Endless Love (1981) - Plot Summary Poster



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  • A high-school student's love for a 15-year-old girl is thwarted by parental disapproval, circumstance, and accident; he burns down her family's house and is committed to psychiatric hospital.

  • Young teenagers Jade Butterfield and David Axelrod fall in love, but their passion is too consuming for Jade's bohemian parents, who try to stop them from seeing each other. When that doesn't work, David burns down the Butterfields' house and is sent to a mental hospital. When he gets out he is still in love with her and searches for her. In the end, his passion for his first love is too strong and she must leave or this love will kill both of them.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • In suburban Chicago, 15-year-old Jade Butterfield (Brooke Shields) and 17-year-old David Axelrod (Martin Hewitt) fall in love after they are introduced by Jade's older brother Keith (James Spader). Jade's liberal family is known in their community for a bohemian lifestyle, allowing Jade and David to develop an all-consuming and passionate relationship; including allowing the two to make love in Jade's bedroom. In contrast to the openness of her family, David's home life is boring; his parents are wealthy right-wing political activists who are not actively involved in his life.

    One night, Jade's mother Ann (Shirley Knight) sneaks downstairs, and upon seeing Jade and David make love by the fireplace, starts living through them vicariously. However, Jade's father Hugh (Don Murray) watches the couple with increasing unease. Jade's nightly trysts with David begin negatively impacting her grades and her ability to sleep. She attempts to steal one of her father's prescription sleeping pills but is caught in the act. This is the last straw for Hugh and he insists that David stop seeing Jade until the end of the school term in 30 days. Although David initially causes a scene, Ann gently coaxes him into agreeing, warning him not to allow Hugh to "do something he'll regret".

    Back at school, David's friend Billy (Tom Cruise) informs him that when he was eight years old, he tried burning a pile of newspapers and after he became scared, put out the fire, only to find his parents think he was a hero for saving the house from burning. Inspired by this story, David starts a fire on the Butterfields' front porch and walks away briefly but by the time he returns, the flame has spread too far. He rushes to warn the family but he is too late, the entire house is burned to the ground and David is arrested.

    Following the trial, David is convicted of second-degree arson, sentenced to five years' probation, committed in a mental hospital for evaluation, and forbidden from ever going near Jade or her family again. Nevertheless, he continues to write daily, but his letters are not sent due to the court order to make no contact with Jade. David's wealthy parents pull strings to have him released early, much to Hugh's chagrin. David receives his many letters upon his exit, and upon realizing why Jade never wrote back, David decides to pursue her even though he knows full well that this will violate his parole.

    In the meantime, following the loss of their home, the Butterfield family has moved from Chicago to Manhattan, and Ann and Hugh divorce. In Manhattan, Ann tries to seduce David, but he refuses which leaves her rather nonplussed. When Ann isn't looking, David thumbs through her address book to see where Jade is; he discovers that she now lives in Burlington and attends the University of Vermont. Intent on catching a bus to Vermont, David sees Hugh on the street and Hugh angrily chases him. But while running across the street to catch David, Hugh is run over by a car and killed. Hugh's new wife Ingrid Orchester (Penelope Milford), catches up to the scene just in time to witness David escape.

    Jade later goes to David's apartment to say goodbye but he pulls her back as she tries to leave, throwing her on the bed and forcefully holding her down until she admits she loves him, which she eventually does. Keith comes home to find the pair together again and angrily informs Jade that David is at fault for their father's death. Jade initially refuses to believe this, but when David confirms that he was actually at the scene, she becomes horrified and hides behind Keith. David tries to explain that this was an accident and shoves Keith out of the way in a desperate attempt to grab her. Keith fights him off until the police arrive and arrest David for brawling and disturbing the peace.

    Sentenced to five years in a state prison, David seems doomed never to see Jade again. Jade informs her mother at her father's lakeside funeral that no one will ever love her the way David does, and Ann speaks her understanding and approval. The final scene shows David watching Jade walk towards him through his barred cell window for a visit.

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