In This World Can’t Tear Me Down, an old friend’s return to the neighborhood makes Zero realize just how hard it is to help someone find their place in the world. The series is now streaming on Netflix.
Warning: This article contains heavy spoilers
Some people, including Zerocalcare, also known as Zero, and his friend, Secco, are brought to the police station for questioning. As Zero waits for the police to question him, he narrates the events that led to this moment to his conscience, the Armadillo.
35 men, women, and children arrived from Libya a month ago. They were first sent to a neighborhood called Dicksville, but they were not welcomed by the Nazis; the term Nazis is used in the show to refer to fascists.
The Nazis wanted the migrants gone, but the police and the leftists stood in their way. The two groups clashed, and the police used force to arrest people, including harmless women who were just there to support the migrants.
The migrants were then brought to live at a shelter in Zero’s neighborhood. However, there are Nazis here as well, and they want them gone. The whole situation distresses Zero, as there are anti-migrant posters in his neighborhood and Zero cannot do much except rip them.
The incident in Dicksville is being discussed meaninglessly on a TV show, and Zero is going to appear on that show to talk about his upcoming film. He wants to raise his voice and speak about the Dicksville incident, but the show’s producers are not interested in hearing about that.
Furthermore, his agent also asks him not to defend his friends in prison because the people of Italy are currently not sympathetic to their cause. If Zero speaks in their favor, his business and career will also be affected.
Zero is troubled about whether he should speak out or not, and that is when he runs into an old friend, Cesare. Zero and Cesare used to be friends as children, but Zero has not seen him around for 20 years because Cesare went to rehab.
Zero gets invited to Cesare’s house for dinner by Cesare’s mother. Cesare tells Zero that he tried everything in order to not end up in the same neighborhood, but he was unable to get a job, even in the army. On the other hand, Zero complains about having too much work.
Overall, the dinner does not go well, and a disappointed Zero leaves after making empty promises of meeting again. Zero once again rips the anti-migrant posters on his way home, but this time, the Nazis catch him in the act.
It is Cesare who comes to his rescue and stops the Nazis from beating Zero up. However, it turns out that Cesare is also one of them and that he is going to help Zero just once, leaving Zero more disappointed than ever.
Zero remembers that when they were younger, Zero befriended Cesare, and his life changed. No one could fight Zero and his friends or bully them with Cesare by their side.
At the same time, Cesare could not talk to other boys like himself about his feelings because that was considered a weakness, but he could open up to Zero about his feelings and insecurities.
Zero also remembers that Sarah, the friend Zero looks up to and who is also Zero’s beacon that always showed him the right direction, used to tell him to look after Cesare, as he is more sensitive than he looks.
Due to this, Zero decides to talk to Cesare about his stance on the migrant shelter in the neighborhood, but Cesare dismisses him because he does not think that Zero understands what it is like to live as if you are a ghost that no one cares about. Since he has joined the Nazis, people have started listening to him.
Zero gets a bigger shock when Sarah, who has recently started working as a teacher at the school near the shelter, also appears on the TV and says that the shelter should be closed if that is what needs to be done to keep the school open, as the Nazis claim that the students have stopped coming to school because of the shelter.
Zero thinks about how he and Cesare grew distant when Zero got interested in punk rock. Cesare did not understand Zero’s choices anymore and started spending time with the people Zero did not like.
One day, Cesare called Zero out of nowhere and asked him for some money. Despite his initial hesitation, Zero lent him the money, which Cesare used to buy drugs. Cesare was an addict by then. This was the last time they spoke, as Cesare was sent to rehab soon after.
Zero goes to speak to Sarah about her statement on TV. Sarah had always been the smartest girl, and all she wanted was to teach children, but for ten years, she had no prospects, so she spent those years doing a job that she never wanted to do in the first place.
She finally got her dream job at the school near the shelter, but now the Nazis want to close that school because of the shelter, which means that she might lose her job again. That is why she gave that statement because she does not want to be stuck in her life when her friends keep moving forward.
Zero and Secco join the people opposing the Nazis and go to the city council, where the council will be voting on an agenda proposed by the Nazis; they want the next council meeting to be held near the shelter.
The Nazis want to hold the meeting to decide whether the shelter should be closed or not in the community because then Nazis from all over Rome can come there in large numbers to give the impression that the whole city wants the shelter closed.
The council votes in favor of the agenda, and it is decided that the next meeting will be held near the shelter. The two sides prepare to face each other on the day of the meeting, which is also the day Zero has to appear on the TV show. Zero plans everything, but nothing goes as planned.
This World Can’t Tear Me Down ending explained in detail:
Does Zero stay for the meeting?
People opposing the Nazis gather before the meeting, and Zero starts doubting his stance. The idea of fighting people like Sarah and Cesare, the friends he has grown up with, makes him hesitate and second-guess his choices.
Zero does not think he has the right to judge his friends because their lives and circumstances have been different. However, Secco tells Zero that he was an orphan and was not given anything in life, but he still did not turn out like Cesare.
He makes Zero understand that everyone has got issues, but that should not be used as an excuse to mistreat those who are less fortunate. Another friend tells Zero that they will be remembered as the neighborhood that stopped, or at least tried to stop, the Nazis.
This makes Zero stay. He marches with like-minded people to oppose the Nazis. They reach the place where the meeting is supposed to take place. Zero’s group comes face to face with the Nazis, including Cesare.
Why are students not attending school?
The two sides eventually clash, and Zero spots Ludovico, a student he used to tutor years ago, among the Nazis. Zero also gets beaten up, and it is Secco who comes to his rescue.
Sarah uses a microphone to stop the two sides from fighting each other. She makes them see that the media has been enjoying the show with their cameras and that they are the only ones benefiting from this.
The police only come when Sarah stops people from fighting. Sarah then asks Domenica, a janitor who works at the school, to speak. Domenica tells the people that students had stopped attending school long before the arrival of the migrants.
The problem is not the migrant shelter; it is the lack of infrastructure and amenities that drive students away to better schools.
How does the riot end?
After Domenica, Cesare also comes forward and talks about the real problem. He does not hate the migrants but the people at the top who keep dumping all their problems in this neighborhood.
This leads to Cesare getting beaten up by his own side. The police do nothing to help him and arrest Zero’s side when they try to save Cesare. The ambulances also arrive at the scene to take the injured people. Zero never makes it to the TV show.
Who hit Ludovico?
The police keep Zero and the others at the police station and question them because a boy got injured in the riot. This boy is none other than Ludovico, who is the son of a very important man.
The police eventually let Zero and his friends go. Zero does not even get questioned. He is told that the police will report everyone and that the trial will not happen for years.
When he comes out of the station and meets his friends, Sarah shows them a video of the riot. The video reveals that it was Cesare who hit Ludovico when Ludovico and the other Nazis were beating him up.
Do Zero and his friends report Cesare?
Zero and his friends know that the police will not let the incident go because of Ludovico’s father. The journalists are already writing about everyone who was brought in for the questioning and showing them in a bad light. This might even impact their careers.
They also know that if they report Cesare, they will be able to come out of this unharmed. However, when they see Cesare leaving the police station all alone, supporting bruises given to him by the people who were supposed to be his friends, they decide to delete the video of Cesare hitting Ludovico.