I just watched "Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans" (2009) and I was wondering about the ending.

Immediately after Nicolas Cage's character snorts a line from the bag of uncut heroin and sits next to his father's wife to watch the football game, it cuts to a scene in which he's walking into the police station, sitting down at his desk. One right after the other, all the loose ends get tied up. The money he owes his girlfriend's client is forgiven, the game turns around and his bookie gives him $15,000 in winnings, the speeding ticket magically gets taken care of and then the captain comes in and shows him evidence that will convict the heroin dealer.

They then proceed to bust the heroin dealer and Nicolas Cage's character takes the high road and makes sure he's arrested instead of having an "accident". Later we find his girlfriend is pregnant, they have a house and his whole family has given up alcohol. We even find out that the man he saved at the beginning of the film is clean and getting his life on track.

There are hints that he's still his bad self. He's snorting dope, he's harassing kids that are coming out a night club, etc, but overall it's very much a "Disney ending", with everything working out well for the lead character.

My question is this: Is this ending real or is it really the last fevered fantasy of Nicolas Cage's character as he's dying from a heroin overdose?

There are many references to the uncut heroin being too strong to take without being cut. Nicholas Cage's character mentions it to his girlfriend right before she tells him she's going to a meeting with his father. The gangsters tell him that he needs to cut the dope "unless you wanna kill the motherfucker". We see Nicolas Cage's character clearly snorting a line with the bag sitting next to it before the "Disney ending" starts.

The ending also feels much too saccharine, especially for someone like Herzog. Also notice that when the "Disney ending" starts, the criminals that come in are talking about highly illegal activity, like murder, theft, gambling, prostitution and drug use, all while sitting at his desk without regard to discretion. There is even a scene where his bookie hands him $15,000 in cash, shows him the contents with his partner sitting in the desk next to him, clearly within earshot and line of sight of his partner sitting in the next desk.

Another interesting fact is that Nicolas Cage's character is leading the arrest of the heroin dealer even though he's been pulled to the sidelines and had his weapon confiscated.

Even the last scene, where he is sitting at the base of a large aquarium tank full of fish, can be interpreted a few ways. Perhaps it can be interpreted as "swimming with the fishes". There is also a reference to sleeping and dreaming, suggesting a tie to the original poem he found by the murdered child ("My friend is a fish. He live in my room. His fin is a cloud. He see me when I sleep.") with also the standard metaphor of death and sleep.

I thought of this immediately when viewing the film and found it obvious, but from looking online, I don't find another reviewer who acknowledges this theory. Most seem to accept the ending at face value. I only found one review who even considered this possibility only to then casually dismiss it to deride Herzog for tacking on a Hollywood ending to what was an otherwise dark film.

I also can't find any interviews with Herzog on the matter, but directors are often known to not talk about what kind of meaning their films have.

Does anyone have conclusive evidence that this is the case? Does anyone have any references that would support this theory?

  • 2
    I don't have a definitive answer so I'm sticking this in the comments, but I think the ending was scripted before Herzog was brought on board and was actually supposed to be a "surprise" since it seems like Cage is heading for self-destruction. I agree it felt pretty out of place.
    – kekekela
    Nov 26, 2012 at 18:07
  • @kekekela, Do you have any references that back up your claim?
    – user834
    Nov 27, 2012 at 12:36
  • 2
    My "claim" where I said I had no definitive answer and began with "I think" ?
    – kekekela
    Nov 27, 2012 at 14:18

7 Answers 7


The movie is shown from the disjointed perspective of an out of control junkie. So most everything is in question as to whether it actually happened. How could he have saved the inmate if he nearly broke his back jumping down? Is it possible that the lady cop refused to steal from the property room, but still got the speeding ticket fixed? Yes, very. Is it possible that a college game that was lopsided early became close by the end? Very possible. It's the SEC. As far as the crack pipe, well he personally got Fates to smoke out of it. And then planted it. All that said, I believe many points throughout the film are "double-takes" as in we see things happen that never happen AND we see things happen that are left unexplained. Whose body is the gang dumping off the bridge while talking about real estate? Why so many amphibious and aquatic animals? I don't think there is supposed to be a clear story. It's drug induced hallucinogenic and disconnected from cause and effect, but with repetition representing addiction. Pay attention to the recurring places and themes.


It's actually a horrifying ending. The ending is supposed to be completely saccharine. I watched this with my Dad who was a retired LCDC counselor and he explained it. By complete Deus Ex Machina Nick Cage's character gets his life back together, he has a chance to go clean, have a family and a promotion and straighten up. And he does, but he also doesn't. The movie ends with him nose deep in smack. Cage is absolutely a nonfunctional addict as we have witnessed and time will more than likely drag him down again.

He's completely imprisoned and enslaved to his addiction like a fish is trapped by glass, he hasn't escaped, and anyone who has ever had to deal with friends and family with a pill addiction will pick up on that. The man he saved offered him a way out to get clean, maybe it'll work, maybe it's another dead end like his parents. Cage wants to know if fish have dreams and thus escape their prisons, even temporarily or if they are well and truly trapped.


In the ending Cage is a fish, which is to say a Christian 'man of God'. Notice at the beginning of the movie, the man trapped in the water prays to God for assistance and Cage jumps in and saves him. There is an 'angel of God' protecting him throughout the film and why everything magically falls into place. In the scene where he takes the cocaine that is supposed to kill him, you see playing on the TV a bull goring a man, in the Old Testament God is depicted as a powerful bull, so this depiction actually means God's angel saved him from death (again).

That is why you see lizards and crocodiles all over the film, these are metaphoric depictions of demons, which Cage's guardian angel contends with but overcomes. Cage's character still has free will though, so he still suffers from his addiction.

Alternatively Cage might have been possessed by a demon, the ending then would be negative. That is Cage is trapped in the sea (a fish) with leviathan. This ending is a bit cynical though.


It's worth noting that the crack pipe used in the investigation was his lucky crack pipe. Wouldn't it also have his DNA on it? The dealer he arrested should have told them about him. This leads me to believe the dream theory. Also, I think IA would have been on him in a good department a long time ago. Unless internal investigations frequently do poorly at their job.


I just finished watching it, and was completely "Wtf?!?" throughout the whole last 10–15 minutes, which begin exactly when you said: right after he sits down next to his Dad's wife, with the scene immediately after, which shows us the guy who told the lieutenant (over and over) that he had made a bad mistake as he was leaving his (the lieutenant's) girlfriend's place sitting patiently and waiting for the lieutenant at his desk. From that moment until the very end, I found the movie more and more incredulous with each passing minute, until I literally guffawed out loud and said "Oh please......!" and I was watching it alone. I usually don't react audibly to films when I'm alone, so just to say the sudden difference was pretty extreme.

In fact, right after around 4 loose ends were neatly tied up with a big bow, starting with above and ending with the lieutenant's boss saying they found the drug dealer's prints on a crack pipe at the murder scene, all within about 3 minutes time, I remember thinking "Oh, I get it now... this is like a drug dream or something... they're probably gonna show him waking up pretty soon." Then like I said, it started getting worse and worse. But the worst was yet to come: that was after, after he was honored with promotion to Captain with everyone in attendance, including his girl who was (of course) pregnant, and they all had their wineless dinner and he dropped her off at home, when the camera stayed on the picturesque little house with the pretty flowers and the almost perfect symmetry of the trees bookending the whole thing, with the radiant little (expecting) woman standing in front ... BIG INHALE ... that whole thing was just so cloyingly sweet and hokey and corny that it caused the aforementioned solitary audible "oh please!" moment :)

Gotta accelerate this, or it'll be even longer than it's turning out to be: after the end I went online, looking for the inevitable explanation, and like you, I didn't find anything, until I saw what was written here, and you provided the little thing I was missing: the exact moment when it all started, which was right after he tooted from the open bag of very pure smack, and when you tied it together by reminding me about the prior warnings about its strength, etc, and I put all that together with a few other little things, like the fact his girlfriend chose the exact moment she did to go to rehab with the dad — just as he was waving that bag in front of her face, and find the strength to turn it down not once not twice but three times, because he kept trying — I saw that you nailed it, bro. You got it. You put it together. I am certain you are right. I'm actually 100% certain, not even 99. My reason is very simple: it all ties together perfectly. It makes too much sense for it to be anything else. It can't NOT be, in other words. A good filmmaker, who proved he was before this film and during this whole film up to the last 10–15 minutes does not "suddenly" become a bad, laughable, cliché director for those final 10–15 minutes!

I'm certain you are right, bro. Kudos. I'm looking forward now to watch it again — ALL of it — this time keeping in mind what I now know, so I can catch all the little clues that I'm sure are there throughout and that I'm just not remembering right now. I'm sure there are some we both missed. In many ways this is like a very scaled down version of how David Chase actually prepared us for the Sopranos ending a few years ago ... most everybody had missed it then, too :)

  • 4
    I like your enthusiasm but is there a way you can clean this up into an actual answer instead of a speech? You'll garner much more upvotes.
    – Tablemaker
    Jan 5, 2013 at 3:32
  • 3
    You need to delete the sequence of the scenes, what have you told yourself during watching (who cares!) and make it compact (just what you think of it, not a review of the ending). Just write what you think, not your feeling!
    – Mistu4u
    Jan 5, 2013 at 4:17

Ya, I think a lot of you are missing the point.. First off, The lady cop fixed the tickets for him. The fact that the three men coming after him for money were killed by the dealers is why the guy came in to drop his charges and whatnot, which allowed Cage to be reinstated as a cop.. if you watch closely cage is the last one with the crack pipe in his hand that the main dealer just smoked from when the three men walk in, so he takes it to go plant the evidence to get him arrested for the murders.

And besides that the reason he shacked up with teh dealers int eh first place was to protect him from the people following him for money AND to get evidence to get them arrested, he never stopped caring about eh murders as he told them he had.

He creates his own happy ending, it's not a halucination.

but the tragedy of the story is that even after all that work to climb his way out, he fell back into his addiction and depression. Which as the above poster said is a horrible ending for him,. being an EX oxy addict for 8 years, (clean now for 6), I see it as a terrible ending for cage, despite all his work, he still can't escape his addiction.

  • 2
    do you have any references to back your claim? Otherwise it's just speculation, which is not good enough for an answer.
    – Luciano
    Mar 23, 2017 at 17:39

Totally agree w those who commented here w the WTF reaction. First ~ I have NO IDEA HOW I EVER missed this movie until now ~ I have full Nick Cage obsession (& this film is him in all his exaggerated brilliance) but! To think there is a Harvey Keitel previous film to boot ~ wow! Juicy.

So I jumped online immediately as well ~ certain I would find some explanation EXACTLY as this main thread describes. It's the only thing that makes sense!

  1. NO WAY director (or anyone involved!) would have taken such an extreme ridiculous left turn to jump out of the dark rabbit hole & head sideways down gumdrop & lollipop lane. No way. That alone is enough.
  2. But just as you all listed: the clues are there. It's not even that hard of an Easter egg hunt although once i stopped to analyze ~ it did make it a bit darker & delicious for me. I should note: I'm going to share my perspective from my personal lens of a recovering addict, who followed the path very close to NC. Starting w the all-so innocent Dr telling me 12 years ago "Take these pills, they aren't addictive & w your conditions you'll have to take them the rest of your life..." (end quote) Little did anyone know the full story then of what would unfold for (the country).. years later chasing endless upgrades from Powder to the big F, I lost it all. 2 Rehabs later, proudly & miraculously Sober for 3 years. I SHARE THAT ONLY BC for those who know, this movie literally makes you FEEL IT ALL OVER AGAIN. And the truth is, he was lost. Deep. While there are hints of self motivation or reason for him to find his way out, much more unlikely he didn't. I could feel it.
  3. BACK TO MOVIE "FUN" ~ everyone listed the clues here so I don't need to repeat them all. (The clincher was the Captains OVER THE TOP ENTHUSIASM & comedic "slide in side entrance into the camera line" as if 3 Stooges peering in via an opened door w heads stacked vertically. Just TOO obviously staged. Life is never that perfect & tidy. Not even in the movies on Lifetime!
  4. 2 Other MAJOR timeline clues proving this all had to be post death dream state OR wish list hallucination etc AFTER that fateful moment of him & (the amazing! Jennifer Coolidge) stepmom even hinting she would share (in the overtly established UNCUT WILL KILL YOU product), as someone said, while they watched the heroic bullfighter being torn apart by the bull & losing his grip against the beast... The police office scene is the next am (bc he had told his 2nd to go find the fingerprinted crack pipe late at night before he went home to share w stepmom... so THE NEXT MORNING, he would not have been reinstated to his desk by then, not enough time had gone by for Mr Oh Yeah to have done/communicated all he said, probably not enough time by first thing next am that lab would have processed prints & they would have already "solved" that detail (and correct, HIS prints would be on the pipe, which they would have found in the system, w zero reason for them to be there unless he planted it, thus would have stopped the process to deal w that red flag etc), likely not enough time for bookie to also have collected by 1st thing next morning... BUT MOST IMPORTANTLY, after all the good things happened one after one that day, when he got home THAT NIGHT, the very next night after Eva M had gone into rehab ~ he had also found the spoon AND she was now peacefully back from rehab, clean & sober, sound asleep inside hater step moms house, 1 day later? NO. No no no. Add that timeline onto all the other notes made here ~ IE: the overt criminal conversations, the zero hiding ir concern of a bookie bringing open envelope of cash just sitting on desk w no attempt to hide even in front of Captain, all while he was still officially working in prop room & under high red flag doubt? NO. I mean... even the fact that he was watching the game & we are "assuming" an obsessive gambler who already showed he believed in "til the last minute never over til it's over" mentality, w his entire life riding on that game, would have apparently just turned off the game after we see him watching it & MISS the bizarre turnaround in final three by the miracle moves of the rookie in play? NO. No no no.
  5. For all this ending to be true, we also have to assume the step mom got clean ~ who had zero desire to even try. Ever. She loved her life as is. Not likely. Maybe. Many assumptions later. Not likely.
  6. Pure side note ~ this probably doesn't have to do w anything ~ but after his gun got taken, and narc cops brought one into prop room & he had told (Michael Shannon ~ love!) to go get his own gun... somehow it all works out & he has his old giant gun back in his pants during the final drug dealer back, instantly back as a lieutenant again (w/in a day) able to go make the bust as soon as they got the fingerprints back? That was also a lot of assumptions, although that might just be a fluke in the timeline...
  7. IF IT WAS ALL REAL LIFE ~ I think the final scene of full 360, randomly guy he saved (which officially has RUINED his life!) as if that sober ex-con took service guy wouldn't have reacted more dramatically walking in on a guest doing lines AND since Bad Lieutenant was STILL addicted & messed up, even if just for a bad day, in real life, he would have been angry & resentful towards that guy ~ atleast to have said SOMETHING vs being so chill about it...
  8. Finally, Swimming w the Fishes = very obvious w all the uses of reptiles & bulls as other metaphors in the film, why stop there? Of course fishes were a metaphor, and/or 360 back to the murder poem or little boy & original fish (who had witnessed the murders) = way too much symbolism for the ending to NOT be simply symbolic. Plus, the room service ex-con was playfully "hinted (ambiguously)" at being stoned himself... also back to the premise throughout that once you go down that rabbit hole, it's easy for someone still in it to drag you back down.
  9. OMG ~ THIS COMMENTARY WAS ENDLESS HAHA ~ SO SORRY!!! But there are so many points to indicate he died w his step mom and/or (if you want a happier ending w/o death), that he was just hallucinating his own dream world summation to solve his tangled story ~ BOTTOM LINE: HE WAS DREAMING & SWIMMING W THE FISHES!! 100%!
  10. Now I have to go catch up to the 90's & scope out Harvey Keitel's first version of the story... can't believe I missed this INCREDIBLE CAST until now! What else have I missed?! Haha
  • 3
    Hi Janice, welcome to M&TV! Can you please edit out the commentary that's not pertinent to the answer? We're not a forum, but a Q&A website, and try to keep things objective. Personal experiences that you think can shine a light on certain matters is fine, but comments like "this was endless" not really.
    – Joachim
    Dec 12, 2022 at 7:03
  • Can you also edit out all the use of caps lock? It's like you're shouting at us, and we really don't appreciate it. If you want to emphasize something, wrap it in asterisks like **this** to make it bold, but do so sparingly.
    – F1Krazy
    Dec 12, 2022 at 7:47

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .