The 'Challengers' ending explained — and why its screenwriter thinks that question you're asking yourself is irrelevant

  • Warning: spoilers ahead for "Challengers," which is showing now in theaters.

  • "Challengers" ends without showing who wins the match it builds up to.

  • The film's screenwriter and director said that the winner of the match is irrelevant to the story.

The ending of the tennis movie "Challengers" has left many viewers questioning who wins the final match, but the film's director and screenwriter said it is not about a singular winner.

The new film stars Zendaya, Mike Faist, and Josh O'Connor as three tennis players entangled in a messy, 13-year-long throuple. The movie centers on a Challenger tournament final between famous tennis star Art Donaldson (Faist) and his former friend Patrick Zweig (O'Connor).

Patrick must win to play at the US Open after 13 years of failure, while Art is trying to prove he is better than Patrick to save his marriage to Tashi (Zendaya), who has become bored of her husband's lack of drive.

During a tiebreak in the final scene, Patrick and Art enter a rally, hitting the ball at each other instead of trying to score. As they get closer to the net, Patrick hits the ball upwards, forcing Art to jump up and volley it over the net.

The camera never shows where the ball lands, instead focusing on the two players as Art falls in Patrick's embrace. The camera then moves to Tashi, who is sitting in the crowd, as she screams out "come on!" before the movie ends.

The movie made $15 million in its first weekend, and has created a buzz similar to 2023's "Saltburn." Both films partly enticed audiences with the promise of taboo sex scenes, while their ambiguous endings and complex characters kept them talking on social media long after watching.

Here's what this final scene could mean and what the director and screenwriter have said about it.

Art broke down on the tennis court because of a secret signal from Patrick.

Mike Faist as Art in "Challengers."
Mike Faist as Art in "Challengers."MGM

In the final scene, Art is one point away from winning the competition. However, after Patrick places his tennis ball in the throat of his racket, imitating Art's signature serve, the superstar player swears audibly and loses three points by not returning Patrick's shot, leading to a tie-break.

This seems completely out of character for Art, but there is a reason for the sudden loss of composure.

Ahead of the game, Tashi tells Art that she will leave him if he loses the match against Patrick, but later meets Patrick to ask him to lose the game. Tashi also sleeps with Patrick without telling her husband.

When Patrick imitates Art's signature serve in the match, it is a callback to an earlier scene set 12 years before the final game. In this scene, Patrick is dating Tashi, and Art is trying to find information about their relationship to break them up. Art eventually asks Patrick to copy his serving style if he has had sex with Tashi, and it becomes a secret signal between the pair.

Repeating the signal at this crucial moment was Patrick's way of coming clean to Art about his wife's infidelity.

Some fans have interpreted this moment as Patrick trying to make Art lose his composure, but others have theorized that Patrick is goading Art to get him to play better and win the match with his own skill.

The "Challengers" director and screenwriter said it doesn't matter who won the final match.

Josh O'Connor as Patrick Zweig in "Challengers."
Josh O'Connor as Patrick Zweig in "Challengers."Niko Tavernise / MGM

The movie leaves the question of who won the tennis match open-ended as the audience never sees what happens after Art volleys the ball.

Art could have won the point and then finally beaten Patrick after years. Or the pair may abandon the match entirely and rebuild their bond as friends or lovers.

David Hanzes, an umpire for the US Tennis Association's Eastern Division, told Slate on Friday that the point would likely go to Patrick because players cannot hit the ball from the other side of the court or touch the net. Art makes these two mistakes on his final volley.

However, despite the movie focusing on one tennis match, the director, Luca Guadagnino, and screenwriter Justin Kuritzkes said the final score is unimportant.

Kuritzkes told Today on Friday that he thought the story was over once all the main characters were open with each other, which only occurs when Patrick reveals Tashi's infidelity.

Zendaya as Tashi Duncan in "Challengers."
Zendaya as Tashi Duncan in "Challengers."MGM

"In many ways, this is a movie about people who can only really speak their hearts on the tennis court, through action, through playing," Kuritzkes said. "I think by the end for me, they're playing all of a sudden. Art and Patrick are playing a real point, and somehow Tashi is playing, too. So the movie's over."

He added: "The question of 'Who wins the match?' just felt so totally irrelevant."

Guadagnino told Entertainment Weekly on Friday that the three lead characters spend the movie trying to recreate their first moment together, their three-way kiss in a hotel room, and can only recreate it through the rivalry on the court.

"I needed to get this very, very visually amped up and really immersed for the audience to understand how much it meant for them not to win over the other, but to be back together, all of them," he said.

Art and Patrick seem to have fixed their friendship at the end

Mike Faist as Art and Zendaya as Tashi in "Challengers."
Mike Faist as Art and Zendaya as Tashi in "Challengers."Niko Tavernise/ Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures

Art and Patrick's embrace in the final moment heavily implies a restoration of their friendship.

O'Connor, who plays Patrick, told Entertainment Weekly that the final moment is meant to show that the three lead characters have found each other again.

"They've been all searching for a way and getting it terribly wrong, searching for a way to satisfy that need, that hunger for each other. And they're all trying to find their way in different ways," he said, adding that he thinks Patrick's infidelity revelation pushes Art to play in a way that satisfies all three characters.

Tashi initially seems angry when she screams in the final scene, but it may be a shout of triumph. Throughout the movie, she chases a specific sensation where two competitors form a subconscious bond by playing tennis.

Josh O'Connor as Patrick and Zendaya as Tashi in "Challengers."
Josh O'Connor as Patrick and Zendaya as Tashi in "Challengers."Niko Tavernise/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures

When she loses her ability to play the sport due to an injury, she tries to manipulate Art and Patrick to play tennis her way so she can experience that thrill again. Tashi only succeeds at the end of the movie. Tashi's scream is likely a callback to an earlier scene when a younger version of the character screams after defeating her opponent in a tournament.

And all three characters seem to win at the end. Art, who cares more about the people he loves than tennis, reconnects with Patrick. Patrick gets to prove his talent to the world against one of the best players.

And in her words, Tashi finally gets to see "some fucking good tennis."

Read the original article on Business Insider