Julianne Moore Shines A Light On The Nuance Of Social Justice Work In A New Film From Jesse Eisenberg And Emma Stone


When Emma Stone read Jesse Eisenberg’s screenplay, When You Finish Saving The World, she was blown away by his insightful writing about a woman who has dedicated her life to social justice. And yet she cannot reach her own family.

“…what stood out to us is Jesse’s ability to capture the ways we can all be messy and self-important and blind to certain aspects of our lives,” said Stone who has a new production company, Fruit Tree, which she created with Dave McCary. Stone was so taken with the script that When You Finish Saving The World is Fruit Tree’s debut feature film.

When You Finish Saving The World, from A24, debuts January 20. The film revolves around Evelyn Katz, (Julianne Moore), a director of a domestic violence shelter. Passionately devoted to making the world more just, Evelyn is singularly driven to do all she can to help people living at the shelter. She longs to create transformational spaces for families impacted by violence whose lives are in constant peril.

The bulletin board of the Indiana shelter where she works is littered with testimonials from the women she has helped. Evelyn’s ideals and code of ethics are so strong. But she also doesn’t want to waste her time with what she sees as trivial pursuits. Evelyn needs to focus all her efforts on the lives of people impacted by violence.

As much as Evelyn is intrepid in her desire to serve, she oversteps boundaries. She struggles to connect and it’s hard for her to engage with her son, husband, (Jay O. Sanders), or other people whose entire life isn’t devoted to making change for good. Even small talk with a co-worker in an elevator is hard and awkward.

Meanwhile, Evelyn’s son Ziggy Katz, (Finn Wolfhard), is a teenage social media wunderkind who holes up in his bedroom performing his songs to his global fanbase, 20,000 strong. Ziggy is one of the highest performers on the site where he live streams his tunes with titles like “Truth Aches” (masterfully written by Eisenberg). His politics and ethics seemingly unaligned with his mother, Ziggy does all he can to make sure that his parents don’t enter his domain.

But much more than his bedroom door separates Ziggy from his parents. In this beguiling and subtle film, written and directed by Eisenberg, the fractured family has each retreated to their proverbial corner remaining detached from each other. Instead, they forge connections outside one another. Their bond is shaky.

It’s palpable to feel Evelyn’s dilemma. Domestic violence impacts millions of Americans. According to the CDC, 1 in 2 women in America will experience physical or sexual domestic or stalking an intimate partner in her lifetime. Eisenberg was galvanized to write When You Finish Saving The World when he spent the pandemic volunteering at a domestic violence shelter and was inspired by people working there.

“The movie is completely fictional, but I loved the opportunity to show and explore some of the inner workings of a place we don’t often see on screen. How this complicated, unbelievably selfless and vital work can create its own kind of challenges,” says Eisenberg of his directorial debut. “I so admire people who dedicate their entire lives to doing good in the social service sector.”

For Leila Wood, PhD a researcher and professor at the Center for Violence Prevention, When You Finish Saving the World spotlights universal issues that are not often addressed in movies. “Parenting is complicated, especially under threat of harm or violence,” says Wood. “I hope the audience has compassion for the characters in the film and their life experiences. And I hope this helps normalize seeking help for domestic violence, and the incredible work of this workforce.”

Jeryl Brunner: Why do you believe When You Finish Saving The World tells an important story?

Leila Wood, PhD: I am a working mother to a teenager. So for me, the film at its core is about the mother and child relationship in adolescence, and the complexities of being a parent in the field of social services where the work is underpaid, dangerous, and often forgotten.

Evelyn has a hard job that is about saving lives and addressing the ubiquitous injustice of domestic violence, which permeates everything she does. It’s hard for her to connect with her son, who is addressing the developmental and generational tasks of adolescence. Angie (Eleonore Hendricks), the mom in the shelter, is working hard to create safety and stability for herself and her teenage son after violence AND managing a set of safety considerations. The film, for me, is about the impact of stress on family relationships.

Brunner: The movie also addresses Evelyn’s entanglement with the families at the shelter, particularly Angie and her son, Kyle (Billy Bryk), who Evelyn wants so desperately to help.

Wood: The other story the film tells, through Evelyn’s work with the family at the shelter, is that it is important to listen to what people tell you they need, and be responsive to that. Even if it would not be your first choice for them. The film does a great job of exploring the nuances of helping interactions in modern American social services.

Brunner: Why is it vital to shed light on people who are working in domestic violence shelters?

Wood: As a domestic violence researcher and former employee at a domestic violence shelter, I was elated to finally see a representation of our work in a major motion picture. There are 1914 programs like this all over the country that serve over 70,000 survivors in any one day. These programs provide supportive connections, safety, and help accessing essential resources. I believe the film highlights these services, the dedication of the staff that work in these programs, and the complexities of providing social services.

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