The Deep End of the Ocean Ending, Explained: Why Did Sam Come Back?

There are a lot of things to lose in this world, but the loss of one’s child brings unparalleled pain. It is heart-breaking and soul-wrecking and difficult, if somehow not impossible, to cope with. ‘The Deep End of the Ocean’ endeavors to capture this grief by following the story of a woman named Beth. Starring Michelle Pfeiffer in the lead role, it traces the journey of a family that goes to hell and back when its young member is lost.

While a lot of such films focus on the crime and its investigation, this one shifts its focus to the emotional depth of the situation. It takes a step further in its probe of the complexity of human emotions by resolving the crime and diving into its aftermath. It uses different perspectives to give the audience a complete sense of the situation, and in the end, leaves them with something to think about. If you want to know what its ending means, we’ve got you covered. SPOILERS AHEAD

The Deep End of the Ocean Plot Synopsis

Beth Cappadora arrives at her fifteenth high school reunion with her three children. The hotel is full of guests and amidst all this hullabaloo, Beth leaves her eldest son, Vincent, to take care of the younger one, Ben, just for a little while. It’s only for a few minutes that she leaves them out of her sight, but that is enough for a tragedy to occur. On returning, she discovers that Ben has gone missing.

Hours pass into days and soon months and years have gone by without any sign of Ben. It seems like he disappeared into thin air, and finally, Beth decides it’s time to accept the fact that he is not coming back. The family moves to Chicago to have a fresh start. One day, a boy knocks at their door, and Beth is startled by how much he looks like Ben. She shares this news with her husband and then the police, all of whom agree that this boy, Sam, just might be her long-lost son. As the Cappadora family prepares to bring Ben back home, they don’t anticipate the challenges that will come with it.

The Deep End of the Ocean Ending

The pain of losing Ben was unimaginable for Beth, but his return, even if nine years after he was lost, gave some comfort to her. She and Pat finally had their family whole again. While they had started to settle into that old life, Beth realized that Ben was not Ben anymore. The boy she brought home was Sam, who’d lived with a different family and had a different upbringing than the Cappadora family. He’d been lost at such a young age that he didn’t remember the family he used to have. All he knew was that he had been forcibly taken away from his home and the world was claiming his mother, whom he loved, was a kidnapper. He had been uprooted from his life and he didn’t understand why.

Despite her happiness to have her son back, Beth can see that Sam is not happy. Every night he would sneak out of his bedroom to go two blocks away to George’s house. She fears that if they stop him, he’d start to resent them and his sadness might lead to something worse than his disappearance. So, even though it breaks her heart, she decides to send Sam back to George. It wouldn’t be worth it to ruin his life in return for gratifying her, and Pat’s, own version of what their family should be. The only comfort out of this situation would be that her son is alive and well and, above all else, happy.

Dropping Sam off at George’s place makes her feel like the end of it all. Things start to crumble between her and Pat, and Vincent also starts to spiral. Just when everything appears to be falling apart, Sam shows up outside their house in the middle of the night. At first, he invites Vincent for a game of basketball. But then, he reveals that he has come back to live with them. He says that he and George had a chat about it over the past week and found it best if he stayed with the Cappadoras. When Vincent asks him if he is back for good, he says he doesn’t know.

Why Did Sam Come Back? Will He Stay This Time?

To understand the ending of the film, one has to put themselves in Sam’s shoes. He is torn between two families, not knowing which is his past and which should be his present. Despite being kidnapped, he grew up in a loving home. Even though he was told it wasn’t his original family he’d been living with, it was after he was forced to move with the Cappadoras that he felt like a captive. If he could, he’d go back to George and his old life, but it is not that simple.

Sam had been at a crossroads with his decision, and it was after talking with George that he found a way to move forward. It is not surprising considering that George had always been a kind and considerate person. Even when he had every opportunity to run away with Sam and never come back, he didn’t do it. Rather, he put a stop to the boy’s habit of sneaking out of home every night. It wouldn’t have been an easy decision for George, but he knew it’d be best for everyone. He knew the pain that the Cappadoras had been through, and after suffering for all these years, it wouldn’t be fair on them to lose their son just when they got him back. So, he probably advised Sam to go back to his original family.

While he is ready to give it a chance, Sam knows that settling with the Cappadora family wouldn’t be a cakewalk. Even though they wanted him back, he was still a stranger to them, and vice versa. He grew up in a different cultural setup and connected with different relatives. Leaving all of that behind would be impossible. Nine years is a long time, and perhaps it would’ve been easier to try and forget all that if it had been a bad experience. Perhaps if George had been a bad father and Cecil hadn’t treated him like her own son, he’d have found it easier to slide into the love that the Cappadoras were offering him. But that’s not how things were, and everyone needed to accept that fact.

So, when Sam tells Vincent that he doesn’t know whether his stay is permanent, he is just being honest about the situation. Maybe, they’ll all find a way to make peace with his history and allow his other family into the fold. Maybe the Cappadoras will find it in themselves to share him, to balance his past with his future. It wouldn’t be without struggle and it would need everyone to do their part. Should they succeed at it, Sam’s life would become easier. If not, they’ll have to do what’s best for everyone. But for the moment, Sam is here to stay, and taking things one day at a time would be the best approach to handle his situation.

Read More: Is The Deep End of the Ocean (1999) A True Story?