Five Feet Apart is a film about terminally ill teenagers, so it’s expected right from the get-go that the plot is going to flirt—and flirt with death, it does. Two years after its release, the film still holds a special place in its viewers’ hearts.
The plot revolves around the tightly wound Stella (Haley Lu Richardson) and the cynical, couldn’t-care-less Will (Cole Sprouse), two teens who both have cystic fibrosis. In addition to CF, Will also has an infection called B. Cepacia, which makes him sicker and more dangerous to fellow CF-ers.
Stella and Will initially clash due to their differences in perspective, but the animosity gradually melts away and gives way to mutual romantic interest.
The teens must remain six feet apart at all times to prevent them from contracting life-threatening infections from each other. However, Stella eventually decides to “steal” back one foot, and they decide to keep five feet between them instead of six—hence the title “Five Feet Apart”.
So, in this story that flirts with death throughout, who dies?
1. Characters Who Die in ‘Five Feet Apart’
Surprisingly (or maybe not at all surprisingly, depending on how you look at it), neither of the protagonists, Stella and Will, are shown to die in the movie.
However, two other characters die—Stella’s older sister Abby (Sophia Bernard) and her fellow CF-er and best friend Poe (Moisés Arias).
2. What Happened to Stella’s Sister Abby?
Abby’s death isn’t shown to us right off the bat, even though this character has already passed away before the timeline in which the movie takes place.
We are first introduced to Abby through her beautiful artwork depicting a pair of lungs made out of flowers and butterflies, suspended in outer space. The lungs are meant for Stella, who needs new lungs to live longer. We soon learn that Abby was a pillar of support for Stella, accompanying her into operation theatres and helping her fall asleep. It is clear that the sisters shared a close bond.
Will suspects that Abby may have passed away, because Stella gets awkward and avoidant whenever asked about her, and Abby’s social media has been silent for months.
Eventually, Stella confides in Will that Abby passed away a year ago due to a cliff diving accident. Stella was supposed to accompany Abby on the trip, but had to back out at the last moment due to a CF flare-up. Abby’s adventure went horribly wrong, and she died after breaking her back.
Stella suffers from immense survivor’s guilt due to the circumstances of her sister’s death, and the fact that she couldn’t be with her in her last moments.
3. How Does Poe Die? How Does His Death Affect Stella?
Throughout, the film’s focus remains on Stella and Will, and whether or not they’ll succumb to the temptation of breaching the requisite five feet between them. Nurse Barb is usually most concerned about this as well.
Between all of this, Stella’s friend Poe gets forgotten, and he’s the one who dies. It’s a running joke that he keeps pressing the emergency button by accident, but this time, it’s a real emergency. We see a stomach-churning portrayal of Poe dying, as a lack of oxygen makes his face goes pale and his lips go blue, before he eventually slips away for good.
Poe’s death serves as a turning point for Stella. She is wracked with grief and is filled with regret at not being able to hug her best friend before he died. She decides she wants to go out and make the most of her own life, and decides to see the city lights with Will—something she had wanted to do for a while.
4. Do Stella and Will Infect Each Other?
Throughout most of the movie, Stella’s strict adherence to the rules and her treatment ensures that she and Will stay apart as they should.
However, when the two of them go out for a walk the night of Poe’s death, Stella falls into a frozen pond. Will has no choice but to perform mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to save her life.
Miraculously, Stella later tests negative for Will’s infection, but is warned that she may still get infected in the future.
5. Stella and Will’s Ultimate Fate
Soon after the frozen pond incident, Stella manages to get her much-needed lung transplant, which gives her hope for a better, healthier life.
However, Will’s fate is not so lucky. He had been on trial drugs to help with his CF and B. Cepacia, but it soon becomes clear that they aren’t working. He isn’t eligible for a lung transplant either. His time is running out, and he knows it.
Will tearfully says his goodbyes to Stella (through the glass wall that separates them as she is in a recovery room after her transplant surgery), telling her she must go on even without him. They profess their love to each other in the heart-rending scene.
“We wanted to keep the ending open for interpretation. A lot of people who saw the movie assume that [Will] lived. It’s intentionally open. I won’t speak too much about it because I want people to have their own feelings about it, but yes, we filmed a handful of different endings, and some endings were more concrete.”Cole Sprouse
Ultimately, even though it is heavily implied that Will is losing his battle against his illness, we are not actually shown his death. According to what Cole Sprouse said during his interview with Refinery29, the filmmakers purposely left the ending open-ended, to let viewers draw their own conclusions.
So, ultimately, it’s up to us as viewers to imagine the ending we want!
6. About Five Feet Apart
Five Feet Apart is a 2019 terminal romance about 17-year-old Stella, a cystic fibrosis patient whose life is full of routines, boundaries, and self-control.
All of that is put to the test when she meets Will, an impossibly charming teen who is also terminal like her.
Despite all the restrictions telling them to maintain a safe distance for fear of infecting each other, there’s an instant connection.
As their connection intensifies, so does the temptation to throw the rules out the window and embrace the consequences.