‘Turtles All The Way Down’ (2024) Film Ending Explained: Did Davis’ Dad Kill Himself?


It’s not often that a film, especially one from a genre that isn’t usually my thing, changes my headspace on a conspicuous level. And I’m going to be honest with you here, I haven’t read the John Green book that gives Hannah Marks’ Turtles All the Way Down its story. But like it intended, Aza’s craggy course through the nameless lanes of love, friendship, and soul-searching, all while her OCD chases her, has left me in the mood of aimless introspection. So that’s what I’ll do as I walk you through Turtles All the Way Down. And who knows? Maybe we’ll find that last turtle after all.

Spoiler Alert

What Happens in the Film?

It caught me off guard how impressively Turtles All the Way Down rejected an exhaustingly insincere trope prevalent in the coming-of-age romance genre, especially in the films that dabble in mental health issues. And I’ll tell you what that is in a bit. But first, we have to sit face-to-face with the demons that make it hard for Aza to express her feelings for her loved ones with the love languages that require physical touch. Aza has a rabid case of OCD. And her extreme germaphobia is pretty much the only voice in her head. It’s gotten all the more difficult for Aza ever since her dad died. And the 16-year-old hasn’t been able to find the point of that tragedy, just like she hasn’t been able to find out who she is underneath her mental illness. Things are a little easier with her best friend, Daisy, around. And it helps that Daisy’s set her mind to getting that $100,000 reward for finding Russell Pickett, a local business tycoon who’s disappeared from the face of the Earth to avoid arrest. It so happens that Aza knows Russell’s son Davis from the “sad camp” she went to all those years ago when her father died. 

How do Aza and Davis start talking again?

Daisy’s too broke to splurge for a drink at Applebee’s. So you can imagine that going to college is a pipe dream for her. And while Aza’s mom does her best, they’re not doing too well financially either. Needless to say, they’re in dire need of a financial miracle. But the already preposterous plan to find Davis’ dad comes with another hiccup. As far as Aza remembers, Russell was too big of a privacy freak to have security cameras around his house. But she also remembers a motion detector camera that Davis got for his 13th birthday. It was wildly embarrassing for Aza and Daisy to be caught trying to snoop around the estate. But two good things come out of it. Aza’s immediately smitten by the cute guy Davis has grown up to be. And Daisy now has a chance of getting that reward since they’ve gotten their hands on the pictures from the motion detector camera. Nothing other than a picture of Russell escaping with a duffel bag comes of it, though. But Aza and Davis hit it off almost instantly. Maybe it’s the FOMO now that Daisy’s been asked out by their friend Mychal, but Aza craves some closeness with a boy she likes as well. Trouble is that kissing involves the exchange of bodily fluids. And for Aza, that’s a microbial nightmare. 

How does Aza cope with her OCD and her crush?

Aza didn’t expect that she’d find it so easy to talk to Davis. But Davis doesn’t seem to mind the strange spiral in which her thoughts seem to go. On the contrary, he finds her all the more fascinating when she goes on and on about this fish that’s basically a puppet under a parasite’s control. What Davis doesn’t quite get is that that’s how Aza often feels. Her anxiety feels like a parasite, mutilating the real Aza. The sessions with Dr. Singh don’t seem to help much at all. But that’s partly because Aza refuses to be regular with her medication and because she’s terrified of finding out who she is if she isn’t this anxious mess. Aza’s self-awareness is a challenge for Dr. Singh, who only wants to convince her that she can have a fulfilling romance if she just gets used to managing her condition better. And it’s not that Aza doesn’t try. But every time the idea of kissing Davis pops up in her head, she wants to sterilize her insides and nip that imaginary infection in the bud. She knows there isn’t much logic to her paranoia. But logic is like a feeble soldier with a plastic sword when it comes to fighting the monster of her OCD. Davis, being the sweetest guy who’s patient with Aza, is both a source of comfort and guilt for her. On their first date, Aza’s paranoia took over, and she went running to the restroom to pick at the callous on her finger, which never gets to heal. But nothing about Aza’s unusual behavior seems to faze Davis. The thing is, Aza’s probably the only kindred spirit Davis has ever found. And as Aza herself says on their swimming pool date, their hearts are broken at the same places. When Davis lost his mom, and Aza’s father was taken from her, the grief tied them together in an irreversible manner. And all these years later, they’re the same broken kids, finding solace in knowing there’s this one person who gets why they will always be broken in that very specific way. 

How does Aza’s trip to Northwestern go?

It comes as a rather disheartening blow to Aza when she sees her mom planning to turn their garage into an apartment for her. The heartbreak is understandable. It is, after all, one of the worst things to learn: that the people around you believe your worst insecurities to be your truth. When Davis wanted a fresh start for them and gave Aza the reward money to make sure she liked him for him, Aza’s dream of going to Northwestern came a little closer to being realized. She gorges on Professor Abbott’s Ted Talks like she’s speaking to her soul. And Aza sees no point in going to college if she doesn’t go to Northwestern, the place with her favorite professor and role model who asks the existential questions that keep her up at night. But moving to Chicago and living all by herself is a dream Aza’s mental condition stands in the way of. And knowing her mother shares the same doubt about her incapacity to have a normal life away from home doesn’t comfort Aza. This is where Davis’ faith in Aza comes in.

A surprise private plane trip to Chicago was the last thing Aza expected. But she can hardly deny a chance to speak to Professor Abbott. Luckily, Professor Abbott is the hero she was right in meeting. Abbott meets Aza’s identity crisis with a paradox that explains the title of the film. Apparently, a random woman once opposed a brilliant scientist’s lecture about the Earth moving around the Sun. No, she wasn’t a flat-earther. But she believed that the world rested on the back of a giant turtle, which rested on the shell of an even bigger turtle, and so on. So Aza never finding that one solid little form inside her Russian nesting doll of existence is kind of like the paradox of the universe. If it’s turtles all the way down and the universe is infinite, wanting to find that last turtle is impractical. Recognizing the parallel between her idea of self and the question of the origin of the infinite universe is the first instance of Aza seeing the futility of the idea of having control. That’s the first time Aza lets go of her fear and kisses the boy she likes. And even though it’s followed by another thought spiral that cripples her senses, it was a big step toward Aza’s recovery. 

Did Davis’ dad kill himself?

There’s a reason Aza preferred her dad over her mom. It isn’t that she doesn’t absolutely love her mom, but her dad was just better at making her feel better. It doesn’t help Aza that her mom has the exact same fears about her future that she does. But it absolutely destroys Aza to learn that her best friend Daisy’s been harboring the kind of bitter opinions about her that Aza is already insecure about. Aza’s just realized that Ayala, the annoying character in Daisy’s “Star Wars” fanfic, is based on her. It’s a pretty devastating blow. But when the confrontation does happen, even though both parties are throwing some pretty heavy complaints about each other around, it really does feel like two best friends bickering. Daisy’s grown-up feeling unheard by Aza. And to cope with that feeling, she’s done the most petty thing and built a character around Aza. Aza doesn’t mean it when she calls Daisy out for being too talkative. She’s just hurt by the fact that her best friend thinks she’s self-centered. When the fight leads to Aza losing control of the wheel and ending up in a car crash, she’s way more broken up about destroying her dad’s car than her injuries. Thankfully, Daisy’s gotten off with a few stitches to her forehead. But you can imagine a germaphobe’s plight in a hospital. Aza’s anxiety has convinced her that she’s infected with C. diff. This is where Turtles All the Way Down goes beyond the quirky representations of mental health issues in the genre and actually gets real. The scenes where Aza eats hand soap to kill the microbes inside her hold the gnarly truths of just how bad it gets for someone with her condition. And it takes an aggravated form in the hospital bathroom when Aza chugs down a dangerous amount of soap to eradicate the C. diff bacteria. The poor kid ends up having to get her stomach pumped when she’s already in pain from the injured liver. But this serves as the reality check she so badly needed about her mental health. 

We don’t know how much the new medication Dr. Singh puts her on helps her. However, the regular sessions have brought about an optimistic change in Aza. Don’t get me wrong. She’s far from fixed. But at least she’s found the will to take the small steps. Aza didn’t mean to ghost Davis when the noise in and around her got too loud for her to bear. And even now, she’s far from ready to love him the way he wants and deserves to be loved. But she’s certainly well enough to be there for her best friend. Even if it takes going down to the filthy underground tunnels of Pogue’s run to support Mychal and his art. Daisy didn’t think her best friend would even consider showing up to the underground art exhibition her boyfriend got selected for. But the fight before the accident has opened Aza’s eyes to the uncomfortable truth. She hasn’t been a good friend to Daisy. But there’s time yet for Aza to make up for it. 

In Turtles All the Way Down‘s ending, as the two best friends reconcile, they inadvertently solve the mystery behind Russell’s disappearance, too. When Aza finds the Burberry Russell was wearing when he left his home, she recalls the note Davis’ little brother Noah showed her. Before disappearing, Russell scribbled down the names of the rich folk hideouts but scratched them out, too. But there was another thing written on that note that Aza couldn’t make sense of at first. The Jogger’s Mouth. It’s only now that she figures out that the end of the White River, where she and Daisy have just found Russell’s coat, is called The Jogger’s Mouth. There was a note meant for Davis and Noah that Russell left in his pocket before jumping from the bridge. As someone who’s lost a parent before, Aza can’t possibly let the detectives deliver the news that Davis is now an orphan. Learning about it from Aza doesn’t change much for Davis, but knowing she knows exactly what he’s feeling is perhaps the only thing that can comfort him. Davis’ decision to move to Colorado with Noah feels like the end of it all for Aza. She didn’t indulge the fantasies of ending up with the boy she loves, but the imminent distance hurts all the same. At the end of the day, Daisy’s the only one Aza finds relief in talking to. As we see a montage of Aza’s future unfolding through Daisy’s hopeful words, we’re reassured that she will have just as fulfilling a life as any “normal” person. We don’t know if it’s Davis she’ll eventually end up with. But we know she’ll fight her demons with all her might. If love is the only strength she needs, there won’t be a shortage of it in her heart. Back to what I was saying about Turtles All the Way Down walking against the grain when it comes to the topic of mental health in a romance, we never see why or how Aza’s OCD originated. In a genre which loves its convenient breakthroughs, Aza’s experience stands out as the real thing. And similarly, the ending doesn’t have an easy solution for it all. There’s no one answer that can put an end to the endless cascade of questions that crowd Aza’s mind. Her road to recovery will be long, and just like her name which goes from A to Z and back to A again, Aza will often find herself stuck in an endless loop of figuring herself out. But as long as Aza loves and lets herself be loved, I think she’ll do okay in life. 

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Lopamudra Mukherjee
Lopamudra Mukherjee
In cinema, Lopamudra finds answers to some fundamental questions of life. And since jotting things down always makes overthinking more fun, writing is her way to give this madness a meaning.

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