Sometimes it’s simply easier to avoid the question “are you happy?”, than to answer it with candour. The highly anticipated directorial debut by Jesse Eisenberg, When You Finish Saving the World, begins by shuffling through a myriad of faces from all around the world, a watchful audience all turned towards their screens as they witness The Real Ziggy Katz (Finn Wolfhard) take this virtual stage to perform his original folk-rock songs.

The concept of live streaming utterly confounds his mother, Evelyn (Julianne Moore), who runs a shelter for survivors of domestic abuse. She loudly blasts her music, as if to drown out such a ridiculous notion. Emile Mosseri’s beautifully composed score emphasises their polarity, but the absence of music is just as important. While together in her car, the radio is indignantly switched off since they can’t agree on what to listen to; their silence filled with disagreement. 

Eisenberg proves to be a competent director, mostly succeeding in his attempt to capture how strange and painful it is for a parent and their child to see one another as human beings. Since Ziggy and Evelyn refuse to communicate with each other, so much is revealed to us through visual subtleties and the strong yet understated performances by Wolfhard and Moore. While the disconnect between these characters is well done, the issue lies with the way the audience is also isolated from them, only provided with a cursory glance, and the film would have greatly benefited from further exploration into deeper emotions.

When You Finish Saving the World showcases two white, upper-middle class, educated people who exploit others to relieve their own guilt. Ziggy’s online presence creates an illusion of understanding the world and Evelyn extends a helping hand out of her own selfishness. Both think they’re making a difference. Both are only kind of right.



CAST: Julianne Moore, Finn Wolfhard, Alisha Boe, Jay O. Sanders, Billy Bryk, Eleonore Hendricks

DIRECTOR: Jesse Eisenberg

WRITER: Jesse Eisenberg

SYNOPSIS: Ziggy performs original folk-rock songs for an online fan base. This concept mystifies his mother, Evelyn, who runs a shelter for survivors of domestic abuse.