‘First Cow’ is a drama like no other. After all, the title is quite intriguing, and the plot, too, is idiosyncratically distinct. Essentially, it is the 1800s, and an unlikely alliance is formed between two men who decide to sell baked goods together. But they must be resourceful (and careful) if they wish to make it big. Although the story moves at a slow pace, it is worth a watch for the outstanding performances by John Magaro, Orion Lee, and Toby Jones. So, if you’re curious about the ending, then we have got your back. SPOILERS AHEAD!
First Cow Plot Synopsis
In 1820, Otis “Cookie” Figowitz, a chef, is traveling in the Oregon Country, with a group of fur trappers who don’t treat him well. One night, he meets King-Lu, a Chinese immigrant who is on the run for killing a Russian man. Cookie allows Lu to crash in his tent that night, and the next day, Lu leaves. But the pair reunite soon, and this time, they learn more about each other at Lu’s shack.
They talk about how Cookie could use milk for baking some goods. Eventually, it is decided that they will break into Chief Factor’s property and milk the only cow in the region. Lo and behold, the baker is able to come up with some delicious oily cakes which sell fast. To keep this endeavor going, the pair continue to steal milk. How do they get caught? That’s what the rest of the movie is all about.
The Many Consequences of the Same Action
For Cookie and Lu, the baked goods business is a lucrative one. However, they only get their start after they steal milk from Factor’s prized cow. There is no denying that without this single action, their endeavor would not have turned a tidy profit. After all, milk is the key ingredient of the recipe. In fact, if they were able to continue with their venture, then they could have gone on to become quite successful. There is a certain combination of luck and skill that ensures their success.
Considering that good food is hard to come by in the region, their cakes also sell out quite fast. But their quick rise to fame attracts the attention of Chief Factor. He enjoys the product and even asks Cookie to make a clafoutis for an important meeting later. During this meeting, the chief remarks that his prized possession is not giving an adequate amount of milk.
Since the cow’s mate and calf died during transportation, Factor thinks that the animal is merely lonely. But little does he know that Cookie and Lu have been milking the cow for their own benefit. Interestingly, even Factor enjoys the baked goods tremendously, although he is unaware of his “contribution” to the project. Towards the end, Cookie feels as though they may get caught. He contemplates leaving the animal alone, but Lu convinces him to milk the cow one last time.
There is no denying that greed and avarice lead to their downfall. After all, by going to Factor’s property at night, they are risking their very existence just so that they can turn a profit. Evidently, Lu cannot revel in their success enough. However, this leads to them getting caught. Although Lu tries to signal his mate about the impending danger, the branch he is on snaps, and Cookie also ends up spilling the milk. The pair leaves the property in a hurry.
Eventually, Factor comprehends what Cookie and Lu have been doing all this time. He and his men are clearly in the mood for vengeance, and they want to kill Cookie and Lu for this betrayal and theft. Furthermore, the once free cow is also reigned in. As the events of the climax unfold, it becomes clear that the protagonists’ luck has run out. This vicious cycle of stealing milk to turn a profit is not sustainable either. For how long could they have done so? The two men, who were once in the pits of despair, get to taste the sweet flavor of success, but at what cost?
First Cow Ending
Lu makes it back to his shack, but Factor’s men show up before he can retrieve the money. He hides, and his foes destroy the house, following which they leave. Fortunately, Lu is able to take the money after this. Cookie also gains some strength despite his injuries, and he heads on over to the river. Unbeknownst to him, one of Factor’s men is following him. Cookie somehow makes it back to the shack, but en route, he sees that Factor has fenced in his prized cow.
Fortunately, Lu and his business associate reunite and decide to leave the region altogether. However, Cookie is still a bit weak, owing to his injuries, and cannot keep up with Lu. Nonetheless, the two soldier on. Lu even suggests catching the first boat heading south. In the evening, they find a place to rest, and Cookie immediately passes out. Lu also lays down next to his friend.
What Could Have Happened to Cookie and Lu?
In one of the first scenes in the movie, a woman and her dog discover two skeletons lying next to each other. We get no information about who these two could have been or what kind of lives they could have led. All we know is that in the next scene, we get to meet our protagonists, Cookie and Lu. Are these their remains? What could have happened to the duo? Well, we’re here to answer these burning questions with some of our own hypotheses.
Theory 1: Foster’s Man Could Have Killed Cookie and Lu
Cookie and Lu are on the run and are trying to save themselves from Chief Factor’s vengeance. The latter’s fury is somewhat understandable, but Factor wants to kill the two men for stealing from him. In fact, unbeknownst to Cookie, one of Factor’s men is even following him. Eventually, Cookie heads back to Lu’s shack, and the two friends reunite. They then make plans to leave the region.
In the evening, the pair decides to rest in the woods. It seems as though the protagonists are confident that they are safe. Plus, Cookie is injured, and that is also slowing him down. It is plausible that this is when Factor’s man finally catches up to them. In all probability, the former could have simply walked up to the pair and put a bullet in their heads.
Not only would Chief Factor be happy, but the man could also have walked away with the money that the pair had earned. There is another alternative in which Cookie could have simply succumbed to his injuries that night. (After all, there isn’t any medical facility in the region as such). If this were the case, then Factor’s man would have only had to eliminate Lu.
Theory 2: The Skeletons Don’t Belong to Cookie and Lu
Director Kelly Reichardt employs a particular style of storytelling in ‘First Cow,’ and initially, every connection seems quite apparent. It is easy to make certain assumptions without really giving them much thought. What do we mean by this? Well, let’s take the inception of the film as an example. We are introduced to the skeletons very early on in the movie. Naturally, the plot then revisits the incidents that take place in 1820.
This is also when we learn about Cookie and Lu, and their enterprising oily cakes venture. At no point do we get any confirmation that the bones belong to them. However, a viewer would inherently end up assuming that this is the case due to the immediate juxtaposition of the narratives. It is only when you sit and mull over the ending, you realize that this needn’t be true. These could be the remains of two different people altogether.
The image of the skeletons accomplishes two things. Firstly, it catches the viewer’s attention almost immediately. It also invokes a certain degree of intrigue in the mind of the viewer. The movie doesn’t give us any other details about these bones. However, in the larger scheme of things, can you really discount the possibility of a coincidence? It could just be two different people in that same spot. If this is really the case, then the bones only serve to represent the friendship that Cookie and Lu share.
Furthermore, if the skeletons don’t belong to Cookie and Lu, what could have happened to them? Well, they could have escaped Oregon Country and gone to San Francisco, which is where Cookie wanted to set up his own bakery anyway. A happy and long life could have been in the cards for them. They could have even gone on to get married and have families.
Or, it is equally possible that Foster’s man could have taken Cookie and Lu back to the estate. In this scenario, we anticipate that Foster wouldn’t have been kind to them by any metric. It is possible that he could have killed them on his property in a fit of rage. But it is also likely that Foster could have made Cookie and Lu work their “debt” off. One thing is for certain – the ending is what you, as a viewer, want it to be. ‘First Cow’ can be a story of hope and friendship, or it could be a tale of tragedy. The filmmaker leaves it up to the audience to complete the narrative; it all depends on how you choose to look at it.
Read More: First Cow Filming Location Details