Waves Movie Ending Explained (In Detail)

Spoilers Alert:

Trey Edward Shult’s grueling drama WAVES is now reaching USA cinemas with much praise. To what extent this is justified and why the film is reminiscent of Terrence Malick is revealed in our review.

How will Taylor deal with the developments?

The plot summary

18-year-old Tyler (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) is a successful wrestler and very popular at his high school. But the sporting achievements are no coincidence: Above all, Tyler’s father Ronald (Sterling K. Brown) regularly drills his son to peak performance. Tyler’s childhood has always been dominated by pleasing his father. There is no time for relaxation. But this is also where he draws his ambition. Tyler wants nothing more than an athletic scholarship to a coveted elite university. But then several tragic incidents happen in Tyler’s family that turn not only his life, but also the life of his sister Emily (Taylor Russell) upside down. It takes a lot of time to come to terms with it. At least Emily finds an attentive listener in her reserved classmate Luke (Lucas Hedges).

Movie meaning of ending

After his festival-acclaimed survival horror film “It Comes at Night,” indie director Trey Edward Shults was already hailed as a new hope for the genre. But after the native Texan had already proven himself to be a precise observer of exceptional psychological states in his feature film debut “Krisha” two years earlier, he is now going back to exactly that for his latest film “Waves”. In his story, which is divided into two sections, he tells of a family drama about which you should know as little as possible in advance so that it really moves you as a viewer just as much as the protagonist Tyler himself, who has been thrown through life. But it is also about his girlfriend Alexis (Alexa Demie), his little sister Emily, who becomes the focus especially in the second half of the film, and his strict father Ronald. Above all, “Waves” shows how easily such a stable family structure can collapse if even one of its elementary pillars breaks away. Shults isn’t saying anything new with this, but he uses wonderful stylistic devices and is once again very close to an emotional crisis situation.

Tyler (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) is actually happy with his girlfriend Alexis (Alexa Demie)…

The fact that “Waves” was originally intended to be a musical is evident from the 135-minute mammoth work. Pop, RnB and rap songs are constantly blaring out of the speakers, which are intended to underline the emotional state of the main and secondary characters as accurately as possible. It’s not particularly subtle; Every now and then the lyrics even explicitly describe what this or that character might be thinking at the moment – you could easily piece it together from the pictures. Aggressive beats, which are intended to emphasize Tyler’s inner turmoil, are turned up particularly loud. Quiet, melancholic sounds, on the other hand, form more of a background noise, which Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (“Mid90s”) additionally surround with their restrained instrumental score. The large song repertoire is definitely another protagonist in “Waves”, as is the picturesque camera work by Drew Daniels (who also directed the camera on “It Comes at Night”). You can clearly see their borrowing from Trey Edward Shults mentor Terrence Malick (“Song to Song”) . Daniels delights in beguiling colors, tranquil panoramas and fantastic landscape shots of the Florida setting at an almost lethargic pace, thereby forming an excellent contrast to the story, which is actually so grueling. As if he wanted to show that even the worst tragedies can happen where others normally go on holiday.

As much as you can indulge in the screen panoramas, the main character Tyler turns out to be just as inaccessible. His character is actually one that is not that uncommon in the cinema: the athlete who lives more according to his ambitious father’s dream than his own corresponds to the stereotype of the “ice skating child”, but his own obsession with sporting success makes his character appear aloof and even brittle ; However, a stroke of fate throws him off course early on, which the makers use as an opportunity to throw their protagonist into his whirlpool of tragic events until Tyler hardly plays a role anymore from the middle of the film. With his radical shift in the narrative focus from Tyler to his little sister Emily, about whom we learn next to nothing for the previous three-quarters of an hour, Shults is certainly taking a risk. At the same time, this is how the overall narrative construct is revealed: “Waves” is not a film about a single person, but about a structure in which every element has its fixed place.

In addition to its audiovisual design, the film is brought to life by its main actors. To do this, Trey Edward Shults primarily relies on faces that have not (yet) fully established themselves in mainstream US cinema or can be seen in supporting roles. The result: authenticity. Kelvin Harrison Jr. (“Assassination Nation”) puts immense power into the embodiment of his role. Only in short, intimate conversations with his girlfriend Alexa, but even more so with his sister Emily, does his emotional fragility, which he otherwise knows how to cover up so well with his mountains of muscle, shine through. If in the second half of the film Taylor Russel (“Escape Room”) aka Emily claims the narrative focus for herself, she and her by Lucas Hedges (“Ben is Back”) The role played by Luke as a school friend provides a calming counterpoint to the cinematic images that previously depicted Taylor’s thoughts, which were characterized by high tempo, loud music and constant tension. But a touching conversation between Emily and her father Ronald, which reveals the otherwise callous-looking man as a flesh-and-blood human being, is clearly one of the highlights of the film. Everyone deals with strokes of fate differently. And with “Waves” Trey Edward Shults knows how to illustrate every extreme accordingly.

Conclusion: A film about family and how fragile it is: With his drama “Waves,” Trey Edward Shults succeeds in creating an excellently illustrated study of how people deal with extreme situations. The actors fill it with life, although the sometimes rather worn-out narrative motifs occasionally get in the way.

“Waves” can be seen in USA cinemas from July 16th.


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