That the house may be haunted is suggested by Anne’s seeing and speaking to ghosts. She draws a picture of four of the spirits she’s seen: that of a boy about her own age, named Victor; Victor’s parents; and an “old woman.” Next to each figure, she writes the number of times she has seen each of the ghosts: she has seen each parent twice, Victor five times, and the “old lady” fourteen times. The “old lady” has harsh features and wild hair, and she scares Anne, the girl confesses. Anne also talks to Victor, once in the presence of her younger brother, with whom she shares a bedroom. When Nicholas accuses her of “teasing” him, she asks Victor to touch her brother’s face to let Nicholas know that he, Victor, is present. Later, Grace, who, at first, denies the existence of ghosts, refusing to believe that her house is haunted, hears a piano playing downstairs. When she goes to investigate, she learns that the music room is not only locked but that it is also unoccupied. However, when she leaves, an unseen force knocks her to the floor. Grace also experiences other ghostly phenomena. She hears disembodied voices talking about her when she visit’s a “junk room”--a spare bedroom used for storage--and she hears heavy thumping sounds upstairs, which she attributes to Lydia--until she sees the servant conversing with Mrs. Mills outside the house as the thumping continues upstairs. A headstone on the premises indicates that a body has been buried on the estate. Is the ghost the spirit of this person? Later, Grace finds a “book of the dead,” an album of family members’ corpses, photographed as mementoes for the surviving loved ones. Perhaps one or more of their spirits haunt Grace’s house. Not only do Anne and Grace see (and hear) ghosts, but Mrs. Mills tells Anne that she, like Anne, also sees them. Although both Anne and Nicholas have potentially fatal allergic reactions to sunlight, requiring that the curtains on the windows be closed whenever the children pass from one room to another, they have all been removed overnight, as the children’s panic-stricken screams alert Grace. None of the servants admits to having taken down any of the curtains. Perhaps the ghosts did so. When Anne and Nicholas discover the graves of the servants and Grace herself sees their likenesses in a photograph of the dead, the viewer is apt to suppose that Mrs. Mills, Mr. Tuttle, and Lydia are themselves the ghosts who haunt Grace’s house.
A case is also made for the supposition that Grace is losing her mind. She is fragile and high strung, as Nicole Kidman, who portrays her in the film, says in an interview featured on the DVD release of the movie says, and her husband has gone off to fight in World War II, leaving Grace alone to care for their children. She has poor coping skills, and caring for the two children by herself is more, perhaps, than she can handle. She takes great comfort in the Bible, as the Word of God, and in the rosary, which she says, banishes her fears. She has a simple, unquestioning faith. When her children question the credibility of the such Biblical claims as God’s creation of the universe in only six days and that two of every animal could fit on Noah’s ark, Grace is angered. She tells her children that their doubts may land them in limbo, which she distinguishes from both purgatory and hell. These concepts, like the rosary, suggest that she and her family are Roman Catholics, rather than Protestants. Her dependency upon the Bible, like her generally anxious manner, her quickness to anger, and her impatience toward her children and the servants suggest that she is tottering on the edge emotionally. It is not difficult to imagine that her seeing the “old woman” wearing the veil and dress that she made for her daughter’s confirmation, instead of Anne wearing it, as if, having possessed the girl, the “old woman” is now impersonating Grace's daughter may be the result of Grace’s hallucinating, rather than an instance of a perverse supernatural masquerade. Likewise, Grace may have only imagined that she’d heard the disembodied voices in the “junk room.” She may have had other hallucinations as well, hearing thumping when there was none, for example, and imagining that she’d heard a piano playing in the locked, unoccupied music room. She herself may have done some of the things that seem simply to “happen,” such as the taking down of the curtains in the house. Even the visit of her husband, who, until his sudden appearance, was presumed dead, a casualty of the war, could be attributed to her tendency to hallucinate, especially since, while he is home, he is eerily distant, lies motionless in bed for hours and days on end, refuses to eat anything, and is soon gone again, off, he says, to the battlefront. Indeed, after Grace attacks Anne, thinking that her daughter is the “old woman” in disguise, Anne tells Nicholas that their mother has “gone mad.” All these incidents, individually, and collectively, suggest, rather strongly, that Grace may be going mad or may already have gone insane.
On the other hand, maybe Grace’s house is not haunted, any more than she herself is insane; instead, the servants may be involved in a conspiracy against Grace and her family. They claim to have appeared at the house as the result of their "passing by," a mere coincidence, despite the fact that Grace’s house is located on an island and, for that reason, would not be a place where anyone--especially experienced servants--would be apt to seek employment. At Mrs. Mills’ direction, Mr. Tuttle dumps leaves on a headstone to prevent Grace from discovering the marker, despite Grace having given him a directive to find the headstones of all those who are allegedly buried on the estate. Mrs. Mills confides in Anne that, like the girl, the housekeeper has herself also seen the ghosts. Does Mrs. Miller do so to convince Anne that the ghosts are real in the hope that Anne will, in turn, influence Grace’s belief that her house is haunted and that it is safest to leave the mansion? Did the servants pose for the picture of the dead in which their corpses were supposedly photographed as a memento for their surviving loved ones? Mrs. Mills more than once hints at secrets that she and the other servants are keeping from Grace, and the housekeeper tells Grace that the living and the dead sometimes get “mixed up” with one another. Grace herself supplies a possible motive on the part of her servants for their conspiracy: they want to “take over” her house, she charges. Grace’s thoughts and behavior, at times, seem rational and appropriate, but, at other times, her ideas and actions are obviously groundless and even bizarre, suggesting that she is either insane or nearly so.
The Others is ambiguous on purpose, suggesting three possible explanations for the strange goings-on at the mansion in which she and her children and the servants live: the house is haunted, Grace is insane, and/or the servants want to drive Grace away so that they can lay claim to the mansion . However, the end of the movie, during which, at a séance, Grace finally learns that she has murdered Anne and Nicholas before committing suicide, upsets all three of these expectations concerning the movie’s plot, for the medium reveals that the children are dead and it is their ghosts and the ghost of their murderous mother and the loyal household servants who are the actual ghosts. Those whom Grace suspected of being ghosts are actually the members of the family who have bought the house. Grace and her family are, it appears, in purgatory, reliving Grace’s murder of her children and her murder of herself over and over again. It is only because of the careful planning of the film’s feasible, but ambiguous and bizarre incidents, that the movie succeeds in leading the audience down one path of expectations so that, at the end, it can deliver a wholly different conclusion to the story that ties up these previous storylines: the house is haunted, but by Grace and her family and servants; Grace has gone insane, killing her own children and herself, because she proved incapable of coping with and handling the stresses of everyday life without her husband’s assistance; and the servants, in fact, were conspiring, but not to steal Grace’s home but to confront her with the truth about herself and her actual situation as a soul in purgatory. Like any story that hinges upon situational irony as the means by which to effect a surprise, or twist, ending, The Others performs a bait-and-switch routine, setting up and maintaining viewers’ expectations along one line of development so that the grand finale can deliver an altogether different conclusion than the one that the previous action has painstakingly and deliberately suggested as the culmination of the whole. In doing so, The Others reveals itself to be masterful, indeed, and, therefore, a suspenseful and frightening thriller well worth watching again--and again.