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Theories about the ending of “A Nightmare on Elm Street”

by Denny R. Walter
(August the 19th, 2010)

Introduction

Most people who have seen the movie “A Nightmare on Elm Street” are confused by its ending. The overall plot of the film is not hard to follow and even though there are some twists here and there where you don’t really know if someone is dreaming or if he’s awake, it’s mostly resolved at the end of the scene. But the final few minutes leave people in confusion. The ending is simply not comprehensible at first glance.
There are certain theories how the ending has to be understood. In this essay, I will present the two popular theories and explain why they are not sufficient enough to provide a satisfactory answer. Then, I will present a third, alternative explanation of the final plot.

Recapitulation of the scenes in question

Before I list the various theories, I want to summarize the final arc of the movie for the sake of completion. However, I will not summarize the plot of the whole film, so this essay assumes that the reader has seen “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and remembers it well enough.

After Nancy finds out that she can bring objects from the dream world to reality by grabbing them in the moment of awakening, she plans to do this with Fred Krueger himself. So, after calling Don, her father, setting up booby traps in the house and talking to Marge, her mother, who is lying in bed, she sets the alarm clock to 10 minutes and goes to sleep.
In the dream world, Nancy tries to find Freddy and succeeds. She manages to grab him, shortly before the alarm clock rings.
She wakes up and Freddy is in her room now. He chases her through the house. Whenever she gets the chance, she calls for Don on the other side of the street. While trying to get Nancy, Freddy walks into her booby traps and she lures him into the cellar where she puts him on fire.
Finally, Don and other policemen arrive at the house and break the door open. While the policemen go down the cellar, Nancy recognizes footprints of fire that lead up the stairs: Freddy has somehow passed her and the policemen unnoticed.
She and Don follow the trail and find Freddy who is killing Marge in her bed. Nancy attacks Freddy with a chair and Don puts a blanket over him to extinguish the fire. When he pulls it away again, there is a hole in the bed. Blue light shines from it and thunder can be heard and lightning be seen. Marge’s dead body is sucked into the hole and after that, the bed is normal again. There’s a bit talk and then Nancy tells Don to go downstairs and that she will follow shortly after him.
When she is alone, the bedroom door gets closed by itself and Nancy turns her back on the bed, facing the door. Freddy comes out of the bed, cutting the sheet with his glove. Nancy tells him that she knows his secret now: That this is just a dream and he isn’t real. She faces him and demands her mother and her friends back and says that she takes away his power. She then turns around again and ignores him. When trying to kill her, Freddy dematerializes and falls down screaming, dissolving into light.
Nancy opens the door and suddenly stands outside her house. (The viewer shall believe that this is reality.) She has new clothes on and the wound on her arm is gone. Marge is alive, as well as Nancy’s friends who arrive by car, a convertible. Nancy enters the car and everything seems alright.
But then the top of the car, which has red and green stripes on it, just like Freddy’s sweater, comes down and the windows are automatically closed. (Now the viewer recognizes that she’s in fact in a dream.) Nancy and her friends are trapped and the car drives away by itself. Marge doesn’t notice anything strange, until she is pulled through the small window of the door. Three girls jump rope and sing the Freddy song.
The end.

The confusion

The plot of the movie is absolutely logical for most of the time. But when Freddy goes up the stairs in that one scene of the climax, things start to get weird:

The first problem is:
Even though they are in the real world, Freddy is suddenly able to use supernatural powers: He goes up the stairs without anybody seeing him, he disappears under the blanket and Marge is pulled into the bed, the door closes itself and Freddy suddenly reappears and cuts himself through the sheet, but without damaging the bed.

The second problem:
After Nancy has defeated Freddy, she opens the door and physically walks from the real world into a dream. How is it possible to enter a dream through a door instead of falling asleep?

To explain these last scenes, some attempts have been made that I will retell now.

The two popular theories

It wasn’t Wes Craven’s intended ending

Wes Craven, who invented the movie’s plot and wrote the screenplay, originally intended “A Nightmare on Elm Street” to have a happy ending.
This ending is identical to the current one, with the exception that Nancy and her friends aren’t trapped in the car and that Marge is not pulled through the door by Freddy.

Here is the ending scene as Wes Craven intended it:

Video

But producer Robert Shaye wanted to leave the possibility for a sequel open and decided for the twist ending that we see in the current version.

People now say that the current ending is just confusing because it’s not the original one and instead a last minute decision. But they fail to recognize that Wes Craven’s ending would have been confusing as well:

One question here is: In Wes Craven’s version, how does the overall plot has to be understood? Does it play out like the current version, with Freddy being a real undead killer, and only the ending being different? Or is the whole movie up to that point just a single long dream, with Freddy being a figment of Nancy’s imagination, and even all the scenes that look like they play in reality are just part of that one dream?
And another question is: Is the final scene supposed to be reality or a beautiful dream?

Let’s have a look at all the possible combinations:

If Freddy is real and the last scene is a dream, then the same problems still exist: How can Freddy use supernatural powers in the real world and why does Nancy walk from the real world into a dream?
The fact that the final scene turns out to be a beautiful dream instead of a nightmare doesn’t change anything concerning the confusing parts. So, whatever scene is confusing in the current movie is equally confusing in this interpretation of Wes Craven’s original version and further inspection would be necessary nonetheless.
Besides, in this case, it’s a faux happy ending: Freddy killed Marge and Nancy’s friends. And the apparent happy ending simply consists of Nancy dreaming of them being alive again. That’s a cold comfort. She will be disappointed all the more when she finds out that her victory over Freddy just provided her a beautiful dream, while in reality, Marge and Nancy’s friends are still dead.

If Freddy is real and the last scene is reality, then the plot isn’t any more clear either. On the contrary, it’s even more confusing: The question how Freddy can use supernatural abilities in the real world remains. And the question about the transition is just slightly altered: How can Nancy walk through the bedroom door at night and end up in front of her house the next morning?
And on top of that, there’s one more question: Why are Marge and Nancy’s friends alive again? Freddy killed them for real. Their deaths happened. Nancy killed Freddy, but since when can you bring murder victims back to life by killing their murderer?
Again, Wes Craven’s original version does nothing to make the plot any more comprehensible.

If the whole movie is a dream and only the last scene plays in reality, it’s illogical as well: Why does Nancy wake up from her 90 minutes long nightmare and instantly stands in front of her house, fully dressed and ready to go to school? If everything until that point was just a dream, she should wake up in her bed and not find herself outside the house.
Even with this interpretation, the plot doesn’t make much sense.

If the whole movie is a dream and the last scene is a dream as well, then we have literally no scene that plays in reality. We don’t see a single second that plays in the real world. Everything is a dream, simply everything. From the first scene of Freddy building the glove until the screen fades to black before the credits roll: Everything is just part of one long dream.
In this case, sure, the plot is not confusing anymore. But if this interpretation is to be taken as the correct one, then the plot must be the most pointless story in human history. We literally see nothing of the movie’s real world. We don’t even know if it’s really Nancy who dreams it. It could be anybody’s dream. I could dream that story, you could dream it. Since we don’t see anybody actually waking up, it can be a random dream by a random person. And therefore, it’s not worth to be discussed at all.

Those are the four possible interpretations for Wes Craven’s ending. And you see: His version wouldn’t have made the plot any more comprehensible. The current plot is not just confusing because it wasn’t the originally intended one. The original ending would have had its quirks as well.

By the way, I want to point out one important thing: Even though the current ending is not the original one, we shouldn’t use that fact as an explanation in a discussion like the one in this essay.
People may like it or not, but the current plot with the twist ending and Freddy’s return is the canon version. That’s the movie as it is. That’s the movie as it was shown in cinemas and that we find on video and DVD.
And in a plot-based discussion about the movie “A Nightmare on Elm Street”, we should use this on-screen version as the basis and not an early idea or a video of an alternate ending. Because this on-screen movie is the official plot, the way how it “really” happened, while Wes Craven’s intended ending, after all, is just an unused preliminary version.

So, let’s look at the other explanation of the ending, the one that assumes the official plot.

Nancy never took Freddy into the real world and it was still part of the dream

This theory is the most popular one and it is accepted by the majority of the viewers. It goes like that:

When Nancy sets her alarm clock, says her prayer and closes her eyes, that’s the last time we see her awake. From there, the whole remaining film completely plays in the dream world. When Nancy grabs Freddy and her alarm clock rings, she only dreams that she wakes up and pulls Freddy into the real world.

In this case, the ending is not confusing anymore:
Freddy can use his supernatural powers and Nancy walks through the door into a completely different scenery simply because that’s all still part of the same dream and after she went to bed the last time, she didn’t leave the dream world anymore.

Well, that’s probably the most simple explanation. If we assume that Freddy walking into Nancy’s booby traps, Nancy putting him on fire and the policemen coming over for help is just part of a dream, then whatever supernatural stuff happens doesn’t pose any problems of understanding anymore.
So, on a purely logical level, that’s a valid explanation because with this theory, nothing happens that goes against the previously established rules of the movie’s universe.

However, I have a little dramaturgical problem with it.
To summarize my problem: If we assume that Nancy never pulls Freddy into the real world, then these scenes are very badly written and end up in a halfhearted plot.
Let me tell you why this is the case:

So, Nancy seems to wake up and Freddy is in her room. He starts chasing her, but this time, he’s vulnerable and is attacked by her and walks into her booby traps. In the cellar, she puts him on fire.
All this, Freddy’s whole weakness, of course serves the purpose to make Nancy think that she’s in the real world.
But what happens when Nancy enters Marge’s bedroom where Freddy is just strangling Marge? Freddy flat-out shows Nancy that she’s still in a dream by making the thunderstorm in Marge’s bed appear and by sucking her into the bed.

So, what was the whole farce good for?
Freddy sets up the illusion that Nancy has brought him into reality only to admit that she’s still in the dream when it comes to their final confrontation? Then, what was the purpose? Why did Freddy let Nancy think that she’s in reality when he never even tries to use this misconception for his advantage?
He gets himself attacked a few times and then drops the camouflage before is was only slightly useful. He could have pretended to have died from the fire. Then he could have attacked Nancy from behind. But he doesn’t do anything like that.
The whole thinking to be in reality while still being in a dream does nothing more than waste a bit of time. There’s no real reason why Freddy should have done this in the first place since he never uses it against Nancy and ultimately undoes it in Marge’s bedroom when he shows her they are still in a dream. That’s what I call bad writing.

Of course, people could come up with a bunch of explanations to make the plot good again.

They could say something like this:
“It isn’t Freddy who creates the illusion here. Nancy’s own subconsciousness brings her and Freddy into another dream that is modeled after the real world. Because it is Nancy who does that, Freddy initially doesn’t have any superpowers anymore and has to regain them.”

Sure, such an explanation is imaginable. It doesn’t contradict the rest of the movie since the movie nowhere mentions how much power Freddy exactly has over the dream world. And it takes away the stupidity of the previous interpretation of the plot.
But the problem is: It makes some new things up. It doesn’t just explain certain scenes, it adds completely new rules about how the dream world works.
It might be uncontradicted by the rest of the movie, but if we can invent new stuff just because the movie doesn’t mention the opposite, then finding an explanation shouldn’t be too hard. I could find hundreds of explanations if I can add anything I like as long as the movie doesn’t prove me wrong. But that should not be the goal.

When trying to explain the ending of “A Nightmare on Elm Street”, one should only work with the rules that are already established. If people start to make up new rules at will, theories could drift into randomness.

The mere explanation that Nancy didn’t bring Freddy into the real world, for example, is a “good” attempt: It doesn’t add anything new and just takes what belongs to the film as the basis and tries to explain the final scenes from that knowledge.
Unfortunately, with this simple and generally valid explanation, even though it’s logically possible, the plot is not really good and elaborate anymore.

But postulating some kind of Nancy-controlled dream or anything else that is solely based on the theorist’s fantasy to make the plot better is just random. Such a theory could be easily replaced by 1000 similarly made-up alternatives that are all no better or worse because they all follow the rule: “If it’s not in the movie, I can make it whatever I want.” And in this case, we will never find a theory that has the potential to be a truly definite explanation.

If you’re satisfied with a plot that only makes sense on a purely logical level, but doesn’t need to be good and smart, take the theory that Nancy never brought Freddy into the real world and ignore the question why Freddy sets up such a deception, but never uses it in any way.
If you do want a good plot, but have nothing against inventing new rules when necessary, take the same explanation and make up things to improve the plot again.
But if you want the plot to be good and have its explanation based only on rules explicitly established in the movie itself, then maybe you should have a look at my own theory in the next section.

My theory

It took me 11 years to come up with a satisfying explanation. In the year 1999, I saw the movie the first time. Now we have 2010.

The first oddity of the mentioned confusion was solved pretty easily. But it was the second oddity that I couldn’t explain for so long. But now it’s there. Now I have an explanation that doesn’t make up any new rules and can be justified by the previous scenes of the movie itself and by its established rules.

At first let me tell you that, according to my theory, Nancy did take Freddy into the real world. It is not just a dream itself. Nancy pulling Freddy into reality actually happens and Don and the other policemen are there for real.
Only in the very last moments, when she opens the door of Marge’s bedroom, does Nancy go back into a dream.

Now, let’s talk about the confusing things.

Explanation of the first problem: Freddy using supernatural powers in the real world

People think that the scenes in question have to play in a dream because Freddy uses powers that he should only have in dreams. But if you pay close attention, that’s not necessarily true.

Throughout the movie, Freddy has demonstrated to be able to influence the real world several times:

When Freddy kills Tina, her shirt is moved away before she gets cut, she flies around and is dragged up the walls and along the ceiling in the real world. It is not just the cuts appearing on her body under the shirt, but every one of her motions from the dream also happens in reality, even though there it would go against the force of gravity.

O.k., one could say now that this is just because Freddy can influence the dreamer and that it’s not influencing reality as he does with Marge’s bed where he lets a hole and a thunderstorm appear.
Alright, then let’s look at the next example:

When killing Rod, Freddy doesn’t just hang him in the dream while in the real world we would have only seen his choked neck. Instead, even the bed sheet, an inanimate object, is moved in the real world because Freddy moves it in the dream. Freddy clearly influences the real world here.

But it gets even more spectacular:

Glen’s death: Freddy grabs Glen and pulls him into his bed. Then a huge blood fountain shoots out of the hole from the bed.
And what do we see in the real world? Do we just see a sleeping Glen on his bed with cuts suddenly appearing on his body? No. We see the exact same thing: The bed now has a hole, Glen’s body has disappeared and blood that seems to come out of nowhere shoots into the air. In the real world. (Glen’s mother witnesses it.)
That’s not just influencing the dreamer. That’s not just letting objects move around as if they were grabbed by an invisible force. That’s magically transforming a normal bed into a bed that has a hole. And the blood can not just be Glen’s because there’s too much of it.
So, Freddy supernaturally influences the real world. He doesn’t just kill a victim and the effect is visible on the victim’s body in the real world. He also doesn’t just move real world objects around. He literally transforms a bed in the real world and sends blood from the dream to reality.

Freddy has always been able to use certain supernatural abilities in the real world.

So, if we face the fact that he can make a hole in Glen’s bed appear for real where Glen is sucked into, then it shouldn’t be hard to accept that the hole in Marge’s bed where she is sucked into is part of the real world too.
And if blood can shoot out of Glen’s bed, then the thunderstorm in Marge’s bed is just another one of Freddy’s special effects.

So, that’s the answer for the first problem: Since Freddy is demonstrably able to influence the real world from within a dream, it’s not hard to conclude that he retains those kinds of his supernatural powers when he gets to the real world himself.

To be honest, I don’t know the exact rules that determine which powers he retains and which powers he doesn’t have in reality.
He obviously can’t teleport anymore since he physically has to break Nancy’s door open. But later, he is able to hide from the policemen and walk up the stairs in high-speed without anybody seeing him.
He can feel pain, unlike in the dreams where he used to mutilate himself to frighten his victims. But he is able to make the door of Marge’s bedroom close itself before he faces Nancy a last time.

I might not know how the rules exactly work. But that’s not important anyway. It’s proven by previous scenes that Freddy can influence the real world with supernatural abilities. And that’s the reason why assuming that the last scenes (minus the very last scene of course) play in the real world is absolutely valid and consistent with the previous plot.

Sure, Nancy herself says that it’s just a dream. Probably because she is confused as well. Just like the viewer can’t explain how these strange things can happen in reality and thus assumes that it must be a dream, so does Nancy.
It is not her only mistake.
She says: “It’s too late, Krueger. I know the secret now. This is just a dream. You’re not alive. This whole thing is just a dream. I want my mother and friends again.”
And she is wrong with everything:
Freddy is alive and real.
And she wouldn’t get her mother and friends back, even if she could defeat him for good.
And judging from those words, she probably doesn’t even just mean: “The last few minutes have been a dream”, but she probably wants to say: “The whole past days were just a dream and you are only a part of my imagination.”
So, she’s wrong either way. Poor girl. Had she tried to physically kill Freddy or had she used the ignore tactic inside a dream, it maybe would have worked. But now that she turns her back on him in reality, she just sends him back to the dream world. And even though he can’t stab her from behind as planned because of her ignoring him, he is instantly able to be an active nightmare killer again.

Objection

“But even if Freddy can influence the real world from within a dream, is there any proof that he retains these abilities when being pulled into reality? Isn’t the claim that Freddy has supernatural abilities in the real world an invention of a new rule as well?”

No, it’s not just an invention.
While it’s true that there’s no further explicit proof that Freddy can use his abilities outside the dream world, my conclusion is still the more logical one.
If Freddy only had supernatural abilities in the dreams, he shouldn’t be able to influence the real world at all. But since he can do this, it’s more logical to assume that he retains certain superpowers than that he loses all of them when leaving the dream.

Let me explain it with a little analogy:
If I have a remote control to turn on the lights in my apartment, that of course only works in my own apartment. I can’t use my remote control to turn on the lights in your apartment, neither from within my apartment nor when I visit you.
But if my remote control has the ability to turn on the lights in the Empire State Building, it’s absolutely clear that I can still turn on the lights in the Empire State Building when I myself am there. Nobody would believe that I can use my remote control to turn on the Empire State Building’s lights when I’m in my apartment, but that my remote control won’t work anymore when I visit the Empire State Building and take the remote control with me.

Why should Freddy be able to transform beds in the real world while being in the dream world and not be able to transform beds in the real world while being in the real world?
If he only has dream powers, then their influence shouldn’t leave the dream world in the first place. But since it does, since his superpowers reach beyond the dreams, it’s fair to say that he retains them beyond the dreams.

Explanation of the second problem: Nancy walking from reality into a dream

After Nancy has defeated Freddy, she opens the door and ends up in the final dream.
So, if this is the real world, she literally walks into a dream. Instead of falling asleep, which is the usual way to enter the dream world, she walks into it as if she passed a dimensional portal that spontaneously manifested between the bedroom and the floor.
How can this be explained?

Well, at first we need to have a look at one of the previous scenes again:
There’s a scene in the movie that is as confusing as the ending. But since it doesn’t affect the rest of the plot very much, it’s not analyzed very often.

I’m talking about the tongue phone scene:

Nancy gets a busy signal when trying to call Glen. Then the phone rings. She picks it up and hears the sound of Freddy scratching the knives of his glove along a wall. Frightened, she rips out the phone. Realizing what she has done (since Glen couldn’t call now either), she puts it on her bed and wants to leave the room. But suddenly, it rings again. She picks it up one more time and Freddy is on the other side, talking to her and sticking his tongue through the phone. Nancy then smashes the phone and destroys it with her foot. Next, she realizes that Freddy is going to get Glen and she runs out of the room.

So, what did just happen?

Shortly before the phone rings the first time, she sits on the bed and puts her hand in front of her face.
Does she just fall asleep there and the rest of the scene is a dream? Possible, but there’s one problem:
The last thing we see is her running out of the room and then she runs down the stairs and talks with Marge which is obviously the real world again. If it was just a normal dream, we should have seen her waking up where she fell asleep and the phone being intact.
So, that’s not the correct explanation.

Or is Freddy maybe able to call her from within the dream world? Is the phone some kind of interface that enables Freddy to contact persons in reality who are awake and even stick his tongue into the real world?
Again possible, but again wrong.

The real answer is not in the movie itself, but in the screenplay:
(By the way, the underlined text has been there already. It’s not the part that I want to point out.)

160.  INT.  NANCY'S ROOM.  NIGHT.                                        160.

      NANCY dials again.  This time she gets a BUSY SIGNAL.  She slams
      the phone down in frustration and looks out the window.

                                      NANCY
                      Glen.  Don't fall asleep...

      She goes and sits on the bed, propping her chin on her fists.
161.  Yawns.  The TELEPHONE RINGS.                                       161.

      NANCY snatches it up.

                                      NANCY
                      Glen?

      TIGHT ON HER, ZOOMING EVEN CLOSER ON HER EAR AND THE EARPIECE as
      we HEAR the awful SCRITCHING SCRAPE of STEEL FINGERKNIVES.

      NANCY slaps the phone down as if it were diseased -- then, in
      pure rage, rips the thing's cord from the wall.

      Spent instantly, she puts the receiver back on the cradle and
      lays it on her bed, chiding herself.

                                      NANCY
                      Brilliant.  Now what if Glen
                      calls?

      She wraps the phone cord around the useless machine and puts it
      on her bed, then sneaks back to the door.  This time she gives an
      expression of relief, and opens the door.  MARGE is gone.

      Then the TELEPHONE RINGS again.

      CAMERA MOVES IN ON NANCY as she turns slowly.

162.  REVERSE IN HER POV.  THE TELEPHONE RINGS again, despite the fact   162.
      that the end of its janked-out cord is clearly visible.  The
      NIGHTMARE MUSIC THEME slips right up our spines.

      BACK ON NANCY.  She starts to shake.  She goes to the telephone
      as we WIDEN, unwraps it as it RINGS even louder.  She's shaking
      so hard by now she can barely manage to lift the receiver.  MOVE
      IN CLOSE ON HER, so close we can HEAR her teeth chattering as she
      brings the phone to her ear.

                                      NANCY (CONTD)
                      Hello?

      The unmistakeable VOICE of FRED KRUEGER comes over the phone,
      garbled by time and unknown dimensions, but clear enough.

                                      KRUEGER (FILTER)
                              (triumphant)
                      I'm your boyfriend now...

      CLOSE ON THE MOUTHPIECE.  It's changed from a normal telephone
      mouthpiece to an actual mouth -- Fred Krueger's mouth -- and his
      long, slick tongue flicks out and darts into the startled girl's
      mouth!

      WIDER -- as NANCY explodes from her micro-dream -- absolutely
      mad.  She jerks the telephone away from her and smashes it
      against her wall, then attacks it with her feet and hands,
      smashing it to smithereens.

      ANGLE ON THE TELEPHONE PIECES.  Normal pieces of a normal
      telephone.

      She pinches herself hard -- until tears come and her flesh is
      nearly bleeding.

                                      NANCY
                      I'm awake, I am awake.  This is
                      not a dream!  I am --

      She stops, realizing what Krueger meant.

                                      NANCY (CONTD)
                      My boyfriend...!

As you see, Nancy is in a so-called micro-dream. She falls asleep when sitting on the bed. But her movements in the dream are mirrored by her body in the real world.
While being kind of asleep, she sleepwalks to the phone and picks it up. The scratching sound is only hearable in the dream. If someone was in the room with her, he wouldn’t have heard it.
Then, the shock makes her wake up and rip out the phone. Since her body in the dream is in sync with her body in reality, there’s no visible transition and she herself doesn’t seem to realize when she’s awake and when she’s dreaming.
When she wants to leave the room again, the game starts again: She falls into a micro-dream (remember that she hasn’t slept for seven days, so that’s not unlikely), goes to the phone in the dream as well as in reality and picks it up. And the shock of Freddy’s voice and his tongue wakes her up again and she smashes the phone.
A bystander would still not have heard the voice and seen the tongue, that was just part of Nancy’s dream. But since it was not a normal dream, but a micro-dream, her body in reality does the same as her body in the dream and thus, no scene transition is visible.

Back to the final scene:

Now that we know how the tongue phone scene was intended, we can apply the same explanation to Nancy’s walk from reality into the dream.
After defeating Freddy, Nancy falls into a last micro-dream. She is probably relieved that everything is over now, so her mind starts to rest for a moment. When she touches the doorknob, she is already asleep, only that this time, the micro-dream doesn’t just last some seconds, but instead turns into a full dream.
I assume that her body in the real world just collapses to the ground then.

To me, that’s the only logical interpretation if the next to last scene plays in reality: It’s a simple micro-dream. Nancy doesn’t really enter a dream by walking into it. She just instantly falls asleep and the movie already shows the dream world when she opens the door.
Freddy is so lucky in these minutes. Not only does Nancy do him the favor of sending him back to his world, she even falls asleep right after it which gives him the one-time chance to make her think that his death undid the whole past days.
Had she went down, talked with Don, realized that Freddy was real and that the murders really happened and had she went to bed then, Freddy’s trick with the beautiful dream wouldn’t have worked because Nancy would have remembered that Marge and her friends are not alive again and that this scene must be an illusion.

Objections

“But micro-dreams are only mentioned in the screenplay, not in the finished movie. So, it’s not canon anymore and therefore, micro-dreams are just a made-up rule when it comes to analyzing the movie on plot-level.”

Well, if there is something in a screenplay that contradicts the final movie, it of course doesn’t count since the movie is “the real deal”.
For example, the screenplay says that Freddy himself drives the car in the final scene, and that’s not canon because they used something different in the film.

If there’s a scene or a statement by a character that doesn’t contradict the movie, but that isn’t used anymore either, then it’s debatable if it’s still canon.
For example, Marge’s speech about Freddy is longer in the screenplay. When she talks about how they burned Freddy, she says that he came out, burning, and swore revenge, saying that he will kill all their children. Then, Marge took Don’s gun and shot him. So, is this canon? Maybe, maybe not. We can’t know for sure.

But when it comes to the micro-dream scene, there is one reason why it is definitely canon and not just an unused idea:
Micro-dreams are canon because they weren’t even supposed to be mentioned inside the movie. They are just in the stage directions, so even if you followed the screenplay word by word and scene by scene, you wouldn’t have them mentioned in the film itself.

If an idea is supposed to be mentioned on-screen, but isn’t mentioned, then the question if it’s canon is debatable.
But if it was never supposed to be mentioned and is just an additional comment in the stage directions and if the actual scene isn’t changed in a way that the original intention doesn’t hold up anymore, but if the scene basically plays out as in the screenplay, then the part that’s not mentioned on-screen can be considered canon. Otherwise, every stage direction that doesn’t have a visible or audible mention in the plot would be non-canon by default.

So, since micro-dreams were never meant to be called by name in the finished movie, them not being mentioned in the movie is not a reason to exclude them from canon.

“But micro-dreams are only mentioned for the tongue phone scene. That the same principle applies for the final scene is just your own interpretation.”

Of course it is. That’s why this section is called “My theory” and not “My summarization of scenes that are absolutely clear from the beginning”.
Since the ending is confusing, every explanation will just be someone’s interpretation. Even the theory that Nancy never pulled Freddy into the real world is just an interpretation and not an officially confirmed fact.

So, yeah: That the last scene is a micro-dream is just my interpretation.
But that’s not the problem. The problem is not explaining confusing scenes. The problem is explaining confusing scenes by making up new rules about how the dream world works.
And I didn’t do this since I didn’t invent the micro-dreams. They are mentioned in official sources. That micro-dreams exist in the universe of “A Nightmare on Elm Street”, that’s not my own idea, but part of the screenplay and the canon.
That the last two scenes are connected by a micro-dream, yes, that is my idea. But it’s an idea that is based on previously established rules and doesn’t make up any new ones.

Conclusion

So, that’s my theory.
Sure, it’s a bit more complex than “Nancy never took Freddy into the real world and it was still part of the dream.” But at least, it doesn’t need to undo the whole final act of the movie as just one long dream where Nancy’s battle was hopeless from the beginning because Freddy just played with her. Therefore, my theory keeps the dramaturgy of the ending intact.
And once understood, even my theory can be summarized in two sentences: “Freddy still has powers in the real world (as seen with Glen’s death). And the last scene started as a micro-dream (like the tongue phone scene).”

Final words

Unfortunately, we will most likely never get an official answer about how the ending of “A Nightmare on Elm Street” has to be understood.
Wes Craven is probably only interested in his original version and will not give us a plot-wise explanation for the current film. And Robert Shaye only changed the last scene to have a sequel hook, without thinking about it on plot-level.
That’s why it’s up to the viewers to make sense out of the film.

Some people just take the fact that the official ending is not what Wes Craven intended and leave it at that.
Some people take the most straightforward answer and simply assume that Nancy never pulled Freddy into the real world and instead continued dreaming.
But for people who are unsatisfied with those two alternatives, I developed another theory.

And yes, I do believe that my theory is the better one and comes closest to what would be canon if somebody had actually bothered to give an official statement about the whole topic.
But that’s of course just speculation.

As I said: The decision which theory is taken or if a completely different theory has to be devised is each one’s personal decision.

Which of course doesn’t mean that I don’t want to discuss about the topic, even in a debating manner.
So, if you think that my theory is invalid or that one of the other presented theories fits better, just write me.

My e-mail address is denny_r._walter@web.de.

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