The Son (2023) Ending, Explained: Does Nicholas Die?

Based on an eponymous stage play, ‘The Son’ directed by Florian Zeller, is a drama film starring Hugh Jackman, Laura Dern, Zen McGrath, and Vanessa Kirby. Following on the heels of ‘The Father,’ Zeller’s previous highly celebrated film, ‘The Son,’ features a similar family drama. The film tells a tense story about Nicholas, a depressed teenager dealing with the aftermath of his parents, Kate and Peter’s sour divorce. After a troubling few months with Kate, Nicholas moves in with Peter and his new family. However, the new family dynamic proves to be difficult and sends everyone’s lives down a spiral. If you’re curious to see how things work out between Peter and Nicholas and how it affects their families, here is everything you need to know about the ending of The Son.’ SPOILERS AHEAD!

The Son Plot Synopsis

Kate Miller’s ex-husband, Peter, now lives with his second wife, Beth, and their newborn son Theo. After Kate discovers that Nicholas, hers and Peter’s son, has been skipping school for a whole month, unbeknownst to her, she shows up at Peter’s house unannounced to ask for his help. Peter talks to his teen son the next day and finds that Nicholas has been having dark thoughts living with his mom. Nicholas asks Peter if he can stay with him instead, and Peter quickly agrees.

Soon Nicholas moves out of Kate’s house and starts at his new school. At Beth’s suggestion, Peter also sets up therapist appointments for Nicholas due to his self-harm habits. While his son adjusts to his new home, Peter’s work life flourishes after Senator Brian Hammer offers Peter a job for his upcoming campaign. Due to his busy work schedule, Peter is rarely ever at the house. As such, he fails to notice the slight tension between Beth and Nicholas, who somewhat blames Beth for his parent’s divorce.

Meanwhile, Kate meets with Peter for lunch to talk about Nicholas. She tells Peter Nicholas has been avoiding her calls and asks Peter about her son’s wellbeing. Peter tells her Nicholas has been doing well, attending school and getting invited to parties. Hearing about her son’s sudden recovery after leaving her, Kate gets emotional, feeling like a failed mother. However, a few days later, Beth finds a knife under Nicholas’s mattress, and Peter realizes things may not be as well as he had thought. When Peter talks to Nicholas about restarting his self-harm habits, Nicholas flips out and accuses Peter of hurting him when he cheated on his mother with Beth.

Eventually, one day Beth notices Nicholas sitting at a park when he’s supposed to be at school. As a result, Peter discovers that Nicholas hasn’t been to his new school since his first day. When Peter confronts Nicholas about it, the father and son get into an argument. Peter tells Nicholas he’s wasting his life and demands Nicholas get his act together. In retaliation, Nicholas blames Peter for his depression since Peter abandoned Kate and Nicholas for a new family. Things escalate, and Peter shoves Nicholas to the floor. When he tries to apologize, Nicholas locks himself in his room. Soon, Kate gets a call about Nicholas being in a psychiatric ward after a suicide attempt.

The Son Ending: Does Nicholas Get Out Of The Psychiatric Ward?

After Nicholas’s big fight with Peter, Beth finds Nicholas in his room, severely injured, after he cuts himself with a knife. Following the incident, an ambulance quickly arrives and takes Nicholas to a hospital. Afterward, Pater and Kate rush to the hospital, where they find out that Nicholas is out of danger for now. However, the doctors keep him under observation and prevent Peter and Kate from seeing him.

Later when Kate and Peter visit the hospital to discuss Nicholas’s treatment, they reunite with their son, who begs them to take him home. Nicholas tells his parents he had a horrible week at the psych ward and tries to convince them of his complete recovery. However, Dr. Harris tells Kate and Peter that Nicholas is in no condition to leave the hospital safely. Nicholas has acute clinical depression and experiences suicidal ideation frequently. His self-harm habits are a manifestation of the same.

Dr. Harris believes that, given Nicholas’s state, the possibility of a second attempt is too high. Nevertheless, Nicholas insists that his suicide attempt was simply a cry for help. He’s desperate to leave, but Kate and Peter eventually decide it’s best for him to stay in the psychiatric ward and receive professional care. Still, it’s hard for them to see their kid suffer. Moreover, on some level, both Kate and Peter want to believe they can help Nicholas escape the darkness on their own. As such, in the end, as Kate and Peter are about to leave, their resolves break. They sign Nicholas out of the hospital and take him to Peter’s house.

Does Nicholas Die?

Once Kate and Peter take Nicholas out of the hospital, Nicholas doesn’t display any signs of concern. While before, he used to be silent and standoff-ish, now he makes conversation and prepares tea for his parents. Neither Kate nor Peter realizes Nicholas’s sudden and contradictory departure from his earlier behavior should raise many red flags. Instead, they truly believe Nicholas’s word at face value.

Kate plans to take Nicholas to the movies, and Nicholas happily agrees. However, he tells her he’s going to shower first. Before Nicholas leaves, he apologizes to his parents and tells them he loves them. When compared to his earlier behavior throughout the story, his actions now are highly suspicious. Still, Kate and Peter fail to read between the lines.

Earlier in the movie, Nicholas discovers a gun Peter keeps in his laundry room that had been a gift from his father. As such, when Nicholas enters the bathroom for a shower, he knows about Peter’s gun. Ideally, Peter should be mindful that the firearm in his house, paired with a suicidal teen, would lead to drastic results. However, Peter is still unwilling to see the depth of Nicholas’s situation.

Throughout the movie, Nicholas exhibits concerning symptoms of depression and even resorts to self-harm. The pressure of everything in his life and the grief of his parent’s divorce feel too heavy for him. He feels as if Peter abandoned him and his mother. As a result, while Peter and Kate reminisce about their past in the living room, Nicholas retrieves the gun from the laundry room and shoots himself. Though Kate and Peter rush into the bathroom and call the ambulance, they fail to save Nicholas.

What Happens To Peter?

Peter never had a good relationship with his own father, Anthony Miller. When Peter was a teenager, his father was too busy with work and was never around the house. Even when Peter’s mother fell fatally ill, his father didn’t care and chose to prioritize work meetings over hospital visits. Worse yet, when Peter talks to Anthony about it years later, his father remains unrepentant and asks Peter to get over it. As such, it’s gravely important to Peter that he serves as a better father for his children than Anthony.

After Peter realizes Nicholas has been skipping school, he decides to drop out of Brian Hammer’s campaign since it would take him away from Nicholas to D.C. Peter genuinely wants to be a good father and help his son, but he doesn’t know how. Since he lacked a good father figure in his own life, he thinks being present for Nicholas will solve his problems. In the end, when Nicholas kills himself, it devastates Peter, who believes his efforts have fallen short.

Even years later, he can’t ever truly move on from the catastrophic loss of his son. Once when he’s waiting for dinner guests in his new house with Beth and Theo, he imagines a life where his son gets to become an adult. He daydreams about Nicholas succeeding in life and visiting Peter. In his dream, Nicholas becomes a writer and writes a book, “Death Can Wait,” about his journey as a suicidal teen. Most importantly, in his daydream, Nicholas dedicates his book to Peter because Peter yearns for a world where he’s a good role model as a father.

However, reality soon comes crashing down, and Peter has an emotional breakdown. Peter feels immensely regretful and guilty for Nicholas’s death. Beth tries to comfort him, but the grief Peter feels is all-consuming. He wants to be a better father for his younger son, Theo. Nevertheless, Peter never forgives himself, and the mark Nicholas’s death leaves on Peter can never really heal.

Read More: Where Was The Son Filmed?