The Peanut Butter Falcon Explained: What’s Up With the Ending?

Twenty-two-year-old Zak (Zach Gottsagen) has Down syndrome. He was abandoned by his family, and the government placed Zack in a home for the poor in North Carolina. Zach is a smart guy, and he’s not going to be locked up in four walls all his life. Once, an old woman from a shelter helped him to try to escape, to whom he gave his pudding for this, the second time – his roommate (Bruce Dern), a former engineer. The second attempt was successful: Zak really escaped and began to hide in someone’s old boat.

The owner of the boat is a certain Tyler (Shia LaBeouf), a thirty-year-old loser who is very worried about the death of his brother Mark (Jon Bernthal). He does not have a license to fish for crabs, so he works in the workshops of the fishing pier and occasionally steals crabs from other fishermen’s traps. At one point, Tyler is beaten up by the fishermen he robs, and in retaliation, he burns down the entire dock, causing twelve thousand dollars in damage.

Tyler is chased by fishermen, he runs away from them on his boat and finds Zack hiding. The boat quickly becomes unusable, Tyler is going to make his way to Florida, Zach asks to go with him: on the way to Florida there is a school of the famous wrestler Salty Redneck (Thomas Hayden Church), whose videotape Zach watched to holes. The guy dreams of going to school and becoming a wrestler.

Tyler is initially reluctant to take Zach with him, but realizes that he would be lost without him, so they start traveling together.

At the same time, Tyler continues to be chased by very unfriendly fishermen, and Zack is looking for a volunteer from the shelter, Eleanor (Dakota Johnson), who looked after Zack at the shelter. She wants Zack back at the orphanage.

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For directors Tyler Nilson and Mike Schwartz, this debut is the first feature film for which they wrote the screenplay themselves. The project was made specifically for Zack Gottsagen, who played the main role here: Nilson and Schwartz, after meeting Zack, realized that they wanted to make a film with him.

The picture was very warmly received by the audience and critics (96% of positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes), it collected a decent box office (box office success rate – 3.6).

In style, this is a completely typical indicino, made for the Sundance festival. There is an endlessly lonely protagonist, obsessed with a pipe dream, there is a random fellow traveler with his problems and his cockroaches, at some point a noble girl should join them, well, there will be a kind of buddy movie in pursuit of a dream with elements of the adventures of Huckleberry Finn, only instead of the runaway Negro Jim, there is a young guy with Down’s syndrome, and instead of the Duke and the King, two almost nameless fishermen chasing Huckleberry with a sword of retribution.

There will be some funny jokes, embarrassing situations, colorful characters encountered during the journey, and some kind of catharsis should be expected at the end, although everything will definitely end well.

The most difficult moment in this film is the actor with Down syndrome playing a character with Down syndrome. There are directors who are tempted to use people with problems in order to enhance the emotional response of the audience. But here, fortunately, this does not happen. The filmmakers show Zak not as an unfortunate person who should be pitied, but as a person who should be respected: for his determination, perseverance in the fight for freedom and determination.

It also clearly shows the difference in attitudes towards Zach on the part of Tyler and Eleanor. The girl treats Zach very well, but for her he is sick and destitute, like those old people in the orphanage whom she cares for. But Tyler doesn’t think Zach is sick. Destitute, yes, but he’s about as destitute as Tyler. And Tyler doesn’t treat Zach like he’s sick, but more like his little brother. (Especially since he himself lost his older brother.) He messes with him, trains Zach, fools around with him, and Zach and Tyler live life to the fullest. And even Eleanor, who at first is sure that Zach needs to be returned to the orphanage, because he will not be able to live a normal life, eventually understands Tyler is right.

The actor Zack Gottsagen himself is absolutely amazing. The feeling of pity towards him as a person who got it very hard in this life is quickly replaced by sympathy and respect. He turned out to be a very bright, lively and sincere character, indeed – the main star of the film. I hope that after this picture, especially given its good reception, a good acting career awaits him – he is quite worthy of it.

There is practically nothing to say about the game of Shia LaBeouf and Dakota Johnson in this case – for example, I didn’t even understand that Tyler was Shia LaBeouf, and I found out about it only after watching the movie. However, this is by no means a complaint against LaBeouf and Johnson, rather the opposite: they acted very nobly, because their roles were not supposed to divert the attention of the audience from Zack Gottsagen. Therefore, they rather serve as a background for him and give cues, especially since their characters are written quite casually purely from the script.

Of the minor characters, Thomas Haden Church as a retired wrestler and Jasper John, a blind preacher played by Wayne DeHart, are very good.

About the script. This is the film’s weakest point. Neilson and Schwartz had previously only written the script for the short film Diary of a Mopedist. The script for the first feature film turned out to be somewhat raw and unfinished, containing obvious script holes.

First of all, Tyler’s act is absolutely incomprehensible here, who seems to be a positive character, but at the same time robbed other fishermen – also, in general, almost impoverished poor fellows – and then completely deprived them of their livelihood, burning down the pier with all its contents. It looked kind of wild. I expected to the last that at the time of the next heart-to-heart conversation with Eleanor, he would somehow explain this, but no explanations followed.

According to the film, we should consider the fishermen chasing Tyler to be thugs, and this is what is written in the announcement. However, what kind of thugs are they? Poor fishermen, that’s all. And they kicked him at the beginning of the film for a reason, because he robbed their traps.

There are a lot of frank clichés in the film, there are also certain jambs in the production, but here, of course, the protagonist himself redeems a lot, so I don’t really want to find fault with the film – because of the way they reacted to a very difficult topic and because of the unconditional social the significance of such a picture.

This is how the movie turned out. With an unfinished script, a somewhat uncertain production, but quite sincere, not manipulative in any way, which I usually can’t stand, and most importantly, with an excellent main character who evokes sympathy and respect. And the wonderful Zack Gottsagen in this picture completely redeems many of its shortcomings.

PS Well, it was important for me to find out the opinion of a person who is very close to this topic – Svetlana Nagaeva, the author of the book about Down syndrome “ChromoSonya”, the mother of a child with this syndrome. IMDB journalist Rimma Avshalumova talked to her about the film – I recommend reading the interview “A Wrestler with Down Syndrome: How to Show People with Disabilities in Cinema”.

 

Peanut Falcon / The Peanut Butter Falcon

Director: Tyler Nilson, Mike Schwartz Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Zach Gottsagen, Dakota Johnson, John Hawkes, Bruce Dern, Jon Bernthal, Thomas Haden Church, Mick Foley, Jake Roberts, Wayna DeHart

Budget: $6.2 million, Global gross: $22.8 million
Tragicomedy, USA, 2019, 97 min.

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