In the Heights ending explained – who realized their dream?

By Michael Frank
Published: June 11, 2021 (Last updated: December 12, 2023)
the In the Heights ending

This article discusses the In the Heights ending, so it will contain major spoilers. 

Read the review.

Jon M. Chu’s In the Heights, the summer blockbuster adapted from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony-winning musical of the late 2000s, opens on Usnavi (Anthony Ramos) surrounded by children on a beach. He tells them about a block in Washington Heights, his home, a place that teemed with life. A device that Chu and screenwriter Quiara Alegría Hudes continue returning to throughout the film, Usnavi’s retelling of the block’s stories, contained within a single, heat-wave consumed summer, provides a framework for the rest of the film. Usnavi, a Dominican corner bodega owner, talks about his dream of leaving Washington Heights for the Dominican Republic, weaving together the dreams of his friends and family, along with the gentrification of his neighborhood. By the end of the nearly 150-minute film, certain characters’ wishes come true, while others’ fall short. 

In the Heights — the ending explained

Towards the end of the film, Usnavi finally gets his date with Vanessa (Melissa Barrera), and they share their first kiss after he’s moved out of his apartment. His Abuela (and the neighborhood’s), Claudia (Olga Merediz), has died during the blackout after her heart gave out. His cousin, Sonny (Gregory Diaz IV), has entered the DACA application process, hoping for a green card to go to college and become a U.S. citizen. But Usnavi has decided to move back to the Dominican Republic to salvage his father’s beachside business, a wrecked, ruined property on the shore. 

He goes into the bodega on the morning of his flight to find Sonny and Graffiti Pete (Noah Catala) have painted the walls with his dad’s beach, and Vanessa has transformed the space into her workshop, showing off new designs made from Pete’s old graffiti rags. He cancels his flight. He’s staying in the barrio for good, committed to this block that’s always been his home. 

Vanessa’s dreams look like they are coming true, though, as she moves to West 4th Street in downtown Manhattan. Nina (Leslie Grace) has gone back to Stanford for her second year, determined to find a community and come back with the tools necessary to help dreamers in Washington Heights and around the county. Benny (Corey Hawkins) and Usnavi decide to stay on the block to ensure that it doesn’t lose its stories or its shared history. 

The film ends years later, though, as we find out that Usnavi was speaking to these kids, including his daughter, in his bodega with the beach painting behind him. He and Vanessa have married, and they live in Washington Heights, playing and dancing in the spraying water from fire hydrants, looking over a neighborhood that has changed with each year. It’s an ending fitting for a story filled with so much joy. Usnavi’s dream is realized: he’s found his island, his place, and his home for eternity.

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