‘Worth’ Summary & Ending, Explained – Journey of “The 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund”


Michael Keaton (as Kenneth Feinberg) begins the film with a question, “What is life worth?” Philosophically, there is no way to ascertain “human worth.” Whereas when the law is concerned, the answer is a number. Kenneth believes that he can weigh every human life through a formula and quote a “number” for it in the film. But humans aren’t statistics, are they? The narrative puts forth his acceptance that human beings are dynamic and no formula can judge the worth of a lost life. His acceptance brings transformation, and that’s all his journey is about.

Based on a true story, Biographical Film, Worth directed by Sara Colangelo. Max Borenstein wrote the screenplay based on a non-fiction book, “What Is Life Worth?” written by Kenneth Feinberg. The center plot deals with the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attack and the fate of the “Victim Compensation Fund” created for victim’s relief. Kenneth Feinberg is the Special Master of the fund and the protagonist of his journey.

Plot Summary

American attorney Kenneth Feinberg runs his law firm The Feinberg Group, LLP and lives a pretty decent life until the tragedy strikes. On September 11, 2001 (also called 9/11), an Islamist terrorist group al-Qaeda hijacks 4 commercial airliners and hits World Trade Center along with the west side of the Pentagon.

In the aftermath of the tragedy, the government speculates that if the victims of the attacks or their families decide to sue the airline industry for lost lives, the two privately-owned airplane corporations will bankrupt. In a broader sense, the economy will collapse. White colors propose a treasury fund offering compensation for the victims to save themselves from a national emergency. And in exchange, the claimants officially agree not to sue. However, there are more than 71 hundred victims and their families. The Congressman hires attorney Kenneth Feinberg as a special master of the compensation fund who will negotiate all settlements to deal with the crisis. They need someone to do their dirty work, to estimate the cost of lost lives. In his passion for serving his country in its times of need, Kenneth jumps in without a second thought.

The job demands Kenneth negotiate with the victims and gather their consent to claim the fund before the deadline, i.e., December 24, 2003 (approximately two years from the film timeline). Kenneth develops a formula and hustle to “finish and move on,” but in this regard, it is not the lawyers or judges that he is dealing with. They are human beings with open wounds suffering from emotional turmoil. Kenneth’s statistics and reasoning don’t work, and it adds to the conflict of his story. Will he be able to shed a lawyer’s persona and think like a rational human being, for once?

‘Worth’ Ending Explained

One cannot measure the depth of despair until one jumps into it. Is it? In the first meeting with the victims, a man asked Kenneth, “Did you lose anybody in your family?” The question was definitely missed, but it does steer the theme of the film. The point being, is it vital to losing someone to understand human pain and suffering?

Kenneth approached the case as he would have approached any other issue. He lived by formula, and like his inherent nature, he applied the formula. The end or the symbolization of the film was more of the character’s journey to shed off his rigidity. At first, Kenneth didn’t directly speak to any of the victims or their families. Due to the fact, he didn’t grasp what they went through or were still going through. He didn’t understand their pain and suffering, but when he did, things changed.

Kenneth was obliged to meet Karen Donato, wife of New York City firefighter Nicholas Donato, who lost his life in the 9/11 attacks. Hesitant and resistant at first, Kenneth finally understood her pain. Another victim who lost his wife, Charles Wolf (Stanley Tucci), helped Kenneth realize that he cannot put human life in a formula and move on. These 7000 citizens sought respect from their government and were not treated like some numbers on a spreadsheet.

Influenced by Wolf’s beliefs, Kenneth didn’t precisely disregard his formula but used the discretion given to him by the law. He started meeting and treating every victim and their family with respect, individuality, and dignity. But still, the ascertained target was way ahead. In the end, Kenneth requested Charles Wolf to trust him and communicate the same to his loyal crowd of victims. Then and there, at that moment, Wolf saw a zeal to change things in Kenneth’s eyes, and he trusted him.

The following day, Charles Wolf announced on his blog that he believes in Kenneth’s efforts, and under his administration, the “fund is fixed.” Soon after the declaration, Kenneth’s office filled with victims to sign their claim for the “Victim Compensation Fund.” Karen Donato personally handed her form to Kenneth so that the fund’s money could be sanctioned for the welfare of Nicholas’ daughters (Jenna and Belle) from another woman.

Before the deadline, Kenneth and his team of warriors gathered more than 95% eligible claimants to the fund, while 94 people declined to participate. According to records, “The 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund” was the only fund of its kind in United States History.

Before the final departure, Charles Wolf handed his consent to Kenneth and underlined, “You were wrong about Lee Quinn. You’re nothing like him.” It was a compliment for Kenneth, who believed that lawyers like him and Lee shed fake tears to persuade clients. Wolf saw what was there inside Kenneth’s soul. He understood that Kenneth actually felt the “loss.” The realization, “life is priceless, and no number can define it.”

Worth is a 2021 Drama Biographical film based on the journey of American attorney Kenneth Feinberg. The film directed by Sara Colangelo is based on the book “What Is Life Worth?

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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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