‘The Son’ Ending, Explained – Hugh Jackman Stars in Year’s Cruelest Movie

When I saw The father back in 2020 I was surprised. The film, about a man named Anthony (Anthony Hopkins) who suffers from Alzheimer’s and his strained relationship with his daughter (Olivia Colman), was an authentic depiction of what it’s like to deal emotionally with a severe illness. Films about Alzheimer’s tend to focus on the perspective of the sufferer, but The father dare to count on how the people around them also suffer.

The film was the accomplished debut of writer-director Florian Zeller, who adapted his own play to brilliant effect. The film received six Academy Award nominations and won two – one for Best Screenplay, the other for Best Actor (for Hopkins). That’s an impressive move for a first film — but not surprising, based on how well the film explored Anthony’s inner self. Through his masterful handling of diegetic space and storytelling, Zeller immediately rose to the top of my radar and I awaited his next project with great anticipation.

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The next project is here – and that’s it The son, also based on one of Zeller’s plays. (The Holy Spirit is not yet underway, but I’m choosing to hold out hope.) The film follows Nicholas (Zen McGrath), a 17-year-old who feels he can’t live with his mother Kate (Laura Dern) anymore. He seeks refuge from his inner turmoil by moving in with his father Peter (Hugh Jackman), a successful businessman, Peter’s new partner Beth (Vanessa Kirby) and their infant son. But Beth meets Nicholas with trepidation, and Peter gets a big new job opportunity, so he’s unlikely to give his son the time of day.

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But Peter has to start paying attention when Nicholas is in crisis. It turns out that he hasn’t been to school in a month, which amazes both Kate and Peter. In a moment between Nicholas and his father, he makes his pain clear, saying “I don’t know what’s happening to me.” It’s clear that their son needs help that neither of them can provide – or rather, it’s clear to anyone watching the film, but this staggeringly obvious fact seems to elude both parents for some time .

It pains me to say it The son is not just a disappointing follow-up to The father. It’s also a terrible, irresponsible movie. The real problem is its fatal misunderstanding of mental illness: it’s as if every line is read directly from a pamphlet called “How does not to talk about mental health.” All of this is expressed in the film’s horrific ending. If for some reason you are still keen to watch The son-and I wouldn’t blame you; I was once excited – now it’s time to go, because a lot of spoilers are coming. (I’m not entirely sure you can spoil a movie like that The sonwhich telegraphs every move, but hey, I can understand not wanting to know the ending until you see it.)

Rekha Garton/Sony Pictures Classics

Things have gotten progressively worse throughout the film—for Nicholas, for his parents, and frankly, for everyone watching—and every moment it seems like things are getting better, they end up getting worse. One moment Nicholas is happily dancing with his father and Beth, and seconds later Peter and Beth are embracing, completely forgetting that Nicholas himself is there. Another scene finds Nicholas offering to babysit his little half-brother, only for Beth to freak out at the thought of a “weirdo” like Nicholas taking care of her child. This constant—and I mean constant—cycle of lifting Nicholas up and letting him down makes the film’s conclusion all the more obvious.

After all the mistakes and trifles his parents make, which would feel right at home in an after-school special, Nicholas finally tries to take his own life. Fortunately, he is found in time, and Nicholas’ parents decide to place him in intensive psychiatric care. Well, it’s not so much that they decide to get Nicholas the help he needs; it’s more that a doctor forces their hand to do it and they agree.

Finally, there is a sense of peace. It feels like with Nicholas away in treatment, Kate, Peter and Beth can finally live their lives without the burden of their depressed son. It’s a pretty awful feeling and my skin was crawling even as I typed these words. But The son is not the master class in sentimentality and understand it so clearly think it is. Its self-importance and overbearing scores blow you over the head, making it hard to ever come across as sincere. (Hans Zimmer, you betrayed me.) What the movie really seems to be saying is that without a problem like Nicholas (ugh), these people can get on with their lives (ick).

The most crucial scene comes after this, when Kate and Peter meet with the doctor responsible for Nicholas’ care. He is stern but professional and warns them that if he is momentarily reintroduced to their son, he will immediately beg and plead to be taken home. The doctor explains that he has seen this happen repeatedly and it is imperative for the patient to remain in the hospital’s care. The doctor could not be more clear: Allow Nicholas to come home and it is almost certain that he will try to take his own life again.

What follows is a lot of screaming and crying as Nicholas does exactly what the doctor says he will do. This could (and indeed should) to be a hugely emotional scene, but everything feels so hollow. The movie has made it clear time and time again that it doesn’t care about Nicholas, and frankly, neither do his parents. They think they do, but they are so invested in themselves and their own lives that they see right past him. It’s sincere to have Nicholas beg and plead with people who look completely broken; it’s deeply distasteful and upsetting, considering we’ve seen the movie torture him without consequence. Worse, it’s clear that what we’re seeing is acting in more ways than one.

In the end, Kate and Peter do something right: They listen to the doctor and refuse to take Nicholas home. It’s a hard decision for a parent to make, but they do it because they know he’ll be better off in the long run. Or so one would think. Moments later, they’re in a car on their way home and the ridiculous music hits as they share a look that tells you all you need to know – these irresponsible people will continue to be irresponsible.

Rekha Garton/Sony Pictures Classics

Soon after, Nicholas is at his parents’ house. Beth has taken the baby to visit her parents, so it’s just Kate, Peter and Nicholas again, the family unit he’s longed for but no longer has. There is a moment of silence as the three talk to each other and Nicholas gives an extended monologue about how he loves his family. It should feel moving, but the movie has done nothing to show that it cares about Nicholas, so it’s just one of many moments to remind you that The son is based on a play.

Literally mere moments after his parents mention that they shouldn’t let him out of their sight, Nicholas heads off on his own to take a shower, which is apparently perfectly fine and doesn’t bother them in the slightest. It’s a red flag the size of North America, but Kate and Peter are too invested in themselves and each other to notice. There is an eerie calm as the two talk to each other about going to the movies as a family, but it is quickly punctured by the sudden blast of a rifle.

I’ll back up for a second. Peter has a rifle in his apartment, which was a gift from his father. The fact that he never thought to remove the gun from the house, he brought his suicidal child back tells you all you need to know. Finally everyone The son‘s worst Chekhovian instincts have come true.

You’d think that’s where the movie would end, but you’d be wrong. We then move to the future, some years later, where Peter has a long conversation with Nicholas. Nicholas talks about how he’s so happy now—he’s found the love of his life and moved to Toronto, which makes him happier than New York City ever could. (As a Canadian, this is the only thing consistent in the entire movie. Sorry.) Nicholas has even written a book that he dedicates to his father.

Society has evolved long past Sonnen’s understanding of mental health.

This is of course a complete fantasy. Nicholas is dead and no good wishes can bring him back. In the real world, Peter is bereaved when Beth comes to comfort him. The son is so completely committed to its insensitivity and tone-deafness that the man who neglected his son’s endless pleas for help, himself taking them as a kind of personal insult, would think that his son would ever dedicate a book to him. It’s a moment that completely robs Nicholas of any agency, making it all about Peter and his experience of his son’s mental illness. Peter is the one who really had to suffer, after all, having a depressed son. It’s disgusting.

The root of the problem is that the film, like Kate and Peter, constantly neglects Nicholas. The son is far more invested in his parents—especially Peter and Beth—and how they constantly fail their son by not understanding him, ignoring him, or blaming him for his own sadness without holding them accountable for those actions. In one particularly heated moment (judging by the context, it should be extremely dramatic with a capital D), Peter yells at Nicholas, “When you hurt yourself, it’s like you’re doing it to me.” Seriously. Maybe this would have flown five or even 10 years ago, but society has long since evolved The sonhis understanding of mental health.

The son could have been an effective showcase for how insensitivity and lack of understanding can lead to avoidable tragedies. Maybe it should have been. Instead, Florian Zeller forces us to sit through this bloated, grotesque, emotionally taxing, cruel story. It’s a film with such self-serving importance that it completely forgets the most important character, and he’s right about the title. The son is an embarrassment, an affront to those suffering from mental health issues, and a dramatically inept story that relies on overpowering musical cues, dull staging and wooden acting to bring its comically stale script to any life. This is the worst movie and worst ending of 2022.

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