Meg Ryan Unpacks the ‘What Happens Later’ Ending: ‘They’re Always Hitting and Missing’

The director says the film’s lovers are “constantly in the state of trying to reconcile or find wholeness… that they never get or achieve”

What Happens Later meg Ryan David Duchovny
David Duchovny and Meg Ryan in "What Happens Later"

Meg Ryan thinks that the ending of her latest film, “What Happens Later,” is supposed to seem open-ended.

Ryan stars and directed the film. Her character Wilhelmina, who goes by Willa for short, runs into her ex-boyfriend William, who goes by Bill for short, when the two are laid over at the same airport for an overly extended period of time, almost as if fate has a hand in it. The pair, who ironically both also go by W. Davis, patch up their past relationship amid their layovers, but then they part ways to head out on their respective flights. Just as they exchange their final farewells from their plane windows, Willa thinks to ask Bill for his phone number, but the planes take off before any digits can be confirmed and recorded.

“It’s for anybody to take, the ending. But I think for me the movie is — they’re always hitting and missing. They always figure it out, and then the next minute they’re fighting again, or they’re constantly in the state of trying to reconcile or find wholeness, balance, that they never get or achieve,” she said. “I just feel like that’s going to continue in perpetuity. Of course, she wants the number at the wrong time. That’s who they are. And Q is the last music cue, is called ‘Bye for Now’ which I think is really appropriate.”

As the story unfolds, the W. Davises put their respective “cards” on the table and open back up to each other by layers. Reveals include that Ryan’s Willa got pregnant while she was with Bill, but she lost the baby. He had been questioning the whole time if the child was even his, because Willa had said she wanted to sleep with other people, but she never actually did. She was faithful to him the whole time. 

“For me, it’s a story about — we asked the question to reimagine the myth of a happy happily ever after because these are two people who don’t even want to meet cute, they’re gonna want to see each other,” Ryan said. “Not to blow it, but they ended up being grateful for one another because he was the one who broke her heart and she was the one who broke his heart and changed the course of their lives there and understand a life not lived with one another.”

Willa did have another daughter, and one of her last “cards” involves the real reason she is stranded at the airport. She was supposed to go meet her daughter after she gave her up for adoption.

“I guess it’s called ‘What Happens Later.’ It’s really like a time travel sort of thing. It messes with time a lot because it’s really about what happened before and prosecuting happened before and somebody I know saw it, and they said, ‘Oh, wow, I was so moved because it was like, I got into static for who they were, and who they might have been in the fact that they like come back together.’ They’re both essentially asking the question, ‘Why didn’t you love me enough? Or why wasn’t I enough?” she added. “And their missing understandings that sort of made their lives go in different directions. As an old person, I look at that and it’s an observation from a mature perspective, like you see how important all of our relating actually is. How we interact with one another sets us on these courses.”

“What Happens Later” is now in theaters.

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