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.
This post includes a brief plot summary and an explanation about the ending of the film Secret Window (2004). Beware of spoilers.
Secret Window (2004) – Plot Summary
Mort Rainey is a writer. The man has recently separated from his wife (Amy) after he caught her sleeping with another man (Ted).
At his reclusive cabin in the woods, Mort receives a visit from a man named John Shooter. The latter claims that Mort has plagiarized his story (Sowing Season). Mort denies the accusations and brushes him off. Before leaving the writer’s property, Shooter leaves a copy of “Sowing Season”.
After reading Shooter’s short story, Mort realizes that one of his published stories (Secret Window) is identical to Sowing Season, except for the ending.
The next day, Mort meets up with Shooter again. The writer claims that he published Secret Window two years prior to Sowing Season. This information doesn’t seem to convince Shooter who warns Mort to keep the police out of their dispute.
At night, Mort finds his dog (Chico) dead outside of the cabin. Shooter gives Mort three days to prove that he is the original writer of the story. The threat prompts Mort to reach out the local authorities for help but they don’t seem to take him very seriously.
Mort goes to his old house to find a copy of the magazine that published Secret Window. After spotting Amy and Ted together, the writer changes his mind and turns around. Meanwhile, Mort hires a private investigator (Ken Karsch) to keep an eye on Shooter.
That same night, Shooter appears and demands Mort to change the ending of Secret Window. In Shooter’s version, the protagonist kills his wife. Shortly after, Mort receives a call from his wife: someone has set fire to their house. When the police asks Mort whether he has an enemy, the writer names Shooter.
While going to through their assets in a lawyer’s office, Mort reassures Amy that he did not plagiarize Secret Window. Ted interrupts their conversation and pulls Mort to the side. The two exchange a few angry words and Mort finds out that Ted is from a place called Shooter’s Bay.
Karsch schedules a morning meeting with Mort at a local diner. They are going to meet Tom Greenleaf and ask him about John Shooter. Apparently, he is the only one who has seen Shooter besides Mort. However, the writer oversleeps and misses the meeting.
While driving, Mort spots Ted at a local gas station. The writer confronts Amy’s lover and the two get into another argument. Now, Mort is suspicious of Ted, he believes that this man and Shooter are working together to scare him.
Later on, Shooter calls Mort to meet up again. When the writer arrives at the place, he finds Greenleaf and Karsch. Their lifeless bodies are inside the car. Suddenly, Shooter appears and warns Mort to stay quiet about the matter. The man used the writer’s personal belongings to commit the murders.
Out of fear, Mort decides to dispose of the bodies. Therefore, he pushes the car into a cliff and watches it sink into the deep lake. Later that day, Mort goes to the post office to pick up the magazine featuring Secret Window’s story. However, someone has ripped off those pages.
Enraged, Mort drives back to his cabin. Then, he sees Shooter’s hat laying on the floor. The writer puts it on and starts talking to himself. As the conversation escalates, multiple versions of Mort appear and start yelling at each other.
At this point, it’s clear that Shooter does not exist, it’s a character that Mort has created. This means that Mort is the one who murdered Chico, Greenleaf and Karsch. Also, Shooter is actually a combination of two words: “shoot” and “her”.
When Amy arrives at Mort’s cabin, she sees a messy place with “Shooter” written all over the walls. Amy realizes that Mort is mentally unstable. As a result, the woman runs for her life but to no avail. Mort catches Amy and drags her inside the house. Shortly after, Ted arrives. While looking for Amy, Mort ambushes him. The writer kills Ted first, then he finishes off Amy.
A couple of months later, Mort appears to be a completely different person. The writer is in a much better mood. Nonetheless, the local police chief (Sheriff Newsome) warns Mort to stay away from the town. Apparently, the residents are feeling a bit 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. An unbothered Mort smirks at the sheriff and emphasizes the importance of endings. The writer says the one that he is writing is perfect. Then, the film ends with a shot of Mort’s backyard filled with growing corn.
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The Ending of Secret Window Explained
So what is the meaning behind the ending scene of Secret Window? In the end, it’s pretty clear that Shooter is not real, and not only that, Mort is the killer behind Amy and Ted’s deaths. The final scene hints that Mort has buried their bodies in the backyard, which is currently covered with corn.
Although, it’s clear who is the real killer behind all the deaths in Secret Window. There are still some questions that need an answer. For instance, why is Mort Rainey wearing braces after he killed Amy? Second, why is the writer consuming so much corn?
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?
Why Is Mort Rainey eating so much corn?
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?
As mentioned before, the police has yet to find Amy and Ted’s bodies. Nonetheless, the whole whole town seems to know that Mort is the culprit behind their deaths. So, what is the reason behind the writer’s new obsession for corn?
Mort buried Amy and Ted in his backyard to get rid of the physical evidence (and the memory) of their murders. In a nutshell, the writer is trying to dissociate himself from his actions, while he builds a new narrative around the events.
As he writes a new ending for Secret Window, Mort highlights the idea that time erases everything. Since the novel is a mirror of Mort’s real life, it’s implied that, as time passes, the writer himself will eventually forget that he is the person behind the murder of his wife (Amy).
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Secret Window (2004) [Blu-ray]
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 already 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.