This post includes a brief plot summary and an explanation about the ending of the film Secret Window (2004). Beware of spoilers.
Directed by David Koepp, the 2004 psychological thriller is based on a novella of the same name written by Stephen King. The film stars Johnny Depp as Mort Rainey. Today’s post is solely based on the film, not the novella.
Secret Window (2004) – Plot Summary
Mort Rainey is a writer and he is currently living in a reclusive cabin in the woods. The man has recently separated from his wife (Amy) after he caught her sleeping with another man (Ted).
One day, Mort receives a visit from a man named John Shooter from Mississippi. The latter claims that Mort plagiarized his short story (Sowing Season). Mort denies the allegations and brushes the man off. Shooter eventually leaves Mort’s property, but before that, he hands Mort a manuscript of “Sowing Season”.
After reading the short story, Mort realizes that one of this published stories (Secret Window) is identical to Shooter’s Sowing Secret, except for the ending.
The next day, Mort meets up with Shooter again. The writer claims that he published Secret Window two years before Shooter wrote Sowing Season. However, this information does not convince Shooter, as he demands proof and warns Mort to keep the police out of their dispute.
That same night, Mort finds his dog (Chico) dead outside of the cabin. Shooter gives Mort an ultimatum: three days to show proof that he wrote the story first. The threat prompts Mort to report the incident to the local authorities. Sheriff Newsome hears Mort’s complaints but does not seem to take him very seriously.
Mort drives to his old house to seek a copy of the magazine that contains Secret Window’s story in it. However, he turns around and leaves after spotting Amy and Ted together. Meanwhile, the writer hires a private investigator (Ken Karsch) to keep an eye on Shooter. That same night, Shooter appears again and demands Mort to change the ending of Secret Window. In Shooter’s version, the protagonist kills his wife.
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Amy calls Mort and informs him that someone set fire to their house. At this point, Mort informs the police that he has an enemy: John Shooter. While going through their assets in a lawyer’s office, Mort assures Amy that he did not plagiarize Secret Window, while reaffirming that he only did it once in the past. Meanwhile, Ted interrupts their conversation and pulls Mort to the side. The two exchange a few angry words and Mort finds out where Ted is from: Shooter’s Bay.
Karsch schedules a morning meeting with Mort at a local diner. The two plan to reach out to Tom Greenleaf and ask him about John Shooter since he’s the only one who saw Shooter other than Mort. However, the writer oversleeps and arrives late at the place.
One his way back, Mort sees Ted at a local gas station. He confronts Amy’s lover and the two get into another argument. Due to a series of bizarre events, Mort is now suspicious of Ted, who he believes to be the one who hired Shooter to intimidate him.
Later on, Shooter calls Mort to meet up again. When the writer arrives at the spot, he sees Greenleaf’s car. Mort takes a closer look and finds two dead bodies inside the car: Tom Greenleaf and Ken Karsch. Shortly after, Shooter appears and warns Mort not to call the police: he committed the murders with objects that belong to Mort. Scared that the police might imply him to the murders, Mort decides to dispose of the bodies. In order to do that, the writer pushes the car into a cliff and watches it sink into the deep lake.
The magazine containing Mort’s story arrives at the post office. However, the pages containing Secret Window are missing: someone ripped them. Once again, Mort suspects that Shooter is behind this incident. Enraged, the writer drives back to his house. Then, Mort sees Shooter’s hat laying on the floor. Curious, Mort puts it on and starts talking to himself. The conversation escalates and Mort starts yelling at multiple versions of himself.
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Mort is slowly losing control of his mind. At this point, it’s clear that Shooter does not exist, it’s a character that Mort fabricated in his head. This means that Mort was the one who murdered Chico, Greenleaf and Karsch. In addition, Shooter is actually a combination between two words: “shoot” and “her”. On a unconscious level, Mort wants his wife dead.
When Amy arrives at Mort’s cabin, she quickly realizes that something is off: the place is really messy and it has “shooter” written all over it. Amy comes to the realization that Mort is mentally unstable and that he wants to kill her. Therefore, Amy runs for her life but to no avail. Mort catches Amy and drags her inside the house. Shortly after, Ted arrives looking for Amy, but Mort ambushes him and kills him with a shovel. Then, Mort goes back to Amy to finish her off too.
A couple of months later, Mort appears to be a completely different person: he’s in a much better mood and more chatty towards the local people. However, Sheriff Newsome shows up at Mort’s cabin to warn him not to come to town any more because the residents are feeling uneasy with his presence.
The sheriff knows that Mort murdered Amy and Ted but at the moment, the authorities don’t have enough evidence to link Mort to their deaths. Although Mort complies, he also smirks at the sheriff while emphasizing the importance of endings and how the one that he is writing is perfect.
Secret Window (2004) – Ending Explained
A lot of things happen towards the end of Secret Window. It’s clear that Mort Rainey has completely lost his marbles and murdered his wife and her lover. However, there are still some question that need an answer. First, what’s wrong with Mort Rainey? Second, why is the man wearing braces after he killed Amy? Third, why is he eating so much corn? Last but not least, is Mort Rainey the villain of this story?
What’s wrong with Mort Rainey?
So, how did Mort went from successful mystery writer to murderer that grows corn out of his wife and her lover’s dead bodies?
Mort’s mental health hasn’t been the best ever since he caught his wife Amy cheating on him with another man (Ted). Although, Amy claims that her marriage to Mort was already over when she started sleeping with Ted, Mort’s anger kind of hints a different side of the story.
Secret Window has a very unreliable narrator: Mort Rainey. Therefore, the first two thirds of the story are not an exact description of the events, because they are showing the story from Mort’s point of view. Having said that, the motel flashback is a pivotal illustration of Mort’s state of mind. Since the beginning, Mort convinced us (the audience) that he just went to the motel room and berated at Amy and Ted. However, he did more than that: Mort Rainey pointed a gun at them.
As the story unravels, the little details start to make more sense. For instance, the antagonist’s name: John Shooter. Why that last name? The word “shooter” has a hidden meaning: it’s a manifestation of Mort Rainey’s unconscious desire to kill Amy (shoot her). Then, there is another funny coincidence: Shooter’s Bay. Guess who is from that place? Ted. Let’s not forget about the “hat”: Mort Rainey bought it when he and Amy were still together as a couple. While looking at himself with the hat, Mort created a character with similar traits to Shooter’s.
The big reveal happens when Mort Rainey starts talking to himself. The multiple versions of Mort Rainey in that scene hints that the writer has some type of dissociative identity disorder. John Shooter is one of Mort’s personalities. The writer uses John Shooter’s persona to perform all the terrible acts that he cannot as Mort Rainey which includes murder and other criminal acts (i.e. arson).
Why is Mort Rainey wearing braces after he killed Amy?
The films never fully explains why Mort is wearing braces after the murders. However, there are a couple of possible explanations: one is quite simple, while the other one is more sinister.
Let’s start with the simple one… Theory no. 1: when Amy was fighting for her life, she kicked Mort in the face. The physical trauma could’ve messed Mort’s teeth and now he need braces to fix it.
Now, let’s move to a more sinister theory about the braces… Theory no. 2: John Shooter took over Mort Rainey and the latter is not coming back (ever again). Throughout the film, Mort Rainey displays a very peculiar habit whenever he is in a stressful situation: opening and closing his jaw in a very aggressive manner. Braces can correct jaw problems. Could it be that John Shooter is trying to eliminate every last bit of Mort Rainey? Including his mannerisms?
What’s the significance of corn in Secret Window?
When Sheriff Newsome went to Mort’s cabin, there was a lot of corn all over the kitchen. Also, Mort himself was about to enjoy another ear of corn. So, what’s the meaning behind all the corn displayed?
The police has yet to find Amy and Ted’s bodies. Nonetheless, the whole town including the sheriff somehow knows that Mort is the culprit behind their deaths. So where did the bodies go? The final shot of the film hints that Mort buried the bodies under all that corn that he has planted on his backyard.
In a nutshell, Mort is trying to get rid of the physical evidence (bodies) and build a new narrative around the events. At this point, the writer is trying to dissociate himself from Amy and Ted’s murders. In Secret Window’s new ending, the protagonist likes to highlight the idea that time erases everything. Since the novel is almost a mirror of Mort’s real life, the writer will eventually forget that he’s the one behind the murder of his own wife (Amy).
Is Mort Rainey the villain of this story?
There are no doubts that Amy and Ted are dead because of Mort. However, does that make him the villain of this story?
It seems like Amy’s adultery was the main trigger for Mort’s psychosis. However, did Amy really cheat on Mort? According to her, their marriage was already over when she started to venture out and look for other options. However, judging by Mort’s reaction when he found Amy in another man’s arms, it looks like their marriage was still a thing. So, where is the truth? Maybe somewhere in between.
Let’s suppose that Amy did cheat on Mort, would that justify him killing his own wife (or soon to be ex-wife)? Murder is a violent act and a crime, therefore, the answer is no. Although Mort has all the right to feel angry about the divorce, he shouldn’t have killed his wife. Not to justify his actions, but if Mort didn’t care for Amy that much, he probably wouldn’t mind letting her go.
All that said, is Mort the “bad guy” of this story? Personally, I wouldn’t label Mort Rainey as a villain. Some might even call Mort a victim, but I disagree. At the end of the day, people are still responsible for their actions and Mort chose to take his anger on Amy and Ted.
The real tragedy behind Mort and Amy’s marriage was their inability to cope with loss. Mort used to be a man with an enviable life. The writer had a successful career, a loving wife and a beautiful house. However, losing a baby changed everything. According to Amy, Mort became emotionally distant and after a certain point, she couldn’t reach him any more.
Fast forward to present time, Mort went from a man who seemed to have it all to someone who lost it all. Actually, his writing career is still going, but the house is no longer there (he burned it down) and his wife is also out the picture (he killed her).
Secret Window is by no means a perfect film. There were a lot of clues throughout the film hinting that John Shooter and Mort Rainey are the same person: for instance, both characters smoke the same cigarette brand. No other people in the film sees John Shooter besides from Mort Rainey. Coincidence? Probably not, especially when one takes into account the genre (psychological thrillers). Despite of not being the finest masterpiece, Secret Window is still a very fun film to watch.
Now, you are probably wondering why have I used the wrong “fun” instead of “intriguing” when describing the film. The premise of the film is intriguing, but the execution made it look more like a comedy than a psychological thriller. Let’s start with our protagonist Mort Rainey: the man is a hot mess. He can barely take care of himself and on top of that, he’s living alone in the woods. That sounds like a recipe for disaster.
Although Amy and Ted end up dead because of Mort, it’s hard to feel sympathy for them. Personally, I did not. Ted is not a very likeable character: the man knew that Amy was a married woman but he still went to pursue her. That’s some trashy behaviour.
Then, there is Amy. On the surface, Amy seems to be a nice person who cares about Mort’s well being. However, when Mort refuses to sign the divorce papers, she also starts to lose her patience. Despite of being a normal reaction, it does make one question whether she truly cared about Mort or was she acting “nice” to get it over faster.
The film does give the impression that both Amy and Ted did Mort dirty, but that reading might be wrong since two thirds of the story are from Mort’s point of view. Having said that, everything that the viewer knows so far is from Mort’s narrative of the events, which might not match with what really happened.
Despite of knowing that Mort Rainey is an unreliable narrator, I did not dislike the ending. Actually, I found it very satisfying. Does that sound twisted or what? So, the plot twist itself wasn’t that exciting, but the fact that Mort Rainey got away with murder, I did not see that coming, hence, I found the ending quite refreshing.
Secret Window is one of those films that triggers your personal biases. If you truly believe that Amy and Ted were trying to take advantage of Mort, then, you’ll probably be okay with their deaths. However, if you believe that those two did nothing wrong and the whole negative narrative is false, then the ending will definitely anger you.
Last but not least, John Turturro really shines in Secret Window. Although Johnny Depp is the big star of this film, John Turturro does not fall behind with his amazing performance as John Shooter. The film itself is not scary at all, but John Turturro really elevates the tension in all the scenes where he appears in. What about Johnny Depp? As always, the actor delivered a very enjoyable performance: he made Mort Rainey human even in his darkest moments.