The ending and meaning of CODA, explained


CODA, an acronym for Children Of Deaf Adults, is a wholesome film that shows the journey of a deaf family overcoming hardships. The film tells the story of Ruby (Emilia Jones), a 17-year-old teenager who is the only person in the family that’s not deaf. Challenged with looking after her fishing family and following her dreams.

Caution: Spoilers ahead!

  • The movie strikes a perfect balance between the silence, portrayed by the deaf community and the loudness shown by the choir that shows the two worlds Ruby is sandwiched between.
  • The decision taken by Frank and Jackie to let Ruby pursue her dreams gives a timely message to parents.
  • Ruby’s character shows the importance of persistence and not giving up.
  • The film strikingly reveals the challenges faced by the deaf community and gives a stern ending about accepting them.

Ruby realises her true potential to sing

At school, Ruby signs up for the choir as an extracurricular activity and gets a panic attack when she is made to sing by Mr Bernado (Eugenio Derbez) in front of disapproving friends. She runs away to a lake and sings for the first time, revealing her smooth melancholy voice. The next day, Ruby sings well to everyone’s astonishment after Mr Bernardo motivates her. 

Mr Bernardo, also called Mr V, understands Ruby’s true potential and convinces her to audition for the Berklee School of Music, a world-renowned music school. This scene sends a great message to children about persistence. Although Ruby ran back without singing during the trials, she came back and showed her true colours, revealing the importance of not giving up and keeping on trying. 

Ruby’s parents set up a fish stall of their own

Fed up with the low prices, Ruby’s father, Frank (Troy Kotsur) and her brother, Leo (Daniel Durant) gets from the middlemen, they choose to set up a fish stall of their own. The pair also promises to pay the other fishermen double the amount given by the previous middlemen. With time, the business starts booming and Ruby is now squashed between her family priorities of being the interpreter and her dream of auditioning for the Berklee school of music. She gets late on three occasions to her after school audition practices with Mr V where he decides that she’s not ready and stops teaching her. 

Meanwhile, Ruby decides to skip fishing for one day leaving Frank and Leo stranded with an investigator who later alerted the coastguard about their disability. Frank was fined $2500. Tired of being sandwiched in the middle, Ruby spent the day with her love interest Miles at the lake. After realising that night about what happened, Ruby gives up her dream of attending college and decides to help her family to fish. Ruby also gets into an argument with her brother who perhaps signs the most important message of the film;

“Let the world figure how to deal with deaf people”

This decision by Ruby gives a deep message to the audience about the challenges faced by the deaf community where a young girl decides to give up her future to look after them. 

A stunning concert performance makes Ruby’s parents change their decision

Ruby performs a duet with Miles during the annual fall concert at the school. Although Frank, Jackie (Marlee Matlin) and Leo couldn’t hear the performance, they see other attendees crying before giving Ruby and Miles a standing ovation. The three of them realise that Ruby is talented and that she should go to college after speaking with Mr V after the show. 

That night, Frank asks Ruby to sing the song once again loud and he places his hand on Ruby’s vocal cords, getting the feel of her voice through his skin. He wakes up Ruby the next morning and in a surprise move, the family drives to Boston for Ruby’s audition.

Ruby hesitates at the start of the audition. The family manages to sneak into the audition room, giving Ruby a new sense of confidence where she starts to sing well and sign at the same time to make them understand the lyrics. She sings Both Sides Now by Joni Mitchell, a song that talks about seeing objects from different perspectives. While she sings, the film shows a montage that revealed the family business started expanding with Leo taking charge and Ruby getting accepted to the Berklee School of Music. 

The film ends with Ruby driving off with her friend to Boston, being the first one in her family to attend college. As they pass her old house, she gets out of the car and runs towards her family and hugs them tight. After hugging her, Frank, for the first of the movie speaks up to Ruby. “Go,” he says, ending the movie with a timely message to parents to let their children go and fight for their dreams. 

The film bagged three Oscars for best picture, best-adapted screenplay and best supporting male actor, becoming the first streaming film to scoop the best picture award.

Sian Heder, speaking about directing the film in ASL (American Sign Language) told GoldDerby that CODAs are raised within the deaf culture with the responsibility of bridging two different cultures and navigating two different worlds:

“There’s a lot of inherent tension in that’s very dramatic and interesting. So there was a lot in that character that I thought had incredible potential to deepen what had been started with the French film and to really find my own film within that story that could be personal and feel like I could imbue it with all these other things.”