Sundance: Jesse Eisenberg’s Directorial Debut ‘When You Finish Saving the World’ is a Touching Exploration of Self-Worth

Finn Wolfhard and Julianne Moore in “When You Finish Saving the World.” (Courtesy

By Luke Jackson


In 2002, Jesse Eisenberg made his cinematic acting debut in “Roger Dodger.” His quick-witted, razor-sharp quirky style quickly became adored and his career began to skyrocket. With a range of acclaimed roles from the deviously brilliant Lex Luthor to the real-life supervillain Mark Zuckerberg, Eisenberg is a force to be reckoned with. Twenty years later, Eisenberg has taken his talents behind the camera in his directorial debut “When You Finish Saving the World.”

An Exploration of Self-Worth

Based on Eisenberg’s original audiobook of the same name, “When You Finish Saving the World” is an intimate and touching exploration of the troubled relationship between mother Evelyn Katz (Julianne Moore) and her teenage son Ziggy (Finn Wolfhard) as they navigate the minefield of finding personal worth.

In Indiana, Evelyn runs a women’s shelter and pines to assist those down on their luck. Ziggy on the other hand is a top musical performer on a fictitious TikTok facsimile called HiHat. Both characters are aspiring to do the right thing in their respective fields, but find that this desire only distracts from their overwhelming internal emptiness. This emptiness is emphasized by the severely dysfunctional home life they share. They exist in a world of false faces and invulnerability — one where the question “how are you doing?” is only asked when prompted by a fascinating scholarly article on teen suicide.

“When You Finish Saving the World” touches on our hindered ability to serve others when we are not addressing our own personal infirmities. It explores themes of narcissism, self-worth, understanding and the gatekeeping that comes with political correctness. Moore gives a brilliant performance that grasped me and brought many of these themes to life. Her physicality, delivery and expressions are marvelously thought out and calculated. While her performance was breathtaking, the film, left something to be wanted. The themes it centers are inherently interesting, but they are not explored in a particularly deep or memorable way.

Unabashedly Eisenberg

The film is unabashedly Jesse Eisenberg. His token fast-talking, intelligent wit are around every corner. It was interesting to see how well Eisenberg translated his style from acting to directing. For some, this style is frustrating, alienating and abrasive. As a fan of Eisenberg, however, I found it implicitly charming. Due to his divisive nature, my guess is that if you don’t like Eisenberg, you won’t like “When You Finish Saving the World.”

As the credits rolled, I was left with the realization that we often don’t give each other enough credit. I was reminded of a quote by the great Fred Rodgers who said, “You don’t have to do anything sensational for people to love you.” While this quote may be a touch lovey-dovey, “When You Finish Saving the World,” though a little clumsily, embodied this message.

Constantly we each strive to match our ideals and constantly we fail to do so. There is so much going on in the world without enough people asking the questions “When You Finish Saving the World” highlights. How are you doing? Are you happy? Are you okay? Eisenberg seems to think that we need more of that in the world. Honestly, while his directorial debut may not knock it out of the park, I think he is right.

So, sincerely, how are you doing? Are you happy? Are you okay?


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