‘The Son’ Ending, Explained: Why Did Peter Believe He Was A Failure? Did Nicholas Survive?


Directed by Florian Zeller and starring Hugh Jackman, Laura Dern, Vanessa Kirby, and Zen McGrath, “The Son” is about a father trying to be there for his son, who is suffering from mental illness. The spacious office cabin and the multiple business meetings all indicate the success Peter has achieved in his professional life. He lives with his wife and their newborn son, Theo. His perfect world started to crash when his ex-wife knocked on his door to discuss their son, Nicholas. Nicholas had been missing school for days, and Kate did not know what she should do as his mother. Kate noticed that Nicholas was quite aloof most of the time, and he would often stare at her with such hatred that it scared her. She wanted Peter to have a word with their son and figure out the reason behind his disinterest in school.

Spoilers Ahead

‘The Son’ Plot Summary: What Is The Film About?

Peter met with Nicholas to discuss the reason behind the sudden change in his behavior. He did not have any particular reason for missing school; he was simply overwhelmed with life and wanted to stay away and be on his own. He used to go on walks around the city instead of going to school. Nicholas wanted to change his life; he wanted to be better, but he did not know how to do so. He did not wish to live with his mother anymore after he sensed that he was too much for her to handle. He hoped to live with his father and his new family. It was not an easy decision for Peter, especially now that he had a toddler at home. Having a teenager living with them was not what Beth had ideally wanted, but she agreed to it, realizing how important it was for Peter.

Peter focused on getting Nicholas on the right track by enrolling him at a different school and getting him ready for parties with batchmates. He searched hard for the reason behind his behavior instead of understanding that there is often no particular reason behind depression. Instead of acknowledging Nicholas’s mental illness and working towards getting him better, he was fixated on making him follow a routine. He was so focused on perfecting his role as a father that he could never see the sadness in his son’s eyes. The divorce had affected Nicholas very strongly. He could not accept that his father left his mother and him to start a family with another woman. His life was perfect when his parents were together, and he could not cope with the sudden change in family dynamics. While his parents figured that they could no longer be with each other, it was Nicholas who had to suffer the trauma of watching everything around him change suddenly. He yearned to go back to the good old days when his parents were together, and he was a happy little boy.

Peter’s father had been mostly absent from his life. He was so busy making a mark in his career that he never had the time to be with his family. Peter could not get over that feeling of abandonment, even as a grown adult. He wondered why his father ignored him and his mother, even when she was on her deathbed. The feeling of not being enough to retain the attention of his father is something that Peter suffered from, which is why he was obsessed with being the ideal father figure to his son. By making little sacrifices in his professional life, he wanted his son to immediately be thankful to him and get better for him. But being a father is not so easy, and there might not be a result for every sacrifice that a father makes, and Peter learns that the hard way.

Why Did Peter And Nicholas Argue? 

Beth informed Peter when she spotted Nicholas at the park during his school hours. Peter found out from the school that he had stopped attending classes after his first day there. Peter was furious; he could not accept the fact that his son had lied to him all along. He trusted Nicholas when he discussed the school party he was invited to. Peter had started to believe that he was a positive influence on him. The realization that nothing had changed hit him hard, and he demanded answers from Nicholas. Nicholas had been saying and doing everything that would garner the love and attention of his father. He knew his father would be excited if he discussed a school party, and over time he realized that his father would never understand what he was going through, which is why he lied to him about the reason why he would bunk classes. He said that he avoided going to school after he broke up with a girl since that was the only explanation his father would understand.

Peter was frustrated with Nicholas’s lack of interest in changing his life. He blamed him for not taking control of his life even when he had all the means and tools to do so. He expressed how bleak Nicholas’s future would be due to his uneagerness to make it work. Peter compared his teenage years with Nicholas’ to show how privileged he was. Peter fought his way to this position despite the fact that he lacked a father figure and had a sick mother to care for. He demanded to know what Nicholas lacked in his life. Nicholas blamed Peter for everything that went wrong in his life. According to him, his father abandoned him by divorcing his mother. Peter was infuriated; he had tried to make the marriage work, but he was unhappy there, and he was not ready for his son to shame him for wanting to be loved by someone else. While the divorce and the busy lives of his parents had affected Nicholas, it was not necessarily the entire reason for the way he felt, but it was the only explanation that he could come up with when someone demanded an answer for his behavior.

‘The Son’ Ending Explained: Did Nicholas Survive?

Nicholas was prone to self-harm; it helped him channel the pain he experienced mentally. After his argument with Peter, he attempted to commit suicide and was admitted to the hospital after being found unconscious by Beth. Peter and Kate rushed to the hospital, where they were told by the doctor that Nicholas was doing fine. The doctor advised them to admit Nicholas to their facility to help improve his mental health. They believed that because he was suffering from acute depression, it would not be safe to take him back home. He could be a danger to himself as well as others. They decided to follow the advice of the doctor and refrain from visiting Nicholas immediately since he was having trouble adjusting to his new life at the facility. Peter struggled to accept that he had failed to be the perfect father that he imagined he would be to his son. He realized how he had often acted just like his father did when he was young. He was supposed to be different; he was supposed to be more understanding of his offspring, but instead, without realizing it, he had negatively affected the life of his son. Peter and Beth were growing distant too. Peter was so preoccupied with Nicholas that he barely had time to care for his family. While Beth was sympathetic to what Peter was going through, she too was overwhelmed with constantly looking after their little boy without the support of her husband.

When Peter and Kate visited Nicholas, he begged them to remove him from the facility. He could not take the constant monitoring and the medication that the doctor prescribed him. He was not ready to accept that he was sick, and he simply wanted to get out of the facility. He begged his parents to help him, stating that he was much better at home than he ever could be at the facility. The doctor explained that since Nicholas suffered from acute depression, it would be completely unadvisable for him to stay at home. On the other hand, Nicholas wanted his parents to believe that he was doing better than before and that he would take care of himself after he went home. The doctor believed that a second attempt at suicide was a common phenomenon, and they needed to stabilize Nicholas before he was sent home. Nicholas did not agree with the doctor; he wanted his parents to believe that he had a change of heart and that he would be able to live a normal life.

The doctor asked the parents to make a decision immediately, and Peter chose to follow the doctor’s advice. He could not get over how devastated Nicholas was when he announced his decision. He had always wanted to prove himself as a father, and he believed that the decision he took was not something he would be later proud of. So, he went back to the facility and brought Nicholas home. He wanted to trust his son, and he believed that maybe he had truly changed. Nicholas was glad to be home. He expressed how pleased he was to see his parents together. The three of them had barely spent much time together recently, and it brought back blissful childhood memories. Kate planned to take Nicholas to a movie, and he went to the bathroom to get dressed. A few minutes after he left, Peter and Kate heard a gunshot. Nicholas used the rifle that Peter’s father had given him a long time ago. He had noticed it after he started living with Peter, and immediately after returning home, he committed suicide using it. Nicholas was never fine; he was simply more determined to end his existence. He spent the last few minutes with his parents just like he used to during his childhood days, and maybe that was why he decided it was the perfect moment to end it all.

Peter could not recover from the trauma of losing his son. He imagined that Nicholas would be a brilliant writer if he had been a better father. Peter could not be the father he wanted to be. He found comfort in dreaming about how he could have saved his son. As a father, he wanted to be appreciated by Nicholas, but that day never became a reality. Peter’s fondest memory of Nicholas is when he taught him to swim. He remembered that Nicholas was scared, but it was his confidence and support that helped Nicholas trust his father. He taught him to survive in water, but he could not help him deal with the difficult waves of life. The pride that he felt that day was something that he craved, but now, all he could think of was what a failure he had been, and he blamed himself for Nicholas’s unfortunate death. Even though Peter has a wife and son to look after, he will never get over losing Nicholas. “The Son” had enough potential to become a brilliant film, but the script barely gave it any scope to excel.

“The Son” is a 2022 Family Drama film directed by Florian Zeller.

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Srijoni Rudra
Srijoni Rudra
Srijoni has worked as a film researcher on a government-sponsored project and is currently employed as a film studies teacher at a private institute. She holds a Master of Arts degree in Film Studies. Film History and feminist reading of cinema are her areas of interest.

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