When You Finish Saving the World (2022) Movie: Throughout his acting career, Jesse Eisenberg has perfected the art of playing a neurotic nerd. You can sense his intelligence through his self-deprecating humour during his talk show appearances. In his directorial debut feature, he brings up a mix of these sensibilities through a black comedy narrative.
‘When You Finish Saving the World’ primarily shows a relationship between a mother and her Gen Z son. Their efforts to connect with one another conflict with their different worldviews. The script navigates their struggle to overcome these differences.
When You Finish Saving the World (2022), Movie Summary & Plot Synopsis:
The film begins with several videos from a live stream popping up on a screen. It introduces us to the host – Ziggy Katz (Finn Wolfhard from Stranger Things), a teenage influencer who earns from the love he receives through his online fans. Despite his young age, he prides himself on the fact that he earns more than his parents.
While he is busy monetizing his popularity, his mother – Evelyn (Julianne Moore), works at a local shelter and helps the poor and needy with compassion. Sadly the same empathy does not reflect in her relationship with Ziggy. Both fail to connect with each other and share a condescending approach toward each other’s ways of living.
When she enters his room during a live stream, he acts like an edgy teen and shouts at her. Evelyn finds that reaction absurd since she does not see value in his vocation. His songs do not fit her taste in music. She loves listening to classical, orchestral music on her way to work.
During their dinner conversation, his father, Roger (Jay O. Sanders), asks whether he is playing blues tracks on his channel. He wants to ensure that his son is not engaging in cultural appropriation. Ziggy defends his work by calling it folk rock with alternative influences. He asks them to listen to his new track called ‘truthaches.’
Evelyn refuses to listen to it because she believes the songs are aimed at teenagers. That upsets him. Later, in his school, Ziggy tries to pay close attention to a conversation between two of his classmates – Lila Stryjewski (Alisha Boe from 13 Reasons Why) and Cyril (Annacheska Brown).
They passionately argue their views on global politics, and Ziggy has no knowledge about these topics. Still, he opines in Lila’s favor. So, Cyril asks him to defend himself. All he can speak about is his large fanbase of 20,000 followers from all over the globe. Lila controls her laughter at his immaturity.
Meanwhile, in Evelyn’s office, she gets a visit from a mother & her son. Angie (Eleonore Hendricks) and Kyle (Billy Bryk) seek shelter at their establishment. During their conversation, Angie recalls a scene when Kyle was just six years old.
Little Kyle screamed from the room to protect his mother from being harmed by his father. She calls herself lucky to have him as her son. While Evelyn offers her help, she wonders what it would be to have a son like hers, who is interested in saving others like herself.
Back at home, she finds Ziggy installing a light outside his room to let others know he is live streaming. By others, he means both his parents, who he does not want to enter at those times. While she still finds his obsession absurd, Evelyn asks whether he would like to be a volunteer at one of the places where she works at.
He agrees to do so. Ziggy keeps working on a song inside his room, hoping to woo Lila. Later, he goes to attend a small event to perform his song. He goes there to strike up a conversation with Lila.
Their conversation begins on an awkward note and continues through a series of ups and downs. He defends singing his songs as a service since it helps people forget their stress. Lila only smiles at his naivety. Meanwhile, they listen to songs speaking about revolutionary issues, from workers’ rights to abuse from the government. Then, Lila is called up on stage to read her poem. Through poetry, she speaks about the issues of Marshal Islands from the Pacific Ocean due to global warming.
Lila’s poem is filled with her insights about this issue, but more importantly, it conveys her strong urge to help them. Ziggy gets moved by it and asks her if she would give him her poem to read later. She agrees. Then, Ziggy sings a song about his loneliness because of losing his old friends. The audience does not care about it. So, he leaves the place in a hurry.
Meanwhile, Evelyn tries to build a strong bond with Kyle at her office. She seeks out this modest boy to find a son she feels she never had. Evelyn asks him to help with a minor chore and learns about the labor work he does at his father’s body shop.
She praises him for the warmth and vulnerability with which he conducted himself before. He mentions that his mother has been through so much, which makes him act that way. Evelyn finds it so moving that she tries to bring him into her tribe of world-savers.
She encourages him to consider enrolling in a social work programme as a realistic method to put his goodwill to greater use than doing laborious tasks. Kyle couldn’t understand how she did not consider the body shop job to be important but accepts her offer anyway.
Later, Evelyn and Ziggy reach the house to face Roger. They both missed his Chancellor ceremony, and he is upset at them. They defend themselves by sharing the pressing issues at their hand. But that does not make him feel any better.
Later at night, Evelyn starts looking at the Oberlin College program that she wants Kyle to attend. Meanwhile, Ziggy lusts over Lila’s poem to the point he masturbates to it and kisses that piece of paper.
The next day, Ziggy asks his mother if she will drop him at school. On their way, he opens up about not being as political enough as his classmates. You sense his fear of not getting accepted by a group of peers that Lila likes. He asks Evelyn to help him out, but she stresses how he should not look for a shortcut to gain such valuable knowledge.
Ziggy gets angry at her and calls out her classical music, which ‘rich white men make.’ Evelyn cannot argue back and shuts off the music. Then she asks why he is not the way he was before when he was just as passionate about charity as herself. She wants him to do the required work, read, and seek knowledge. But he is furious that she does not offer a direct helping hand and lectures him instead.
Later in school, he tells Lila the same things his mother said in the morning – about the marches they went to and the songs of protest he sang as a kid. He asks if she would teach her about the ‘big things’ in world politics. She admires his curiosity. Meanwhile, Evelyn speaks with the receptionist at her office about whether she is happy doing that job. Evelyn smiles at how she helped this woman head on a righteous path. Then she goes to Angie’s place and asks for Kyle to tag along with her for some work. She does not see any issue, and he also agrees to it.
Evelyn takes him to a lawyer’s place, who is an immigrant, to show that doing charitable work gives her satisfaction. During their conversation, the woman starts speaking in Spanish with Kyle, which makes her feel left out. At the same time, she admires him even more. Then Evelyn takes Kyle to an Ethiopian place to have food.
She used to take Ziggy there when he was younger. But he started hating it recently since you need to eat the food with your bare hands. She tells Kyle about the receptionist, who used to be a wrestler, but later chose to work for their charitable organization. Evelyn insinuates that he should also seek a path like hers.
While she has a great time with Kyle, Ziggy and Roger wait for her to have their dinner together. After Evelyn returns, she lies that she went to have dinner with a co-worker to speak about a new grant. Their conversation takes a bad turn since Ziggy does not see it as arduous work. In retort, she calls out the senselessness of Ziggy’s song lyrics.
Ziggy gets even more furious and tells her he earns much more than her. They end up hurting each other and continue their work to prove the importance of their respective domains. He keeps working on a music track with Lila’s poem and later performs it in front of her.
It begins on an awkward note, but she sees him recite the poem with the same passion she withholds inside her. So, she agrees to let him use it. Evelyn keeps up with her attempts to get closer to Kyle, which start seeming creepier over time. As a result, at her work meeting, Angie barges in. She wants Kyle to keep working at his father’s garage since Angie considers it to be better for him. Evelyn argues about the liberating feeling that charitable work can give him. But they do not reach a common consensus, and Evelyn is left contemplating her request.
At his school, Ziggy goes to his new set of friends and speaks passionately about his new song. He speaks about capitalizing on people’s drive for political issues. Lila gets angry at him since he chooses to use this important work (and her personal work) as a commodity, exploit her, and does not see the irony of bragging about it.
Meanwhile, Evelyn reaches out to Kyle at the school and begs him to consider the program she recommended. Kyle fears she will not help if he disagrees with her request. That was the reason he agreed to it in the first place.
He starts weeping for the same reason, and Evelyn calms him by assuring him that their financial aid won’t be terminated even if he says no. On his way back, he bumps into Ziggy, who sees his old cap on Kyle’s head. He finds it strange since he has no idea that Evelyn gifted it to him.
When You Finish Saving the World (2022), Movie Ending Explained:
What happens when they finish saving the world?
After her conversation with Kyle, Evelyn is heartbroken that he felt pressured to accept the program. It is the opposite of ‘helping people.’ Evelyn then goes to her computer and searches for Ziggy’s YouTube channel. She watches her son’s latest video, where he uses the metaphor of two trains that run on parallel tracks and never meet each other. It screams out their issues with one another, and she understands it. Evelyn goes through his oldest videos, where he was awkwardly starting out his journey of vlogging. She senses his need for acceptance.
Why does Kyle come to meet Evelyn? What does the meeting at the end mean?
After getting heartbroken by Lila, Ziggy goes to Evelyn’s office to meet her. The film ends with the Evelyn and Ziggy looking at each other while Ziggy’s first YouTube video ends on her computer screen. You sense that they both have reached an understanding that they continually neglected each other in their pursuit of saving the world. Evelyn wanted to work on the larger issues, while Ziggy wanted her help with his personal issues. However, they did not take a step to understand why the other does what he/she does. So, the meeting comes off like an emotional reunion between the mother and the son.