Explainers

Five Feet Apart Ending, Explained

September 5, 2019
11 min read

Teenage romance is already a popular genre, and adding a layer of tragic makes it even more appealing to the audience. Watching two star-crossed lovers find each other despite all the hurdles in their path gives hope to the viewers. The death of one of the characters is often used as a trope to add an emotional angle to the story, but a couple of years back, Hollywood found a greater scope in the stories where death was more than just a twist. People suffering from terminable diseases were the protagonists of these stories. Their predestined tragedy added more emotional punch and left the audience in shambles, even when they knew how the film would end. The predictability made it all the worse.

The success of movies like ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ and ‘Me Before You’ convinced the filmmakers that the audience connects to these stories on a deeper level. It could be because they have been through something similar, or just that they begin to appreciate their normal lives even more. These films motivate them like none other. ‘Five Feet Apart’ is another entry in this list. It met with as much success on the box-office as it left the viewers drowning in their own tears. If you haven’t yet seen it, you should bookmark this page for later. Get some tissues and cry your heart out at its ending before coming back. Watch it here.

SPOILERS AHEAD

Summary of the Plot

Cystic Fibrosis is a rare disease that primarily affects one’s lungs. Apart from its own complications, the disease also places a severe restriction on the patients. They become so prone to contracting each other’s bacteria, which differ from person to person, that they have to maintain a six feet distance between themselves. Stella meets Will under such circumstances. Both of them are going through a treatment, which determines if and when they should receive a lung transplant.

While Stella is stoic about her regime, she is a free-spirited girl who documents her experience in a video and shares it on her YouTube channel. Will, on the other hand, has accepted the moroseness of his mortality and doesn’t seem so keen about the treatment. When Stella comes to know about it, she forces him to get into discipline because she literally can’t stand it. She suffers from clinical OCD and needs to be in control of the situations around her. Amused by her, Will strikes a deal in which she gets to arrange her meds in order while he gets to sketch her portrait. The staff warns them to maintain a distance from each other, especially Stella, who is in line to receive a transplant. But their romance blooms and they fall in love.

Five Feet Apart Ending: Will They Meet Again?

Despite the strong disapproval from Nurse Barbara, Will and Stella enjoy their secret dates and forbidden romance. On his birthday, Stella surprises him by inviting their friends and arranging a party with Poe’s help. Everything seems perfect, but then, tragedy strikes. Poe’s condition suddenly deteriorates and he passes away. Stella is grief-stricken and finally accepts the fact that she has let her treatment become the only thing she has in her life. She leaves the hospital at night and is joined by a reluctant Will.

While having fun outside, Stella receives a message from the hospital informing her that her surgery is scheduled in a few hours and she needs to return. But she chooses to spend time with Will and doesn’t respond. When he comes to know about it, he makes her go back, but she falls off the bridge and into the lake. In an attempt to save her, he administers CPR. They are brought back to the hospital, where she is given a lung transplant. Nurse Barbara tells Will that somehow Stella did not contract his bacteria and will be fine. However, the treatment doesn’t seem to be working on him. Aware that his presence will not allow Stella to move on, he gives her one last surprise and breaks off their relationship. The film ends with Stella creating another video, talking about the importance of human touch.

Walking into a story like ‘Five Feet Apart’, the viewer knows that a heart-breaking ending is in store. The one ray of hope that we have is that there is no fixed end to the story. Unlike Augustus, who got a proper eulogy and whom we saw die on-screen (and now we’ll spend another hour crying about it), no such thing happens with Will. He might not be responding to the treatment, but it is just this treatment. Who knows what the future has in store for him, where he’ll go from here! Perhaps, he switches to another treatment and gets better from it.

While Stella let him go this time, we should also consider that she had just been out of surgery. At that time, she couldn’t do anything about it, she could barely speak anything. But now that she is better, and because she likes to be in control of her situation, we can’t entirely condemn the idea that she will try to get back to Will. In fact, her last message only reinforces this possibility. She wants her listeners to seize the opportunity of spending time with their loved ones, to touch each other while they can. Her message is full of encouragement, and if she can give others hope, who’s to say that she won’t be inspired by her own words.

The whole idea of the film is to find love in the most despairing of situations. And after giving us a dreamy romance to root for, the film doesn’t mercilessly cut the cord with the stab of reality. Stella is better now, and if you want it, so will be Will.

Is Five Feet Apart Based on A True Story?

What would it be like to fall in love with someone you can’t touch? Seems unimaginable, right? No matter how adorable Stella and Will are, one question doesn’t leave the back of our minds. Is it even possible to build a relationship like that? Cystic fibrosis patients have strong regulation of not staying within each other’s six feet. Patients, like Stella, who are in line for a transplant have to be extra careful. The six feet rule extends by a good measure for them, because one minor slip and everything can fall apart. How come then Stella could afford to be so close to Will? Their story doesn’t seem feasible. But that isn’t entirely true.

‘Five Feet Apart’ is actually based on a novel by Rachel Lippincott, which was adapted for a screenplay by Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis. The book and the film developed simultaneously, which is why readers will find a good number of differences between paper and screen versions. Despite being fictional, the film does incorporate the necessary information about CF, which a lot of people aren’t aware of. It might have turned into just a plot device, but the filmmakers wanted to be as specific and correct about its portrayal as possible, without compromising the core story of the film. For that, they tapped into the experience of a person who had been through this.

Claire Wineland suffered from CF and, like Stella, would document her time in videos which she shared with the world through her YouTube channel. She has a massive following on the social media platform, owing to which she was brought in to consult on the movie. A lot of her stories inspired the film, and, in fact, one of her lines features in it. Actress Haley Lu Richardson (Stella) shared her experience in which Claire told her that “there comes a time when you stop living for your treatments and you start doing your treatment so that you can live”. Stella says this to Will before leaving the hospital after Poe’s death. While the film was in the editing process, Claire received a lung transplant. Due to some complications in the surgery, she passed away before the film was released. You can watch her story on Claire Wineland’s YouTube channel.

Now coming to the question on the possibility of a romance like Stella and Will’s. Despite the lingering sense of mortality eating their days, humans don’t allow restrictions to stop them from doing what their hearts want. Yes, it is dangerous for them to be together, but we don’t choose who we love. While ‘Five Feet Apart’ doesn’t acknowledge any inspirations, there is a particular story that hits too close to home. It isn’t an unusual thing for CF patients to sustain normal relationships, but there is one couple whose story takes the crown, as well as the tears. Katie Donovan and Dalton Prager were 18-year-old when they met each other. Both of them had CF, and Dalton even had B. cepacia, the same bacteria that Will has. They met each other on Facebook and soon fell in love. They couldn’t meet each other face to face, but shared letters and messages that strengthened their bond. Despite being told not to get too close to each other, they had their first date at a fair.

Unlike Stella, who didn’t contract Will’s bacteria even after the mouth-to-mouth, Katie wasn’t so lucky. But this didn’t stop her and Dalton from falling further in love. Two years of stealing dates with each other and talking on Facetime encouraged them to seize the day. They got married and tried to have as much of a normal life as possible. They even bought a house together and checked some travelling destinations off their bucket list. The last time they saw each other was their fifth wedding anniversary. They both had lung transplants after that and suffered some complications. Dalton died in 2016 and Katie passed away five days after him. Their Facebook page is the remembrance of their time spent together and inspires others to live a full life, as long as it lasts.

Five Feet Apart 2: Will There Be A Sequel?

The ending of ‘Five Feet Apart’ gives us hope for Stella and Will. The story is open-ended which allows us to let our imagination run free and choose whatever ending we want for our protagonists. Should the filmmakers choose to build upon that and bring the story to a proper close, they have a great number of possibilities. The book on which the film is based doesn’t have a sequel, so we don’t yet know where the cinematic version might take Stella and Will. But there is a little something that we can talk about.

The book ends on a completely different note than the movie. In the movie, Nurse Barbara tells Will that the treatment isn’t working for him. In the book, however, the doctor goes a bit further than that. He tells Will that not only is he not responding to the treatment, but he is so worse off that he has just one year left in his lifetime. Stella receives the transplant. With her life expectancy increased considerably, Will doesn’t want her to feel sad about his situation. He breaks off their relationship and leaves. Stella continues to make her videos and talks about the importance of human touch. The scene cuts to Will watching her video. He is at an airport with his friend, waiting for the flight to Rio. A short distance from him, Stella is waiting for her flight to Rome. Their eyes meet and they walk up to each other, maintaining a distance of six feet. Stella closes it to five.

Much like the film, the book leaves an open ending for the readers. With both protagonists on their way to different destinations, there is hope for their reunion. Both of them have decided to walk out of the confines of the hospital and check things off their to-do list. The filmmakers might have intentionally left out this part if they were planning for a sequel. The story could begin with them meeting each other in a random place and reigniting their relationship. Another fact that the film leaves out is the one-year expiration date placed on Will. Perhaps, they want him to get better, and consequently, give a happy ending to Stella and Will.

Read More in Explainer: The Shape of Water | Love Alarm

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