‘Paper Lives’ Summary & Ending, Explained – A Man’s Struggle To Fill His Void


Paper Lives (Kagittan Hayatlar in Turkish) begins with a quote, “In a world where children are crying, laughter can only be cruel.” Instantly, the film showcases the theme it is going to explore, the children of the street. From that moment, we wait for the narrative to strike us back with the promised conflict. In the meantime, it explores the struggles of its protagonist, Mehmet (Çagatay Ulusoy) who is waiting for a Kidney donor to get a Kidney Transplant. But who is Mehmet?

‘Paper Lives’ Summary

Mehmet is a middle-aged man who runs a solid-waste warehouse in his neighborhood. He gives the job to homeless children and teenagers who pick up rags for Mehmet which he sells to the factories.  Mehmet’s small world revolves around his close friend, Gonzales and Uncle Tahsin, who took Mehmet in when he was abandoned on the streets by his family. Since then, Mehmet is trying to find his mother, a pursuit that is also a part of his bucket list.

Things get complicated and the main conflict turns up when a small boy Ali, turns up in Mehmet’s warehouse. He comes out of a rag-sack, where his mother left him. Mehmet is moved by seeing Ali in such a condition.

Initially, Mehmet tries to find Ali’s mother and his house, but seeing Ali’s disagreement to go back, he gives Ali a job in his warehouse. He takes in the kid as his own son, but things get quite complicated when Ali starts showing uncontrollable outbursts. Mehmet unable to understand the problem tries to plunge further into Ali’s life.

Directed by Can Ulkay and written by Ercan Mehmet Erdem, Paper Lives) isn’t a simple Turkish Drama that it might seem like. The hidden information is like breadcrumbs that the writers keep leaving at regular intervals. It all connects in the end when a devastating revelation is made.  The revelation takes you by the throat and kicks you back in your seat that makes you wonder, “what just happened.” Coming from the streets of Turkey, Paper Lives incorporates the subtle ironies of street life and explores an empty vacuum created in a child’s life by the actions of their parents, unaware of what horrors they are inflicting in his innocence.

Major Spoilers Ahead

‘Paper Lives’ (Kagittan Hayatlar) Ending Explained

Mehmet’s full name is Mehmet Ali. Shockingly, the kid he meets is named Ali too. However, in reality, he never meets a kid. Ali is a creation of his own mind, molded from Mehmet’s own childhood. In actuality, Mehmet’s own mother put him in the sack, and it was his own step-father that used to beat him mercilessly. The point in his wishlist, “to meet his mother” was something that kept Mehmet worrying which often grew to the extent of mental trauma. By creating Ali, Mehmet was trying to fill the void of his own childhood. He kept calling his childhood, trying to make his childhood happy, but the past is something we cannot change. Mehmet was inclined on doing the impossible.

“Mehmet Ali was different. He’d lose his sanity sometimes. Later on, he wasn’t able to tell imagination from reality.”

According to Gonzales’ voiceover, in the end, it wasn’t the first time when Mehmet had created Ali. He kept on bringing those memories back. Even in the opening sequences, while returning back from the hospital, Mehmet mentions something about a kid, which Gonzales and Uncle Tahsin ignore. It is the epitome of brilliant writing to put clues in the film that viewers connect back. It makes you remember the visuals, the information and thus creates an impact on the viewers. Paper Lives (Kagittan Hayatlar) is indeed, a well-written film.

“All he wanted was to help unite his abandoned childhood and his mom. Mehmet Ali was a street kid. He didn’t have a mother to tuck him in. He was all alone. Like us.”

In the beginning, Paper Lives plays out like a simple middle-eastern drama with an incredibly unique set-up of rag-pickers.  The world keeps you engaged with Turkish serendipity and mundane lives. However, when the drama strikes, the film becomes a mind-blender where you start noticing each bit on screen. The term for enjoyment is over and confusion preps in. you can trying to analyze and understand. It is the mark of a brilliant piece of art to keep you engaged, either with beauty or confusion. Paper Lives (film) offers both. It is also a great example of the fact, that you don’t always need big sets, heavy scientific theories, or conspiracy theories to build a mind-bending film. The human mind, in itself, is a complex arena, that one can keep exploring deeper and deeper. And Fortunately, to explore it, you just need to sit down and think, and to create a mind blender of that sort, you need to have the power of words.

Paper Lives lacks strong performances, but it sure does hold a strong message. It is totally a worthwhile watch if you are keen on watching films from different regions of the world. The film is also available with an English translation on Netflix, but if you want to grasp the flavor of the film, subtitles could be instrumental too. Do not miss this one.

Paper Lives (Kagittan Hayatlar) is streaming on Netflix.

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Shikhar Agrawal
Shikhar Agrawal
I am an Onstage Dramatist and a Screenwriter. I have been working in the Indian Film Industry for the past 12 years, writing dialogues for various films and television shows.

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