Bad Times at the El Royale is a thriller with plenty to hide. Sure, there's a lot going on, what with the murderous cultists running amok, the death of a federal agent and a secret stash of money somewhere in the hotel, but there is one quiet mystery that went mostly unanswered.
Early in the film, we learn that the hotel has a secret passageway that allows the concierge, Miles Miller (Lewis Pullman), to venture behind the walls of each room and spy on its occupants during their stay. Behind every room's mirror is a secret window, with a speaker box that allows the potential spy to listen in on conversations and any other sounds that might be coming from the room. There's also a camera that Miller admits has been used to film different hotel guests, information he then sends to his "supervisors."
From the film, we gather that a number of high-profile individuals have stayed at the El Royale hotel, including politicians, musicians and other assorted celebrities. Early on, we see a wall of photos, seemingly calling out key visitors to the El Royale, including a photo of the famed Marilyn Monroe.
When El Royale's main antagonist Billy Lee (Chris Hemsworth) shows up, he finds out that Dock O'Kelly (Jeff Bridges) had been planning to steal a film reel found in the aforementioned camera earlier in the film. Billy Lee takes a look at the film and is a bit surprised, stating that the evidence on it could be quite valuable.
But who was on the film?
Well, there's a key moment during the climax of El Royale that clues us in to who could be caught on the film reel. We know that Miles had been recording individuals during their stay, and that he's seen them do some not-so-appropriate things. These include everything from intercourse to forging platonic friendships with an actual wolf. Miles also mentions politicians multiple times, and we get glimpses of then-President Richard Nixon on newspaper clippings and television screens.
But the real hint comes from Rose (Cailee Spaeny), one of Billy Lee's acolytes and the younger sister of Emily Summerspring (Dakota Johnson). When Billy Lee shows her the film reel, she first discusses what she sees (intercourse between two people) and then says something to the effect of, "Why is this so important? Isn't he dead?" to which Billy Lee responds with "Sometimes the idea of a man is worth more..."
So, we've got evidence that high-profile politicians stayed at the El Royale, footage of a scandalous couple and the mention that the man on-film is dead. Well, that could be anyone, but the photo of Marilyn Monroe seems to confirm that the person of interest on the film is none other than President John F. Kennedy.
Debated and long discussed as a possibility among historians and conspiracy theorists alike, the alleged affair between Kennedy and actor Marilyn Monroe continues to enthrall those looking for a bit more than what was public-facing about the alleged couple.
With Bad Times at the El Royale set in 1969, just six years after the assassination of President Kennedy, it starts to make sense that the not-recently-used camera contains a film reel with evidence that Monroe and Kennedy were together.
Now, it's not unlike director Drew Goddard to hide a bit of conspiracy in his films, but this little nod is also non-committal. That's not a bad thing, of course, since the mystery lends credence to any number of theories. The film reel is ultimately destroyed in a fire at the end of the film, but that doesn't stop almost every character from trying to take it for themselves.