The Son is the 2022 movie directed by Florian Zeller, marking his return to the world of cinema after his 2020 movie The Father. Based on the play he wrote in 2019, the movie treats a very delicate topic: a teenager suffering from depression with suicidal tendencies and his parents’ struggle to take care of him. The ending could leave the spectators puzzled, especially after seeing the book Nicholas presents to his father, “Death Can Wait.” In this article, we will explore what needs to be explained in the pot and the ending, analyzing the meaning of that symbolic book.
You can watch the official trailer for The Son here on Youtube.
The Son plot & ending explained: the meaning of Nicholas’ book, Death Can Wait
The plot of the movie The Son spins around Nicholas, a teenage boy who’s passing through a difficult time in his life. His parents are divorced, he lives with his mom, Kate, but he’s currently having a cold relationship with her. His father, Peter, lives with his second wife, Beth, and their newborn, Theo.
Since the beginning, it’s apparent that Nicholas has been suffering from depression as a direct consequence of his parents’ divorce. He no longer goes to school and seems constantly in pain. His parents decide that Nicholas will live with his father for a while. Although things seem to improve, the suicidal tendencies don’t disappear. Nicholas repeats the same dynamics he adopted while living with his mom. Despite the efforts of all people around him, Nicholas attempts suicide, and he’s held in a psychiatric facility for some days.
From that moment, the plot of The Son discloses its tragedy, culminating in an ending that needs to be explained. At the first meetings with doctors and parents, Nicholas seems extremely sad about his experience at the psychiatric facility and requests his parents to leave. The doctor tries to convince his parents to keep him under observation, creating an explicit conflict between Nicholas’ request to have a second chance and be trusted and the medical concerns about his suicidal tendencies. Nicholas’ parents are forced to make an immediate decision. They decide to take him out. From there, the movie makes the tragedy evolve with the worst possible outcome: Nicholas commits suicide that same day at home, implying that he tried to convince his parents to leave the medical facility only to be able to take his life freely. The movie forces the spectator into an uncomfortable position: it doesn’t do much to provide supporting arguments for Nicholas’ parents’ decision, and it presents depression in its most extreme face, as something completely out of control that requires radical decisions.
The ending of The Son may need to be explained. Months after, we see Peter opening the door of his new home and welcoming Nicholas into the living room. Peter and Nicholas talk as if they had a good relationship for all those months. Nicholas is studying in another city, and he seems well; he has a girlfriend about whom he’s been talking a lot recently, and he seems to miss his brother Theo. Unfortunately, this scene is not real; it’s a projection of the desire Peter has been having since Nicholas’ death: a life where Nicholas is still alive, he has recovered, and he’s even able to talk about his experience rationally.
The book Nicholas presents to his father, titled “Death Can Wait,” doesn’t really exist, but it’s the perfect symbol of that desire. One of Nicholas’ talents was writing, so the vision of a son who’s still alive, happily living in another city, and even able to work on a book that tells his life experience, is a metaphor for Peter’s wish that his son fully recovered from his tough time. The authentic meaning behind Nicholas’ book “Death Can Wait” is that, if that book really existed, it would represent the irrefutable proof that Nicholas successfully managed to come out of his darkest days.
Watching the scene where Peter talks to Nicholas at the ending of The Son, we have the feeling that life went on normally in the last months. We hear Nicholas talking about his studies and his girlfriend. We see him smiling. We feel he’s in the best relationship with Beth and Theo. And we see the proof of his most significant achievement, a book he wrote. The book title, “Death Can Wait,” has a particular meaning: it proves that he was able to overcome his suicidal tendency, and he has chosen life, believing that he still has a lot to live for. If he wrote a book with that title, he believes it’s not time to die for him. And that would represent Peter’s biggest wish: a son who’s alive and now has the right attitude toward his bright future.
The way The Son explained it, the movie ending is simply a projection of Peter’s wish that none of what we saw has really happened. Proving that the dark days we lived in the movie were really just a phase and the decision to trust Nicholas was the right thing to do. But in the tragedy The Son wanted to portray, there was no place for that happy ending. And the spectator is left alone in the complicated duty to catch the right message from the movie.