‘When You Finish Saving The World’ Ending, Explained: Is There Hope For The Narcissistic Mother And Son? 

There is a certain hard-to-shake image that the peculiar Jesse Eisenberg has established for himself with the roles he plays. Not being quite so handy at picking up on social cues has also made this otherwise impressive actor a topic of ridicule. In the most chucklesome way possible, Eisenberg’s 2022 directorial debut, “When You Finish Saving The World,” comes off as the director’s amusingly bizarre way of embracing all that the world thinks of him. In a way, the ridiculous characters of the film seem to be born out of mitosis, and the unfair image of Eisenberg is the mother cell. A feature-length derivative of his 2020 audio drama of the same name, the film assumes the behemoth responsibility of satirizing the overall ineffectuality of a couple of do-gooders who, for crying out loud, can’t seem to get a handle on their suffocating self-absorbance. Playing on the sighing sarcasm of the title itself, a patronizing mother and a clueless son, hopelessly bereft of self-awareness, attempt to make benevolent changes to the world around them while ignoring each other’s cries for help.

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Spoilers Ahead


‘When You Finish Saving The World’ Plot Synopsis: What Happens In The Film?

We may as well be little global windows on Ziggy Katz’s music streaming platform, listening to his new song’s debut as the film introduces us to the teenage folk-rock singer. From the looks of it, Ziggy has made his peace with the fact that his mother, Evelyn, will never approve of his interests. And therefore, he has chosen to throw caution to the wind and be who he really wants to be. Socially awkward social worker Evelyn runs a DV shelter and provides help to women who have no one to turn to when their world comes crashing down around them. Evelyn doesn’t necessarily gel well with her coworkers, who have to tune down a birthday celebration so as not to get on her nerves. Ziggy is increasingly annoyed with his mother for barging into his room whenever she feels like it. Evelyn doesn’t let go of a single opportunity to remind Ziggy of the pragmatic insignificance of his online singing career. His dad Roger on the other hand, simply wants to make sure that Ziggy is toeing the line and isn’t singing blues. Cultural appropriation seems to be a huge no-no in the household where a name like Amiri Baraka comes up casually in a dinner conversation. Ziggy doesn’t have the headspace to take all that in. Not when he has fallen head over heels for the tremendously political Lila.

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Overhearing Lila passionately debate topics that include the likes of colonialism and the US’ exploitative policies, Ziggy feels the need to chime in and offer solidarity, even though he is painfully clueless. But that doesn’t embarrass Ziggy. After all, he gets to brag about his streaming success and the loyal 20000 followers that swoon over his music. Lila may be too nice to mock him to his face, but the girl who is clearly smart enough to be aware of the political turmoils around the globe sees right through the shallow, frivolous teenager trying to impress her with big talk. The two narcissistic members of the upper-middle-class household don’t make it easy on poor Roger’s feelings. The sad father’s Chancellor Ceremony is missed by the mother and the son, both of whom are hopelessly occupied with inconsequential trivialities. Spiraling out of control with her emotions when a domestic abuse victim, Angie, moves into the shelter with her 17-year-old son Kyle, Evelyn bids goodbye to her levelheadedness and loses her cool progressively.


Why Is Evelyn Obsessed With Kyle?

Evelyn couldn’t be more disappointed with and disinterested in Ziggy. She hardly has the patience to wait for a minute when he wants her to drop him off at school. Driving in her comically small car, letting the classical music serenade her, Evelyn is better than bothering herself with someone as lowbrow as Ziggy. Ziggy doesn’t help his cause when he declines his mother’s demand that he volunteers to do some work around the shelter. When Evelyn meets Kyle, she instantly sees the absolute antithesis of her own son in the teenage boy. She is fascinated to see how sensitive Kyle is about the emotional scars of his abused mother, Angie, and how soft he is with her. Compared to Kyle, who happens to be good at algebra and is happy to offer his help with the upkeep of the shelter, Evelyn’s guitar-wielding son is a total letdown. Evelyn focuses her entire energy on “shaping” Kyle and doesn’t particularly mind overstepping her bounds while she is at it. She is absolutely unwilling to accept that Kyle enjoys fixing cars at his father’s body shop. A boy that bright would be a total waste on blue-collar jobs, according to Evelyn. She almost forcibly offers to help him get a full ride to Oberlin college and gets busy looking into the same. It isn’t just that Evelyn isn’t quite adept at socializing. Her repulsively narrow understanding of her own privileges and the tendency to project her own issues onto others are uncomfortably noticeable every time she opens her mouth. She assumes that Kyle is worried about turning into his abusive father, even though he has never said anything that remotely suggests that. She also finds it hard not to pretend that she personally understands the harrowing circumstances of someone who has been abused. Worried about offending the woman who is providing a safe shelter for him and his mother, Kyle generally tolerates Evelyn’s high-handed invasiveness with a polite smile. Evelyn’s obsession with Kyle is borderline creepy at times. She feels threatened when Kyle seems to form a bond with the shelter’s Spanish translator, Marcella, even though Evelyn herself introduces the two in order to impress Kyle. She basically drags Kyle to the Ethiopian restaurant that she used to take Ziggy to and manipulates him into tasting a spicy sauce in a sad attempt at appearing funny.

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What Does Ziggy Do To Impress Lila?

It takes Ziggy some time to realize that Lila isn’t one to drool over his absurd boasts. He actually makes an effort to get closer to her by attending a Revolutionary Arts meet and makes a fool of himself by playing “Alumni alone” in the midst of political performers. Lila calls him out on his self-centredness and rightfully reprimands him for not using his platform for something consequential. You have to give it to him for having the guts to ask Lila to give him a copy of her political poem about the Marshall Islands, even after acting like a buffoon. Sadly, his first generic male instinct is to go home, lock the door and touch himself to the poem. Being driven to school in the tiny car, Ziggy asks his mom for some quick pointers about world politics. Evelyn is understandably frustrated with her son looking for shortcuts in order to impress his peers. She mourns the days of her little “ally” kid accompanying her to protests and meets and singing, “Where have all the flowers gone,” “The fiddle and the drum,” and “There once was a union maid.” Ziggy doesn’t have time to be lectured by her classical music-obsessed, elitist mother. Instead, he decides to come clean with Lila. There’s a moment of sincerity in the otherwise self-absorbed boy when he asks her to make him “woke” like she is. Lila is further impressed by his genuine effort when he turns her poem into a song and nervously performs it for her. Thank goodness that Lila didn’t have to see him struggling to write a political song and resorting to an internet rhyme-finder website to find a word that rhymes with “congressmen.”


Is There Hope For The Narcissistic Mother And Son?

Let’s face it: Ziggy and Evelyn don’t allow you the opportunity to pick out just one problem that you can harp on about. But the pivotal question concerning these two erratic characters is not about their individual quirks. It is instead about how their problematic individualities affect their undeniably significant relationship. It is only when their ventures of forming undesirable connections turn out fruitless that they stop to take a breath and look at what has been right in front of them forever. Evelyn ruthlessly ignores all the evident signs that Kyle shows about being uncomfortable with her intrusion. She even goes as far as to drive out late at night and bring him a plate of pot roast, only to be sent back as he had already eaten dinner with his mother. It’s not that Evelyn isn’t somewhat aware of the questionable nature of her gestures. She would not have hidden the Pacer’s hat she brought for him under her shirt otherwise. When her meeting is interrupted by an agitated Angie who simply wants to tell her off, Evelyn is all kinds of defensive against the mother, who is clearly more interested in prioritizing what her son wants over what a random, meddlesome outsider expects of him. Evelyn’s glaring lack of real-world knowledge and her embarrassing elitism is on shameless display as she continues to belittle the satisfaction Kyle feels when he fixes a car and helps someone out. A college degree is the only achievement worth feeling good about in Evelyn’s book. The incorrigible woman doesn’t even stop when Angie makes it clear that her “help” isn’t welcome. She drives to Kyle’s school, the same school where Ziggy also goes, and he has never gotten a visit from his mother, mind you. She ambushes Kyle in the most maddening manner and goes on and on before he is forced to yell at her to shut her up. This also happens to be the most unexpectedly vulnerable moment for Evelyn, who practically admits to setting an unrealistic ideal for herself.

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Meanwhile, the obtuse teenager, Ziggy, does the one thing he shouldn’t do when it comes to wooing his potential boo. Not only does he sing the song that he made out of Lila’s poem to his followers, but he also goes on to brag about the whopping $90 the upvotes have earned him. Being political is only worthwhile for Ziggy if it’s profitable. He is also thickheaded enough to think that is something that Lila will take kindly to. A mortifying and eye-opening rejection from Lila comes to Ziggy as the disillusionment that he so desperately needed. He walks his usual path and crosses the symbolic “self-serve” store to reach his mother’s shelter. The au pair at the shelter not recognizing him makes it discernible that he rarely visits the place. The blame for that, however, falls on Evelyn as well. She completely let go of Ziggy when he started to become his own person. Instead of helping him find his way, Evelyn held on steadily to her disappointment. Disillusionment comes for them both. For Evelyn, the acceptance of it manifests as tears flowing down her cheeks as she howls in her little car. For Ziggy, it is when the door closes on him as he haplessly stares at Lila walking away after calling him a “little boy.” Walking around the shelter, Ziggy looks at the traces of accolades and achievements of his mother. Evelyn, on the other hand, locks herself in her office and, for what seems to be the first time, listens to her son’s music with tears in her eyes. When she walks out of her office, and they find each other, there’s a moment of suggestive gaze exuding warmth and tenderness. They may just have finally opened their eyes to find that all that they have been hopelessly searching for has been right in front of them all along.


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Lopamudra Mukherjee
Lopamudra Mukherjeehttps://muckrack.com/lopamudra-mukherjee
Lopamudra nerds out about baking whenever she’s not busy looking for new additions to the horror genre. Nothing makes her happier than finding a long-running show with characters that embrace her as their own. Writing has become the perfect mode of communicating all that she feels for the loving world of motion pictures.

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