Jesse Eisenberg’s directorial debut film, “When You Finish Saving the World,” might seem commendable at first glance, especially towards the beginning, as it presents a different take on the struggles of growing up. Unlike many other coming-of-age films, the protagonist here, Ziggy, does not feel the urge to be a rebel and shout out against norms, but he is rather expected to do so by his parents. However, as this comedy-drama film progresses, a shallowness becomes more visible as it loses relatability to the real world and people. “When You Finish Saving the World” is definitely worth watching and might also be enjoyable to many, but the expression of its ideas does falter.
‘When You Finish Saving the World’ Plot Summary: What Is The Film About?
As a young teenager, Ziggy finds passion in writing and singing what he calls folk-rock songs, and the boy is invested enough to make music his profession. Playing his songs over livestreams on a social media platform, the boy even earns money through chat donations from a handful of fans all over the world. But Ziggy also suffers from a distinct loneliness at home, for his parents neither understand his passion nor make any effort to do so. The boy’s father is an erudite scholar, presumably holding the esteemed post of Chancellor at some institution, while his mother is a social worker by profession. Both parents are intellectuals with their own perspectives of life, which are at great odds with those of their teenage son’s. Evelyn, the mother, always had high expectations for her son to grow up to be a certain sort of individual, but she now grows more disconnected from him with every passing day. The son, too, is distanced from his guardians as he fails to understand their high thoughts and opinions. Spanning over a period of a few days or a couple of weeks at most, “When You Finish Saving the World” focuses on both the son and the mother trying to find some sort of replacement for each other in their lives.
Why Do Ziggy And Evelyn Grow Apart?
‘When You Finish Saving the World’ is heavily built on its set of characters, which are not many in number. At the forefront are definitely the mother and son, Evelyn and Ziggy, who are at a certain point in their lives when they seem foreign to each other. Ziggy is a teenager growing up in a house where, even though he is given all the resources and permissions that he needs to pursue personal ambitions, he does not have anybody to share them with. As a boy of his age, Ziggy is brash as well as awkward at the same time, as he does not think twice before lashing out at his parents for the smallest of things. But in the outside world, he is helplessly nervous and lacks the confidence to make new friends. He is seen to have only one friend at his high school, that too, one who seems to just stick around with the boy rather than have any real bond. Therefore, when Ziggy develops a very adolescent interest in his classmate Lila, he is worse than a fish out of water. Not knowing what to say to her or how to express his interest, Ziggy just tries to awkwardly show up around Lila and pretend to be interested in her conversations. The problem for him is that Lila is a young girl very interested in political, social, and environmental issues of the real world, which are absolutely beyond Ziggy’s grasp.
Despite being of the same age, the young boy is honestly as far away from the real world as possible. Finding validation and support only in the virtual world of social media, he is constantly boastful of the number of followers that he has or the number of likes or money that his latest song performance has received. Therefore, matters of racial injustice or the imperialist idea of America as the world’s savior, all that Lila and her friends discuss in their free time, are out of his analytical reach. What is worse is that the only other people who he can ask about all these things, his parents, are least interested in talking to him about such happenings. While the father seems just too distanced and detached from the thoughts and lives of common people, not just his son alone, Evelyn actually has an answer for her son. Later in the film, when Ziggy tells her mother about this situation at school, Evelyn’s response is that she will not be spoon-feeding her son about such important real-world matters only so that he can go and fit in with a crowd at school. Her solution is that Ziggy invests his own time in reading about such things and figuring out his own opinions and beliefs regarding them.
If Ziggy’s situation is to be spelled out in the most basic of terms, the boy is extremely mainstream, while the individuals around him are interested in getting away from populist thoughts as much as possible. Whether they do so only to fit in is a different question altogether. When Ziggy gets hold of a poem written by Lila and makes a song out of it in his own way, he is excited to get it broadcasted on his livestream. He does so and even earns money and likes from it, but when he shares this with Lila, the girl is angered by his actions. To her, Ziggy’s decision to earn money from a song about the sufferings of exploited nations and people is a very selfish act. To her, he immediately becomes like the greater enemy she intends to fight in life, but Ziggy’s true intentions are not understood by her. The boy seemed genuinely interested in Lila’s words about making use of his music and platform in some positive way, and he had only tried to do this. The film’s focus does, in fact, seem to be to show Ziggy as a character losing himself trying to fit in with unlikely people.
On the other hand, the portrayal of the mother, Evelyn, is even harsher and perhaps even slightly ridiculous. As a social worker who runs a shelter for women who are abused in their homes, Evelyn has very high standards and expectations of everyone around her. She had raised her son Ziggy with all the exposure that she felt he would need to grow up to become someone she wanted him to be. Clearly an activist in her younger days, Evelyn used to take Ziggy to every protest and demonstration, where the boy would even sing their songs of dissent. She had introduced the young boy to the variety of cultures and foods of the world that she felt were out of the ordinary. But since the moment that Ziggy stopped showing interest in any of this, she has stopped having expectations from him either. Instead of helping her son understand the world and life, she remains more interested in having a son around who would be just according to her standards and liking. Therefore, when one of the new women who take refuge at her shelter along with her teenage son Kyle approaches, Evelyn’s eyes light up in the figurative sense.
Kyle is hard-working, honest, and bright, interested in getting to know more and being of help to people around him. He is very clear about supporting his mother and is also open to new experiences and tastes. Evelyn absolutely dotes on the boy, giving him her son’s cap and taking him out on errands and to dinner. The woman even acts protective towards the boy from any other motherly woman with whom he shows interest in talking. It is like Kyle is just the son she had wanted for so long, other than one minor hitch. Which is kind of major for Evelyn, as Kyle plans to graduate from school and help his father run his car repair business. Evelyn is disappointed by such a waste of talent, as she believes it to be, and instead almost coaxes Kyle into going to college. She even buys memberships for websites to search for the best possible colleges around and keeps planning ahead for Kyle’s life.
Inside her own house, relationships grow much worse. In one instance, when the two have a terrible argument, Evelyn harshly dismisses Ziggy’s interests and shuts him down. Instead of helping her son with the new discussions and opinions that the boy is confused about, she tells him to go find out about things on his own. Evelyn does not realize that her son is not asking her to spoon-feed him the political theories of the world but is just asking for the most basic introduction to such ideas. While she wants Ziggy to have serious thoughts about the world and life, she does not make an effort to introduce them to him. It is also perhaps obvious that growing up in such a household where erudite conversations are dinner talk, Ziggy has grown up to have all interests in the mainstream. His father is emotionally absent from both his and Evelyn’s lives. But the mother remains blind to such reasoning and almost seems to believe that her son acts and lives his life differently, only to be away from her. With all of this covered, it is really necessary to mention the major flaw in “When You Finish Saving the World” as well, which is its very set of characters. There is no hiding that Evelyn’s blindness and judgmental personality are the main focus of the drama, and the title, too, seems to be pointed toward her. It is almost as if she is a liberal woman too busy saving the world while her own son grows more distant from her. While there might be nothing essentially wrong with presenting such a narrative, “When You Finish Saving the World” falters massively at this presentation. Its characters are too one-sided and superficial beyond a point. Evelyn seems to turn a blind eye towards Ziggy only because she wants to do so, and similarly, Ziggy seems to complicate things between him and the girl he likes, only to seem all the more immature.
‘When You Finish Saving The World’ Ending Explained: Do Evelyn And Ziggy Revive Their Relationship?
As much as the body of the film seems lost in motivation, the ending, too, looks sudden and without much effect. After telling Lila about his recent earnings from the song he had made, Ziggy is left alone by the girl. All hopes of him being in a romantic relationship with her are now lost, and more importantly, the boy is even more clueless about the world and people around him. On the other side, Kyle’s mother gets to know of Evelyn’s plans to send her son to college, and she expresses her displeasure at such an idea. Evelyn then goes directly over to Kyle’s school and speaks with him. Here, Kyle also comes clean about his wish to stay in town and work at his father’s business while also giving his mother company. He then nervously asks Evelyn if such a decision of his would result in him and his mother getting thrown out of the survivor shelter. This makes it clear to Evelyn that Kyle agreed to go around with her and listen to her plans for his future only to ensure that they would be safe under her service. Instead of looking up to her as a mother figure, Kyle was afraid of Evelyn, as he perceived her as the boss of the only place they could find shelter.
Evelyn and Ziggy are both distraught by their individual interactions and are once again alone after their respective replacements leave them. Now moved by the whole situation, Evelyn reaches her office and searches for her son’s music on the internet. She starts to listen to them, and despite probably not liking them, she feels proud of the effort he has been putting in. Ziggy, too, reaches the office from school and comes across a list of works and achievements that his mother had experienced in life. ‘When You Finish Saving the World’ is mostly about projecting one’s own wishes upon the other, especially between this mother and son, and in the end, both realize to respect and love each other for who they are. While Evelyn recognizes the passion in her son, just not in the way she would have wanted it to be, Ziggy realizes the weight of his mother’s experience in her own practical world. The two look at each other as if seeing the other through a new lens of respect and support, and the mother-son relationship is definitely revived in the end.