“Challengers” is one of the most talked-about films of 2024. After his fruitful collaborations with Timothee Chalamet, Luca Guadagnino returns with this sensational film that marries his arthouse sensibilities with a mainstream appeal. Starring Zendaya, Josh O’Connor, and Mike Faist, it has received glowing reviews since its initial release. Written by Justin Kuritzkes, the script follows three professional tennis players as they step into an uncertain adulthood. It is shot by Guadagnino’s frequent collaborator, Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, and scored by the frequent David Fincher collaborators Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross.

Spoilers Ahead

Challengers (2024) Plot Summary & Movie Synopsis:

Zendaya starrer “Challengers” follows three professional tennis players over thirteen years. It revolves around Tashi, who wants her husband, a professional tennis player, to break from his losing streak through a match against his former close friend and her ex-boyfriend. Since the film’s theatrical release, audiences have heavily debated its seemingly ambiguous and abrupt ending. Yet, screenwriter Kuritzkes doesn’t have any qualms about the way he ended the film.

What happens in Luca Guadagnino’s ‘Challengers’?

“Challengers” is told in a non-linear fashion with events across thirteen years often intersecting each other. So, let’s break it down according to the chronological sequence. In “Challengers,” we meet Art Donaldson (Mike Faist) & Patrick Zweig (Josh O’Connor) as they win the boys’ junior doubles title at the US Open championship. They are childhood friends who studied at the same boarding school and the same tennis academy. After their win, Art requests Patrick to let him win the junior singles, to please his grandmother. But he doesn’t want Patrick to let him have an easy win.

Soon after, Patrick introduces Art to Tashi Duncan (Zendaya), an attractive tennis prodigy who seems to be on the way to an illustrious career. The boys see her win against her opponent and passionately scream – ‘Come on!’. Later that night, Art & Patrick meet Tashi and discuss their near future. While Art & Tashi plans to get an education at Stanford, Patrick plans to enter professional tennis right away. Unlike Patrick, Tashi believes her only life skill shouldn’t be playing tennis and values education.

How do Patrick & Tashi get into a relationship?

When they first meet, Tashi tells Art & Patrick about her philosophy of tennis. She considers tennis to be like a relationship formed by the players on both sides of a net. Before she leaves, Patrick invites her to their room. Art doesn’t believe she will come. But to their surprise, she shows up. After a brief conversation, they all start kissing each other followed by just the boys kissing one another. Then, she decides to leave before they end up having sex. But she senses their eagerness. So, she offers to share her contact number with whoever wins the game. So, despite his earlier promise to Art, Patrick beats him. That’s how he gets into a relationship with Tashi.

Challengers (2024) Movie Ending Explained & Themes Analysed
A still from Challengers (2024)

Later, Patrick tells Art that he had sex with Tashi through a tic of Art’s – before serving, Art places his ball in the neck of the racket. Soon after, Tashi & Duncan go on to play college tennis at Stanford. Meanwhile, Patrick begins his journey as a professional tennis player while being in a long-distance relationship with Tashi. While Patrick is away, Art tries to sabotage his relationship with Tashi. He tells her that Patrick doesn’t love her. Later, Art tells Patrick that Tashi is not serious about their relationship. Patrick realizes that Art is jealous and overlooks his banter.

Why do Patrick & Tashi break up?

During his visit to Stanford, Tashi tries to advise Patrick about Tennis. But Patrick doesn’t want to speak about the sport. He tells her that he isn’t her fan and sees her only as a peer. Besides, he teases her for her pre-game rituals. Because of this fight, he doesn’t attend her upcoming match. During this game, Tashi suffers a severe knee injury. Later on, when Patrick returns to check up on her, she tells him to leave. Art, who is by her side, echoes her sentiment. After this accident, Tashi cannot resume her tennis career. On the other hand, Art & Patrick cut ties with each other.

A few years later, Tashi meets Art in the hopes of becoming his coach. He admits that he still loves her. After that, they begin their romantic relationship and get married. Then, about a decade later, Tashi & Art ended up being a power couple. Under Tashi’s guidance, Art becomes a popular professional tennis player. He needs only one US Open title to achieve a Grand Slam. However, he has been struggling to win any game recently. So, Tashi decides to enter him in a Challenger event to boost his confidence by beating lower-level players and make him get back his mojo.

How do Art & Patrick end up playing against each other after years?

By 2019, Patrick remains largely unsuccessful, unlike Art. Despite coming from a wealthy family, Patrick struggles to pay even a nominal hotel bill. So, he tries to win the lower-circuit tournaments to make ends meet. He happens to enter the same event where Tashi enrolls Art. After winning their initial matches, Art & Patrick end up in the final, having to play against each other. The day before this match, Patrick meets Art and tries to rejuvenate their bond. But Art rejects Patrick and calls him an utter failure. Patrick needs the win, unlike him, whose life won’t drastically change in case of a loss.

Patrick thinks that Tashi is unhappy with her relationship with Art. He believes Art will retire soon. So, he proposes she start coaching him to win. But she rejects his proposal. At night, Art tells Tashi that he plans to retire at the end of the season whether he wins or not. He fears she doesn’t want him to retire because she is living her passion for Tennis through him. Tashi says he doesn’t need her approval for this decision. But Art doesn’t believe she means it. So, to motivate him, she tells him that she will leave him if loses to Patrick. They start kissing each other but stop along the way.

Why does Tashi sneak out of her hotel room?

At midnight, after Art falls asleep, Tashi sneaks out of her hotel room to meet Patrick. He assumes she is there to have sex with him. Instead, she asks him to let Art win the finals. But she doesn’t want to let it seem like an easy win. She wants Art to feel that he has earned it – perhaps to make him experience the passion he once had for the sport and reconsider his decision to retire. Patrick reluctantly agrees. On that stormy night, Patrick & Tashi have sex inside his car. Afterward, Tashi returns to her hotel room to find Art sleeping next to their daughter. So, she realizes that Art knows she snuck out.

Challengers (2024) Movie Ending Explained:

What exactly happens at the end of ‘Challengers’?

The ending of “Challengers” relies on multiple non-verbal cues, which might have left some viewers confused. So, let’s get to the bottom of it. During the finals, Patrick wins the first set, and Art wins the second. Eventually, Patrick begins to let Art win the game as Tashi requested him. But the burden of his actions starts weighing heavy on him. So, he decides to tell Art the truth. During the game, he uses Art’s tic (touching the tennis ball to the neck of the racket) to communicate that he slept with Tashi the night before. Art understands that sign and stands dumbfounded. Then, Patrick nods back at him to reaffirm what he said.

Challengers (2024) Movie Ending Explained & Themes Analysed
Another still from Challengers (2024)

Art gets angry and loses a point due to a code violation. Then, he keeps letting Patrick score until they reach another tie. In the tie-break, Art & Patrick start playing with more rigor and passion than before, as if their life depended on it. After an intense back-and-forth, when Art tries to hit the ball, he jumps over the net and collides with Patrick. In the end, the two men embrace each other while Tashi stands up from her seat, thrilled, and screams, ‘Come on!’. This ending may have disappointed some viewers since it doesn’t declare a clear winner or loser in a generic fashion. So, let’s dig into the possible meaning behind this arguably abrupt ending.

What does the ‘Challengers’ ending mean?

At the end of “Challengers,” Art jumps over the net and embraces Patrick. It is not clear where the ball went and whether Art got disqualified simply for crossing to the other side and touching his opponent during the match. However, the ending has a deeper emotional subtext. Once Art realizes that Patrick slept with Tashi, it gives him an emotional purpose to win the game. It becomes apparent through his increased aggression and enthusiasm. Their battle seems more about winning Tashi’s companionship and less about winning the game.

The final embrace indicates his & Patrick’s reunion after over a decade of distance. Tashi’s final scream shows her thrill & joy at seeing how ‘her two white boys’ finally started playing tennis like they are in a passionate relationship. After all, years ago, she told them – ‘I want to watch some good f**ing tennis!’ So, her joy likely indicates the same joy. However, the film is intentionally open-ended to let people speculate on these aspects rather than leave with a neatly tied conclusion to their lives. That’s why, in their subsequent interviews, the writer & director note that they stand by its open-endedness.

Challengers (2024) Movie Themes Analysed

Lust, Drive & Passion

By now, it is public knowledge that “Challengers” is about sex even when it isn’t explicitly about sex. Multiple innuendos are peppered throughout the film for people to figure out by themselves. Yet, through the mix of innuendos and a showcase of literal sweat and muscles, the film presents its sexual undertones and how they come into play in the interpersonal dynamic. Lust often guides their decisions, whether their hormonal teenage selves or their 30-something adult versions. It invites the passion they may lack in their professional lives. The film has a recurring pattern that connects their drive for a better life to their lustful passion.

Power & Control

“Challengers” relies on a constant back-and-forth, whether between the two sides of the tennis court or different points in the lives of its characters. Throughout their journey, they seem to be in an endless competition to attain power and control. We see them switch sides to assert dominance every time they fall back. Tashi and Patrick often have that drive. Art, on the other hand, refuses to entertain this hunger. After he keeps losing, he decides to leave his career behind. So, he needs a push to feel dominant and strive for the next step. Somehow, a sense of discomfort or unfulfillment drives all of them. But, at other times, it is just their inherent nature that makes them strive for better things.

Read More: Challengers Soundtrack: Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross Serve Up an Aces Soundtrack


Challengers (2024) Movie Links: IMDbRotten TomatoesWikipediaLetterboxd
The Cast of Challengers (2024) Movie: Zendaya, Josh O’Connor, Mike Faist
Challengers (2024) Movie Genre: Drama | Runtime: 2 hr. 11 min.

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