This article contains major spoilers for the Caught by a Wave ending.
Netflix’s new young-adult romance drama Caught by a Wave is one of those films, like The Fault in Our Stars, in which one of the star-crossed lovers is drastically ill. In this case, Sara, a young woman who immediately falls in love with her summer sailing instructor, Lorenzo, has rapidly-worsening muscular dystrophy that’ll leave her wheelchair-bound before long and possibly dead thereafter — something which obviously puts a bit of a downer on a burgeoning relationship.
Though not, apparently, for Lorenzo, who at no point ever seems concerned about Sara’s condition. Because of that, the big dramatic question of the film is never really whether or not they’ll end up together. Instead, a subplot about sailing and an upcoming regatta are weaved into Sara’s condition, and the Caught by a Wave ending becomes a question of her own interiority. Will she embrace her life while she can, and squeeze each moment for everything it’s worth, or will she put safety first and try to live as carefully as possible to maximize her quality time? Spoiler alert: It’s the former.
When Lorenzo’s usual partner in the regatta is left unable to compete because of a drink and drug binge, it’s quite obvious where things are going despite the film never really doing a good job of establishing Sara’s passion and talent for sailing. It actually feels like a bit of a leap, a last-minute pivot to new territory, but thanks to a low-key sequence on the water it’s able to remain rooted in character.
So, what happens is that Lorenzo and Sara set out for the race, and they’re doing really well right up until Sara’s leg gives out and the boat capsizes. There are a few wide shots before that to show their position in the race, but the whole sequence is filmed with a focus on the pair of them working together; the camera rarely leaves their boat. Thanks to that choice, the boat race doesn’t feel like a boat race but a more personal yardstick, a barometer for Sara’s willingness to put a waning sense of physical adventure above her own long-term wellbeing. She knowingly made a decision that might hasten her decline because she knew that memory would live with her and Lorenzo forever, however they did in the race. As it happens, despite the boat completely capsizing as far as I could tell, they come in third.
In a coda set a few months later, we see Lorenzo meet with Sara’s very tearful bestie, who hands him a jewelry box. He takes it to the gallery where he and Sara enjoyed an early date and opens it — inside is Sara’s necklace. He puts it on, lays on the floor, and stares up at the frescoed ceiling, imagining the birds coming to life and flying free. The implication is that Sara died in the intervening period.