Grease ends with Danny and Sandy leaving on a magical flying car after Sandy’s sudden transformation into the perfect greaser girl – why?
When Grease was released in 1978, the teen comedy became the highest-grossing musical of its time due to the mix of heady themes and exuberant dance numbers in the film. Although Grease technically takes place in the 1950s, the contemporary fantasy largely deals with 1950’s teenagers grappling with 1970’s themes about gender and sexuality. Grease follows the romance between Sandy Olssen and Danny Zuko and their group of friends as they navigate their senior year of high school and their fears about graduating and becoming adults.
When Sandy arrives at Rydell High after moving from Australia, she is immediately introduced to the Pink Ladies, a clique of greaser girls led by Rizzo. She recounts a summer romance with a mysterious boy that Rizzo identifies as Danny Zuko, the leader of the greaser gang the T-Birds, and played by John Travolta. Despite their summer fling, Danny’s reputation as a bad boy clashes with his attraction to Sandy. While Danny and Sandy navigate both their romance and their reputations to be together, the other members of the T-Birds and the Pink Ladies struggle with romance and the idea of their futures after Rydell High.
One of the most famous and controversial scenes in Grease happens at the end when Sandy transforms into a greaser girl, and she and Danny perform “You’re The One That I Want.” Sandy’s evolution from a good girl into the provocative greaser has been both praised and criticized in the years since the film’s release, as has the sudden shift into magical realism when the car flies into the sunset. The ending of Grease has been debated since its release, but what does Sandy’s transformation and the flying car really mean?
Why Sandy Changes At The End Of Grease (Is It Just For Danny?)
Throughout Grease, Sandy, played by Olivia Newton-John, repeatedly struggles with her identity as her friendship with the Pink Ladies opens her up to new ideas about femininity. While Sandy’s transformation has been criticized for forcing her to change her personality for Danny, it’s the logical end for her character arc of self-discovery, confidence, and her eventual rebirth. On the surface level, Sandy’s change might be for Danny. Instead, it’s a continuation of her journey questioning her identity, which began with the song “Look At Me, I’m Sandra Dee” and concluded with the reprise, when she sings, “good-bye to Sandra Dee.” Sandy’s exposure to Danny and the Pink Ladies forces her to grapple with her realization that the good-girl exterior is masking the more authentic woman inside. Ultimately it’s Sandy’s decision in “You’re The One That I Want” to break from her reputation and take what she wants. Completing Sandy’s arc towards self-discovery by transforming her into a greaser girl represents her rebirth and her newfound confidence in her identity.
Why The Car Flies In Grease’s Ending
The most bewildering part of Grease is when Sandy and Danny climb into a car that takes off and flies into the sunset. It’s a weird shift into magical realism while the rest of the movie is a fairly standard teen comedy, but a closer look reveals that the flying car fits right into Grease. It’s not the first fantasy moment, following the dream sequence “Beauty School Dropout” and the heightened realism of “Greased Lightnin” and it was almost replicated in the originally planned ending to Grease 2. In addition, the shop teacher aiding the T-Birds sets up the twist, saying that, “if it were in any better condition, it would fly.” Still, while the flying car is a departure for Grease, it serves as a symbol that Danny and Sandy are quite literally flying into the sunset for their happy ending. Strengthening that interpretation is the popular fan theory that Grease doesn’t represent accurate events, but is someones’ nostalgic memory of their time at Rydell, explaining the dream-like quality in the film. In that case, flying a car into the sunset as a representation of Danny and Sandy’s happy ending makes perfect sense for the movie.
Rizzo’s Pregnancy Scare & Ending: What It Means
The polar opposite of Sandy, Rizzo (played by Stockard Channing) is a bold and confident woman who undergoes a pregnancy scare in Grease from her relationship with Kenickie. If Sandy represents passive female desire – which becomes active by the end of the film – then Rizzo represents active female desire. Rizzo’s pregnancy scare is a major part of her arc, combined with her inability to tell Kenickie about it because she’s afraid he will leave her. Rizzo’s struggle with her vulnerability and need to be liked against her confident exterior is her primary crisis in Grease and one that she is forced to work through almost entirely alone.
Although Rizzo ends up not being pregnant, the fear forces her character to grow and become more vulnerable from the experience, culminating in Stockard Channing’s heartbreaking performance of “There Are Worst Things I Could Do.” By the end of Grease, Rizzo’s relief that she isn’t pregnant helps her realize the opportunities in her future, a moment that the film nods at by lingering on Rizzo when Principal McGee remarks that the next Eleanor Roosevelt could be in the room. Rizzo’s pregnancy scare provides an excellent contrast to Sandy, and both represent a woman struggling with the weight of her reputation contradicting her authentic self.
What Happens Next For The Characters
Grease leaves its characters cautiously optimistic about their lives following graduation, and invites the audience to speculate about their futures. In Grease 2, a few of the characters reappear; Frenchy is back in Grease 2 to show Sandy’s cousin around Rydell, having returned to get her diploma and start a cosmetics company. Most of Rydell’s teachers also return in Grease 2, with Principal McGee and her assistant still running the morning announcements, and Coach Calhoun still trying to shepherd his rebellious students. The leader of the rival gang, Leo Balmudo, appears again in Grease 2 as the primary antagonist, and its heavily implied that he is arrested at the end of the movie. While the futures of the Pink Ladies are never confirmed, Marty likely ended up pursuing Vince Fontaine or another marine, and Rizzo may have been involved in the women’s liberation movement following her pregnancy scare. Sandy and Danny’s future is uncertain, but fans have speculated that they likely stayed together after riding off into the sunset – unless the fan theory speculating Sandy has been dead the whole time is true.
Is Sandy Dead In Grease?
A popular fan theory about Grease is that Sandy drowned in “Summer Lovin,” and the entire movie is an elaborate fantasy sequence taking place during her coma, ending with her death at the end of the movie. The theory began with Danny’s line, “I saved her life, she nearly drowned,” and posits that Danny failed to save Sandy’s life, and the rest of Grease is essentially wish fulfillment for Sandy. The theory also suggests that the infamous flying car represents Sandy’s ascent into heaven, as opposed to a symbolic happy ending for her. The theory gained enough popularity that John Travolta addressed it in 2016, and Grease creator Jim Jacobs finally rebuked the theory to TMZ. The recently announced Grease prequel movie, Summer Loving, could put this theory to rest once and for all. Still, if Sandy were dead the whole time, it would explain the strange ending of the film, and the magical realism perpetuating Grease.
What Grease’s Ending Really Means
Grease was a contemporary fantasy that explored 1970s themes about sexuality, gender, and the fear of growing up through the lens of teenagers in the 1950s. The movie explores Rizzo and Sandy as parallel examples of female desire, ending with Sandy fully realizing her self-confidence and her rebirth, contrasted with Rizzo’s realization that her softness and vulnerability can be one of her strengths. Ending with Sandy and Danny literally flying away in a car, while it’s likely not a representation of Sandy going to heaven, does represent the happy ending for both characters. Grease is less of a realistic look at Rydell High’s students and more a nostalgic one filtered through rose-colored lenses, and ending the movie with the characters flying into a sunset strengthens that theme. Although the flying car seems out of place in the otherwise quasi-realistic movie, flying into the sunset together and embracing the opportunities of the future is the perfect ending for Grease.
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