The Office U. S.’ ‘temp’ and a well-known writer and actor since then, B. J. Novak has now delivered an outstanding directorial debut through his latest movie, “Vengeance.” Since some of his innovative writings, “The Book with No Picture” or “One More Thing,” has already been in a groove, it goes without saying that his directorial would not have a shortage of brain-twisting humor and an eloquent script. “Vengeance” is a perfect illustration of a writer’s introspection through his journey from finding a “story” to end up being a story. Though that realization comes eventually, overcoming a mountain of rigid mindsets, limited by hook-up culture and a fear of commitment. But in this case, Ben Manalowitz (B.J. Novak) is taken far from the colored world of the over-matured culture to a sudden turn of the road, where he either has to make a story or rather delete it.
Where Does Ben Get the Story From? Who is Abilene?
The story begins with a wounded girl crawling through a dusty desert field in Texas, raising her broken phone to the sky, creating a suspenseful energy from the very beginning, but at one point, the moving body freezes. With the soulful melody of “Red Solo Cup” in the background, the scene slowly shifts into the flamboyant city of New York, where Ben Manalowitz and his buddy, played by John Mayer, are deep into a weird conversation about how ‘love’ doesn’t work out for them. Just right at the moment when we are getting that Ben is hooked up in casual dating culture, he points out, in a sincere tone, that what if he did find some deeper connection with somebody? His buddy diverts him with his 6-7 casual dating (at the same time) ideology that Ben prefers to pretend to understand. While the crazy duet hints at his friend’s reckless love affairs, it also shows Ben’s innermost confused state. He is in denial with his fear of commitment and gives it numerous names, but somewhere he wants to feel a deep connection that will bind him to a certain person, just as he is bound to find the story of his dreams.
Ben Manalowitz is a reputed writer and a contributor to New Yorker Magazine, which makes his profile so clean-cut that he looks like an accomplished man, which he is not. As an artist or a writer, his hunger is constant. The hunger to find a story with the relentless theories roaming inside his head. His wildness is about writing a piece of the story to represent America, his native place, but all he wants this time is to make it out in a podcast live that a thousand people will pay attention to. But what might be his story? We see him approach Eloise (Issa Rae), a famous podcast producer of a New York Radio channel, who just happens to be his friend. Ben sketches a riveting conspiracy theory of how America is divided by time instead of cities or names, which is pretty eye-opening, but because of its being a broken piece instead of a full-fledged story, Eloise doesn’t consider it to be pushed forward. But the story itself appears through a surprise call from faraway Texas.
Ben receives a sleep-breaking call from Ty (Boyd Halbrook), a starkly unknown person from Texas. While asked about his identity, he reveals that he is the brother of Ben’s former casual date, ‘Abilene.’ As Ben frowns, unable to even recognize Abilene, his brother calls him in the middle of the night with the bad news that Abilene has died. All Ben could do was console, but Ty was demanding more. Now, Ben has to reach Abilene’s place, which is almost five hours away from the nearest airport. But being sympathetic and kind, he cannot even refuse Ty for the sake of his acquaintance with Abilene. Without a second thought, Ben is forced to arrive in Texas, but apparently, there’s a bigger surprise waiting for him. Finally, when it comes to Abilene’s funeral, her family seems to be an unusual kind. While at one point, Ben was struggling to recognize the dead Abilene, her family now treats him as their kin, a son-in-law. Ben realizes that maybe Abilene didn’t date casually like him; maybe she was somehow emotionally involved, which gave the wrong impression to her family. But things don’t stop there. Instead, on the way back, Ben gets an electrifying trick, while Abilene’s brother Ty creates a distraction on his way back. Ty determines that his sister didn’t die of a normal overdose from taking some Advil, but rather that she was murdered. In this regard, Ty clarifies that his sister had never consumed so many pills. Ben wants to know why they didn’t get legal help when the suspicions were creeping in, to which Ty’s ridiculous logic is that in Texas, they don’t call 911.
According to Ty, the strange mythical culture of Texas seems both funny and charming to Ben. It clicks in his head, the idea of his potential story. So, without wasting a second, an opportunist Ben calls Eloise, who is equally impressed with his plan. Ben wishes to air a podcast centered around the mystery or ‘fictional’ mystery surrounding Abilene’s death, for which he consensually undertakes to record the conversations of Abilene Shaw’s family. Further information, which talks about the culture, restaurants, music, and history of Texas, is recorded by Ben on his phone. In the process of gathering information, he meets Ty’s friend, Abilene’s two wannabe famous sisters, and a cute brother nicknamed “El-stupido.” In a troublesome meeting with Ty’s flaky friend, Ben realizes how crazy they are, and their closed minds convince Ben that a Mexican drug dealer, Sancholo (Jach Villa), killed Abilene, which is entirely up to Ben to believe. But Ben is willing to learn who Sancholo is.
Who is Quentin Sellers (Ashton Kucher)? Did Abilene Never Take Drugs?
After getting a lot of appraisals of Abilene’s music, Ben leaves, heading to the Quentin Sellers Music Factory in Art Town, Marfa, where Abilene had recorded some demos of her songs. However, upon getting there, Ben is electrified by Quentin Sellers himself. Quentin isn’t just a record company owner; he’s a philosopher. He is disgusted with the conventional way of listening to the music of the rising age and resents the purposeless display of knowledge more than one acquires it. He lives in his small Texas town with the ideology of a larger-than-life person. Quentin fascinates Ben in every way, as Ben is some kind of theorist too. But on the way back, along with that enigmatic conversation, he also brings a CD of Abilene’s songs.
However, to continue the investigation, Ben, accompanied by Ty, arrives at the Holliston Rodeo, where, like the racehorses, the wild Texas people are rambling around, among whom Ben is very incongruous. But his objective is to confront Sancholo. Finally, upon meeting Sancholo, Ben is eager to interact with him. Ben must surrender his recorder to enter Sancholo’s secret room, but the secret itself is revealed right there. Sancholo says that despite being a drug dealer, Abilene used to like him. But he discloses the concern, which we have heard from Ty before, is that Abilene’s overdose is a false claim because she never took pills. As Ben’s entire “story” game begins to gain a dark side, he realizes that Abilene’s death is not so natural. For the moment, Ben believes that this case can be solved with legal help, so he arranges to take legal action, which all goes in vain because the entire legal system of Texas declares this case as DRT, i.e., Dead Right There.
Ben’s podcast has gained enough appreciation; therefore, Eloise introduces him to a bigger producer, Robin of ‘American Moment’, but just then, his car explodes, which minimally injures Ben’s body. However, at the hospital, he opens his eyes to the power of the Shaw family, who have now taken Ben even closer. Ben also feels affectionate toward them, so he takes it upon himself to get to the bottom of this story. While the Shaw family takes Ben to their food-heaven “whataburger,” Eloise calls him to end the story because the scary things the local Texas people might have done to Ben, like exploding the car, could put his life at risk. But he vows to end his story by finding the person responsible for Abilene’s death and declining his friend’s order at this point. However, the end is not saved when Abilene’s grandmother lets the cat out of her bag. While praising Abilene’s precious heart, she slips her tongue about her excessive pill-popping habit, which creates a happy atmosphere, turns awkward in a second. Now, this starts causing a huge commotion among them. Ben, suddenly being outrageous, yells at the family, forgetting about the affection he felt a minute ago. Hiding this truth shakes his ideology. Screaming at Ty’s foolish belief system, Ben makes it clear, however, that Abilene’s death is not murder but the tragic result of her overdose. But Ty implies that he kept the matter secret so Ben could spend time with them, wanting to investigate why his sister was overcharged with pills. Abilene’s mother tells Ben that one doesn’t just do drugs but wants to be free from pain, whatever the cause of that pain. Ben calms himself down and goes back for the night to Abilene’s room, where Mason, Abilene’s younger brother, comes to sleep on the floor.
‘Vengeance’ Ending Explained: How Would Ben Conclude The Story? Who Killed Abilene?
Ben, lacking a conclusion to his unfinished story, turns on the recorder to give it a beautiful ending. He says that he has no more story at this moment; rather, he has become the story himself, the story that does not exist, the story that is not even good, so giving a full stop to it, he is about to return home. But, remembering Abilene’s belief in lucky numbers, he can access the password to Abilene’s broken phone from a number code Abilene kept in her room. Finally, Ben takes some vital evidence. Abilene’s broken phone, which is shown to us at the very beginning of the movie, suggests in every way that the injured girl is none other than Abilene. By gaining access to that broken phone, Ben actually gets access to Abilene’s secret conversation with Quentin Sellers. It’s still not clear to Ben, though, because Abilene only used Ben’s name to carry on conversations with this unknown person, so that her family doesn’t raise any suspicions about her secret drug supply.
Without a second’s delay, Ben, wearing Ty’s clothes and cowboy hat, heads out to the oil field where, at the afterparty, Abilene took her last breath. Ben arrives in Mason’s ATV car and is interrupted by Ty and his friend. But seeing that Ben is on a mission, Ty doesn’t come his way. Even two local Texas people admit to Ben that they had exploded his car. But Ben, being motivated to Vengeance, doesn’t let himself distract. Finally, he meets the culprit. Quentin Sellers greets him in his tent, where a young girl is nearly passed out from drug addiction. Quentin’s philosophical conversation reveals that on the night of Abilene’s death, after she overdosed, Quentin prevented her from calling 911, because no one in Texas calls 911, as they record all calls. However, it turns out that after Abilene overdosed that night, Quentin dragged her unassisted to the afterparty, where there was no cell reception, only to make her death remain on the list of other accidental statistics. Quentin, though admits everything, tries to manipulate Ben again with his philosophies. He even implies that he got a call from a “ghost,” which definitely meant the call from Ben from Abilene’s phone. So, it is fairly apparent that Quentin was Abilene’s drug dealer, who just let her die because if she called 911, she would take Quentin’s secret deal down with her. As everything is recorded for Ben, he tells Ben that this podcast, which will eventually spread across America, will let everyone come up with their voice. Among the listeners, one would definitely ask questions about Ben and his relationship with Abilene. Then what answer would he give as he was also finding an opportunity to use the grieving family to accomplish his own goal? Ben finally turns off his recording, takes out a gun from another pocket, and unexpectedly shoots Quentin to death. It may come as a surprise to see Ben in a different form because he deletes all recordings of the story for which he has been struggling for weeks. At the end of the day, this story has made him a different person, who no longer needs the podcast anymore. The Shaw family, who have stood by him for so long, hoping of getting justice for Abilene, Ben dedicates this story to them, taking a leave from Texas with “no regrets” at all.
Why Doesn’t Ben Need The Podcast Anymore?
Ben’s quest to find the story ends up being the quest for revenge. He was astonished by Ty’s gibberish to the point that made him drawn to vengeance to learn about it, but eventually, it was Ben who avenged the death of Abilene, without having any connection to her. As it was his connection with humanity, the Shaw family’s grief, and their innocent existence in this corrupted world. The family, which eats together and lives together with not-so-smart wifi at home, is definitely a rare one to find. All the love and unity they possess is way more precious than how Ben lives his life with a fear of commitment and isolation. So, in the end, Ben just didn’t learn the meaning of vengeance, but he learned to love and to overcome fear, which makes Ben a story in itself. So, without a need to podcast a great show, he rather becomes a great human, deleting all the recordings in order to get closure from his past.
“Vengeance” is a 2022 Drama Thriller film directed by B.J. Novak.