Kumail is performing in an New York comedy club. In the middle of his bit, he hears a “woo-hoo!” And, wouldn’t you know it, it’s Emily with some of her friends. He tells her that yelling at a comedian during a bit is considering heckling. She retorts, he responds, she plays along, they have the same exchange they had about heckling when they first met. Kumail then asks what brings her to New York. Emily says she is there to see someone.
The two then share a hopeful, loving smile that signals their relationship has yet another chapter, that things will work out, that true love always finds its way.
AWWWWWWW HOW NICE!!!!!!
It’s the ending of the summer’s most unexpected and beloved romantic comedy, The Big Sick. Many people seeing the movie are probably aware the film is the real-life recounting of Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani’s story, which features Emily going into a coma. Just before that happens, she had broken up with because he was hiding his relationship with her from his parents. So, after all the trials and tribulations—after Kumail becomes friends with Emily’s parents and realizes how good he had it with Emily, and after Emily wakes up from her coma and regains strength in her body—we get an ending that might be expected, right?
Because the movie can’t end with Kumail moving away from Chicago, since we all know they’re together, right??
So we need that scene where Emily suddenly shows up in New York and hints to Kumail that she would like to make their relationship work, right???
Why? There’s a simple answer: This final scene simply does not wrap up the story this movie is telling. In fact, it’s the opening scene to an entirely different story. It is a scene that points to an ending, as opposed to guiding us to that ending.
And it echoes perhaps the most overpraised ending of all time: The Graduate.
The Graduate’s ending
We all know the story of The Graduate, right? No? OK, here’s a quick recap from the International Business Times:
“In the movie, Dustin Hoffman plays Ben Braddock, an apathetic college grad who doesn’t know what he wants to do with his life. He returns to his native California and begins an affair with the wife of his father’s business partner, Mrs. Robinson. Braddock then falls in love with her daughter, Elaine. After the family is torn apart by the affair, Braddock crashes Elaine’s wedding in an climactic act of youthful rebellion. A fight breaks out and the two run off from the church and hop on a city bus. Their jubilant adrenaline slowly fades, leaving them contemplating their uncertain future.”
There it is: The ending that captivated audiences everywhere. Ben and Elaine are ecstatic on the back of that bus, ready to start their lives together…and then reality sets in. And that moment of realization—that they’re just kids and they’re not ready to take on life by themselves—is exactly what resonated with audiences. One of the articles I read about the movie’s brilliant ending even straight-up wrote:
“What happens after the glamour? What happens beyond the storybook ending? What happens when everything has worked out and you find out that you’re just a couple of people sitting on a bus, wondering who the hell you and the person beside you are?”
Look, I’ve read a LOT about the ending of the The Graduate, just so I didn’t write this entire piece and then somebody points out why I’m dumb and the ending makes perfect sense. And every article I’ve read—including the link I used above, which is an article titled, “How ‘The Graduate’ Ending Became One Of The Best Scenes In Cinema”—pretty much echoes the same sentiment:
“It tied up everything the movie was about: impulse, rebellion, the confusion brought on by the beginning of adulthood.”
One of the key scenes that highlights those themes is a moment where a man tells Ben he could have a viable career in “plastics”—a word that, as one Quora user points out, “refers to the literal manufacturing of plastic items, it also is synonymous with ‘false’, ‘bogus’, ‘synthetic’, ‘tawdry’, ‘lifeless’, ‘artificial’, ‘pre-fabricated’.”
“To young Benjamin, the older man’s suggestion represents everything his generation is fighting against. Though the career suggestion was intended with great helpfulness, it rings very hollowly in Ben’s ears. In fact, we imagine Ben is thinking at this moment, ‘Plastics is the absolute last field, the most unattractive one, the most boring one, I would ever consider going into.’
“Ben is too polite—and a little too youthfully confused himself—to disagree with the man in the swimming pool… But the hip audience surely savors the sly irony. In fact, the whole movie may be interpreted as a sly satire on the ‘misguided values’ of the 1960’s American upper-middle class. The downbeat ending rather suggests, wryly, that Ben is doomed to repeat the stifling modes of his parents’ generation, despite his ‘spiritual’ quests; he is way too ‘preppy’ and well-heeled to ‘drop out’ and lead the hippie life.”
Look, I could keep listing quote after quote from a thousand different articles, but, essentially, everything I’ve read echoes the same sentiment: The movie’s ending signals a whole new story. The movie’s ending is fueled by those themes of impulse, rebellion and confusion, but it does NOT wrap them up—the ending highlights those themes, but it does not bring them to life.
And what would bring them to life is following Ben and Elaine further on that bus ride, where they have a conversation about their future. Maybe they decide that this is stupid and they should turn around and lead that “stifling” life; maybe they decide to go all-in on the “hippie life” and abandon the life they knew; maybe they eventually discover that it’s too difficult to live away from family and that they were misguided by youthful rebellion and that they want to discover some truths in the seemingly “misguided values” of their parents’ generation.
The movie could have done all those things…but it opted for an ending that, instead, asked the question: What happens next? It’s an ending that resonated with audiences because we can all relate to being young and scared of that next step. But that scene would have resonated with people even if it wasn’t the ending, right? And wouldn’t have that scene resonated even MORE if we got answers to those questions?
And that’s my deal with The Big Sick.
The Big Sick’s ending
When Emily and Kumail share that smile, what does it really mean in relation to what the movie was actually exploring?
Just like The Graduate, the movie’s core struggle stems from the difference between generations: Kumail doesn’t want to marry a Pakistani woman picked out by his mother; nor does he want to lead the strained, troubled life led by Emily’s parents; Emily wants to meet Kumail’s parents, but is hidden out of fear; Emily doesn’t want to take her father and mother’s advice and give Kumail a second chance.
I don’t think the movie can end with Kumail just moving away from Emily, since we all know they get together in real life. Also, that kind of ending doesn’t really close out their story or tie up the generational divides.
Then again, I don’t see how the ending we actually got builds on any of that either. Shouldn’t the next step of the film be Kumail and Emily conquering everything that was keeping them apart? Shouldn’t Emily learn about Kumail’s struggles with his own parents? Wouldn’t Kumail be a whole different man after moving away from his parents and making his own life? Wouldn’t their relationship have an entirely different weight to it in New York?
Just like with The Graduate, all I have is questions about the ending. The emotional satisfaction we get from Kumail and Emily smiling at each other is only temporary, because all it really does is leave you with a momentary fuzzy-wuzzy feeling of goodness. All we experience is the prospect of love, as opposed to witnessing the formation of true love when Kumail and Emily are finally able to get past everything that had divided them throughout the film. Again: It points to an ending, instead of guiding us to one.