‘Challengers’ and That Ending: Our Critics Have Thoughts

The relationships in “Challengers” are complicated. Patrick (Josh O’Connor) and Art (Mike Faist) were close pals on the juniors tennis circuit when they met Tashi (Zendaya), a phenom. As the years pass and they become entangled in on-court rivalry and off-court sexual tensions, the film builds to a vicious challenger-circuit match between Art, now a top-ranked pro with a confidence problem, and Patrick, sleeping in his car between tournaments. In the stands is Art’s wife and Patrick’s ex, Tashi, who turned to coaching after an injury cut short her career. The film ends abruptly, the outcome of the match unclear — and that has been the subject of much discussion online. So we asked our critic at large Wesley Morris and our movie critic Alissa Wilkinson to weigh in. Caution: Spoilers ahead.

WESLEY MORRIS Alissa, we’re here to discuss the final moments of “Challengers,” and in order to do that, I’m committing a big personal no-no and talking about a movie that people have had only two weeks to see. Sometimes it takes me — a culture professional — a while to catch up, so I’d imagine other folks might appreciate some distance between opening weekend and the instant media chatterboxes start breaking down the dismount. I also understand that’s a very 1988 flavor of film discourse and that a judge would overrule me.

So: People are confused about this ending? Or intrigued? Either way, I ask: Which part? The storm of final shots (final camera shots) that boot us out of the theater midmatch? Or the final encounter between Tashi and Patrick, which I refuse to ruin? Or her final glimpse, on match eve, of a sleeping Art?

If we’re talking about that shot storm, which goes down in a third-set tiebreaker between Patrick and Art, is it sointriguing that it warrants a conversation? There’s one image of Patrick crouching and another of Art aloft, mid-slam, that I’ll always remember. What follows? Eh. I don’t know who these characters are, who they’re supposed to be, or what they might want, even secretly. So I didn’t care what happens after this match.

If anything concerned me, it was the fact that this finale takes place in the middle (or the end, I suppose) of the third point of the tiebreaker, which has at least four or five more points to go. Is caring who wins the match gauche? Is it safe to assume that, based on the number of warnings and penalties the exasperated chair umpire (Darnell Appling) Frisbees out, whatever’s happening in that final scene is the end of the match anyway, because one of these guys is getting ejected? Did I just wind up re-enacting what people are doing with this movie anyway and express genuine intrigue?

Josh O’Connor as a down-on-his-luck pro in the film.Credit…MGM
Back to top button