Collateral Beauty was directed by David Frankel and has a great cast consisting of Will Smith, Edward Norton, Keira Knightley, Michael Peña, Naomie Harris, Jacob Latimore, Kate Winslet and Helen Mirren. the film saw a weak audience reaction and poor reviews from critics. well, it wasn’t a terrible movie, it’s good for a watch. That said, we’re not here to criticize the movie. there are some aspects of the film that leave the viewer with doubts. let’s talk about those. Here’s the plot and ending of the film’s collateral beauty explained, spoilers ahead.
explanation of the plot
what is collateral beauty?
The very idea of collateral beauty is that no matter how dark or difficult the moment is, there is something beautiful happening right there. You just have to look, you just have to see it. More simply, it’s “every cloud has a silver lining.”
Now, let’s go through the events of the story in linear order…
Howard (Will) is a successful advertising executive and runs his company with his partners Whit (Edward), Claire (Kate), and Simon (Michael). Howard is happily married to Madeleine (Naomie) and they have a daughter named Olivia. When Olivia turns 6, she dies of a rare form of cancer.
After this, Howard collapses. she becomes clinically depressed and cannot deal with any of her relationships. he breaks ties with his wife, madeleine, after writing her a note saying “if only we could be strangers again”. madeleine tries to work with howard, but she can’t get through. Over the years they keep in touch. she herself is finding her way to come to terms with reality. In the hospital, just before her daughter dies, Death (Helen) visits her in human form. park her questions around this for a moment, we’ll come back to this. Over time, Madeleine begins to lead group therapy sessions for other parents who have lost their children.
howard distances himself from his business associates and his work. the firm’s big clients eventually leave and the company heads toward bankruptcy.
- a couple of years go by, howard lives alone, hardly sleeps and lives the life of a recluse. His partners fear losing the company and everything they have worked for. Each of his partners is plagued by his own personal problems.
- Whit was caught cheating by his wife, and she divorced him. her daughter is mad at him and he longs for her love.
- claire has dedicated her whole life to the company and as a result she could never have a relationship and more importantly , become a mother. She longs to be a mother, but she discovers that her time is up.
- Simon has cancer and is dying. but he doesn’t want to tell his family for fear of the consequences.
A corporation is interested in buying the company, but Howard owns 60% and refuses to sell. His partners, however, are desperate to sell.
love, time, death
ok, amy (keira), raffi (jacob) and brigitte (helen) are actually love, time and death as human manifestations. yes, they are not actors and in the future I will refer to them as love, time and death.
Honey, by the way, she goes and stands in line for a new commercial audition. she speaks to whit and changes the line from “life is found when you shed your skin” to “shed your skin, find your life”. Pentecost finds this to hit the heart. she leaves, and whit follows her. she enters a small theater where she begins to rehearse lines with time and death. who sees them, is impressed, talks to them and leaves. love has come to meet the trio, and death says “well done”.
whit has an idea which he tells simon and claire. He believes that the only way this can work is if they can prove that Howard is not in the right frame of mind to run the company. that way they can sell the company. They hire the same private investigator, Sally Price, that Whit’s wife hires to catch him cheating.
sally follows howard and intercepts the letters he has written to love, time and death. Whit proposes that the three actors she met can play these manifestations and confront Howard. Sally can take video of this and then use digital editing to remove the actors; making it look like howard is crazy. They approach who they think are the actors Amy, Raffi and Brigitte. they are offered money to play their parts. the “actors” accept.
death mentions the rules here:
“we have the power to be seen by whoever we want, whenever we want”. this rule is already in play. Whit, Claire and Simon can already see love, time and death. Whit yearns for love, Claire feels like she’s fighting against time, and Simon nears death. everyone needs guidance. Howard needs the help of all three. In addition, Sally is able to see love, time and death, although we don’t know why.
meanwhile, howard attends support group sessions led by madeleine. here’s the weird part. Howard hasn’t forgotten her. he is so devastated by what he happened to his daughter that he really feels like they were strangers again. Over time, he has somehow convinced himself that treating Madeleine like a stranger is the only way he can talk to her. Madeleine understands her need to do so and plays along too. after the session, they talk. howard asks for his name. she goes on to say “my daughter’s name was olivia. She died of a rare form of brain cancer known as glioblastoma multiforme, or GBM for short. she was six years old. what was your daughter’s name, howard? this is madeleine pushing howard to confront the reality of her. he can’t do it.
plan in action
As the days go by, love, time, and death take turns meeting Howard. in his condition, she might have believed even the actors were manifestations. but in this case, they are actually manifestations that speak to you.
madeleine and howard meet again as strangers. she recounts to him the events of the death of “his hers” daughters of hers and how an old woman next to her said, “just make sure you notice the collateral beauty.” this is what we were talking about before, this was her death paying him a visit. Howard says that she has been talking to love, time and death. she asks him to answer them if they visit him again. Madeleine understands what Howard is going through and her suggestion is therapeutic.
although that video
the next time howard lashes out at death, time and love while sally films it all. however, we are not shown how the hell this video was edited. The editor would have mainly seen Howard talking to the air. he wouldn’t really have to “edit” anything. ideally, he would go back to sally and say “what’s wrong with the lady?”. we could assume that love, time and death say they would edit the video since they are in the acting business. anyway, the video is somehow ready.
The partners show the video to the company’s attorney, who then asks Howard who he’s talking to in the videos. Howard realizes that his associates have followed and recorded him. Howard then continues talking to each of them. he tells claire that he has sacrificed his personal life for the company. that simons was not doing a good job of hiding his illness from him and his family would be taken care of. and that he is disappointed in whit because he is not fighting hard enough for his daughter. I think this is Howard coming out of his depressed state (thanks to his encounters with Madeleine). he promptly signs the papers agreeing to sell the company. Howard had also placed some of his property in a trust in his daughter’s name. he also signs a legal certificate saying that she no longer exists. howard couldn’t get this signed earlier, as it would mean facing reality, which he’s been hiding from.
Claire arrives in time to pay him and he tells her that she doesn’t have to give birth to be a mother. that she could adopt. Whit meets his daughter and persists this time, and she agrees to meet him again the next day. Simon tells his wife about her condition.
howard ends up at madeleine’s house and asks if he could spend christmas eve with her. she lets him in. well, it’s also her house. he has simply been chosen to avoid facing that. like a stranger, he asks madeleine if she has been crying. she says that she was watching an old video of her daughter dancing with her husband. she asks if she could show him. Howard says no. she repeats that her daughter’s name was olivia and how she had died. she returns the note that reads “if only we could be strangers again”. We are then shown a video of Howard playing with Olivia revealing that he is her husband. Madeleine finally gets Howard to say Olivia’s name, and he breaks down as he accepts the reality of his dead daughter. As a quick flashback, he shows us Death telling Madeleine to notice the collateral beauty. In the final scene of the film, love, time and death watch as Howard and Madeleine take a walk in the park. while he can see them, madeleine cannot. This is because Howard currently needs her help as he gets better. Madeleine has already had support from him since death a long time ago, currently she doesn’t need his help and therefore she can’t see them. the movie ends.