and Eibhlín’s husband) that she’s able to be treated rightfully as a daughter. They may not be her birth parents, but by all accounts, they’re the parents that Cáit deserves…and needs.

You can see it with the decadent little cookie (the Kimberley biscuit as it’s known in Ireland) Seán discreetly passes her way one summer afternoon (it’s never just a cookie), through the time spent sweeping the barn together and the moments of genuine kindness. So when she utters that second “daddy,” it’s no longer directed at her father, it’s directed at Seán, who in a few short months showed her the kind of love she’d been missing all her life. With him, and with Eibhlín, she’s treated like their own beloved child, like somebody worth loving. And she loves them, too.

Cáit Helps the Kinsellas Confront Their Grief

Eibhlin (Carrie Crowley), Cait (Catherine Clinch), and Sean (Andrew Bennett) in The Quiet Girl
Image Via Break Out Pictures

With Seán accepting Cáit as a daughter figure, he also completes a crucial transformation.The emotional scars left by his son’s tragic death, while never able to vanish, are treated through Cáit’s presence. If his initial rejection of her came from a place of sensitivity, his push for her to buy her own clothes (rather than grotesquely wearing the dust-ridden outfits of his departed son) is an act of acceptance. Cáit isn’t a replacement for Seán’s son, and she could never be. She’s something different, someone who is equally worthy of love.

All this time, Seán had his guard up, protecting himself from further heartbreak. Through his bond with Cáit, he’s able to love again, recover, and move forward with his life. These two people, a newfound pair of father and daughter, discovered in each other a missing piece in their lives. In the warm embrace they share, if only then, each is safe from the dangers of the world.

The Quiet Girl is currently streaming on Hulu in the U.S.

Watch on Hulu


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *