So how do these two love stories eventually tie together?
Let’s start by filling in some more background on Ira and Ruth. Ruth loves children and wants a big family. Ira comes back from the war with an injury that makes that impossible. The two fail to adopt, too, but just as they’re resigning themselves to a life without kids, Ruth, who’s taken a job as an elementary-school teacher, brings a half-starved, mistreated student under her care. She believes he has great potential, but the courts do not allow Ira and Ruth to assume guardianship instead of the poor, mean, hollow-eyed relatives who have been neglecting him so shamefully. Though it becomes difficult for Ruth to adjust to life with Ira afterward—she leaves him at one point—the two reconcile and have a wonderful relationship, until Ruth dies in her sleep of old age. Ira even keeps writing her love letters.
After Ruth dies, a stranger comes to Ira’s door with a present. It turns out she’s the wife of the now-grown boy, who turned out to be a great success in academia, thanks in large part to Ruth’s encouragement of him at a young age. She gives Ira a gift in the form of a simple, crude portrait of Ruth that her husband painted. Ira keeps that painting on the wall of their home, but puts all of Ruth’s other paintings in storage, because they’re too painful for him to have around. (And he wasn’t much for abstract art anyway, which is one thing he has in common with Luke.)
In the present, meanwhile, Sophia is just about to leave for a big meeting in New York when she gets word that Luke has suffered another injury in his comeback tour and landed in the hospital. Once there, she discovers that Luke’s previous injury put him in a coma for 10 days and the doctor is urging him never to ride a bull again. But bull-riding is all Luke has! So rather than match Sophia’s sacrifice by giving up his quest for the number-one spot in Las Vegas, Luke heads off for a climactic confrontation with his chief rival, for which he (of course) draws Rango as his bucking bull. Luke stays on for the full eight seconds, but it’s a hollow triumph, because Sophia isn’t there by his side.
Okay, so here we go.
Ira dies. Ira’s lawyer summons both Sophia and Luke to an auction house where they’re selling off Ruth’s art collection. Sophia is stunned to discover that Ruth has masterworks by Andy Warhol, Jackson Pollock, and other modern masters—a collection worth many millions of dollars. But the first item up for bid is for that crummy portrait of Ruth. Bidding starts at $1,000. No takers. Maybe $800? Nope. It falls all the way to $600 when a bid is finally heard from the back: It’s Luke, arriving late to the auction, buying the portrait as a sentimental gesture to Sophia. He’s done with riding bulls, and the two of them can get back together. (Luke didn’t have to sacrifice appearing in the championship and besting Rango and his rival, which is irritating, but let’s continue…) All of a sudden, as Luke is completing the paperwork in the back, there’s a ton of commotion on the auction floor. It turns out, as a stipulation of Ira’s will, that the purchaser of the crummy Ruth portrait, which meant so much to him, would be bequeathed THE ENTIRE ART COLLECTION. The auction is over.
“How much for the Warhol? How much for the Warhol?!” asks one of the attendees. “Fuck you. That’s how much for the Warhol,” Luke says without speaking. The collection allows Sophia and Luke to have their cake and eat it, too. Sophia opens an art gallery featuring the paintings, and Luke has the money to save the family ranch and buy himself a shiny new red truck.
Happy ending? No. The happiest ending.