'The Life Ahead' Ending Explained: Why does Momo smile at the lioness at Rosa's funeral?

Based on the novel 'The Life Before Us' by Romain Gary, Rosa and Momo's story is one of a kind

                            'The Life Ahead' Ending Explained: Why does Momo smile at the lioness at Rosa's funeral?

Spoilers for the 'The Life Ahead'

Madame Rosa (Sophia Loren) and Momo (Ibrahima Gueye) couldn't be more alike, no matter their initial struggles at seeing each other's true selves. Rosa, an old Holocaust survivor, runs a daycare where Momo is forced to live after he tries stealing from her. Momo, a 12-year-old Senegalese immigrant has seen enough to not chase happiness; he just wants quick money and a thrill of rebellion to enjoy life. Yet, their worlds collide, and after the initial spitfire, they go from chasing and yelling at each other to becoming near-fugitives in the basement of their own home, as Rosa's health and memory fizzles, but she refuses to stay in the hospital. When Rosa finally dies, Momo's imaginary lioness friend pays him a visit after being gone for a while, and he smiles at her. The reason? He has found the home his heart has been chasing after. 

Based on the novel 'The Life Before Us' by Romain Gary, Edoardo Ponti's Netflix's adaptation 'The Life Ahead' sees Rosa and Momo's story as one of a kind. She's a Holocaust survivor caring for children of sex workers and Momo is the rebel. After spending a few days cooped up inside the basement of the building and taking care of Rosa throughout, Momo finally gets caught by Rosa's neighbor while he's trying to sneak water into their hideout. When Momo runs to the room Rosa was resting in, he shuts the door right behind him and breaks into sobs as Rosa's lifeless body comes into focus, lying on the makeshift bed in the basement. The next scene shows Rosa's funeral, as the final rites are being performed, we see a decent enough crowd.

There's Dr Coen, who was treating the immigrant boy and knew of his coping mechanism lioness. He was the one who sent Momo to Rosa after the boy returned the stolen goods to the doctor. Under Rosa's care, Momo also grew to have a sense of a family for the first time in his life. As much as he loves rebelling and earning fast cash through drug peddling, Rosa's care got him a respectable job at a local rug seller's, thereby adding another caring figure in Momo's life. Momo also got acquainted with Rosa's loving neighbor (Abril Zamora) and his circle grew to two younger peers in the children under Rosa's care.

Having grown up running from his father, who killed his mother for refusing to continue with her sex-work, this sense of love and belonging was something Momo induced into his life through the overly-affectionate lioness he had crafted as an imaginary friend. The lioness was the mother he so dearly missed — probably why the figure decided to take some time off as Rosa and Momo's relationship grew stronger. Finally, at Rosa's funeral, the lioness reappeared, but this time, it's almost as if Momo could see Rosa in her. He knew he was safe, surrounded by people he could come home to, and therefore, the scene fades off with him smiling at the animal.

'The Life Ahead' is now available for streaming only on Netflix.

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