Secret Window is a 2004 American psychological thriller film written and directed by David Koepp. It is adapted from Stephen King’s story Secret Window, Secret Garden, and stars Johnny Depp as a writer accused of plagiarism by a mysterious man played by John Turturro, as well as Maria Bello as the former’s ex-wife. It was moderately commercially successful and earned mixed reviews.
The ending of Secret Window might be a bit confusing for people, which is why we decided to explain what actually happened in the end of the movie. We are going to analyze the narrative elements of the story, as well as the meaning of the final scene, and how it all connects to the movie’s enigmatic ending and the overall story presented in the movie.
What happens in Secret Window?
Morton “Mort” Rainey is a writer of horror novels and psychological thrillers. One night, Mort sneaks into a motel room, where he discovers his wife Amy in the company of her lover Ted Milner. After the divorce, Mort moves into solitude in a house in the woods, trying to overcome the writer’s block that has plagued him for some time.
One morning he is awakened by a man who knocks on his door: the man, who identifies as John Shooter, claims that Mort stole a tale of him, “Sowing Season”. After a brief altercation in which Mort rejects the accusations of plagiarism, the man drives off, leaving the manuscript of the story on the porch.
Reading it, Rainey realizes that, except for the ending, it is almost identical to an old story of his, “Secret Window”. The next day he runs into Shooter again, who continues to claim ownership of the tale; Mort replies that the about him was written long ago, completed in 1994, and published the following year in a magazine, which remained in his old house, now inhabited by Amy.
Shooter demands evidence of this and warns Rainey about the consequences of police involvement. One evening Mort notices an intimidating note posted on a window, and discovers that his dog Chico was killed with a screwdriver. After going to the police station to report the incident to Sheriff Dave Newsome, Mort goes to Ken Karsch, a private investigator and his old friend, who asks him to guard his house.
Mort also suggests questioning a local, Tom Greenleaf, who may have information on Shooter’s account. The same evening Shooter goes again to Rainey’s house, to whom he orders to change the ending of his story (in the story of Shooter the protagonist kills his wife) and to publish it under his name, threatening to involve his ex-wife Amy.
Rainey tries to attack Shooter with a shovel, but he defends himself by stunning him, and then walks away. The next day Mort learns from Amy that their old house has been set on fire, which causes constant tension between him and Ted. Mort becomes convinced that Ted himself is the instigator of the intimidation and the two confront each other at a gas station, where Ted breaks his hand in an attempt to hit him, after trying to get Mort to sign the divorce papers.
The latter is contacted by Ken, from whom he learns that Greenleaf denies having seen him in the company of Shooter. The two decide to speak to Greenleaf in person the following morning in the bar he frequented. Mort is late for the meeting, finding no trace of the two men. Shortly thereafter he receives a phone call from Shooter, who sets up a meeting in the woods.
At the scene, Mort discovers to his horror that Greenleaf and Ken have been killed, and passes out from shock. When he wakes up Shooter appears, who claims to have killed them for getting involved in the matter, advising Mort to get rid of the two bodies, since the screwdriver with which Greenleaf was killed belongs to Rainey.
The two agree to meet on the same day, as Mort had already ordered a copy of the magazine containing his story. Greenleaf’s car, with the two men’s bodies inside, is pushed by Mort off a cliff into a lake, risking being dragged as well. He then goes to the post office to collect the package and return home, where he realizes that the package has already been opened.
Someone has in fact torn the pages of the story, the only evidence available to Mort. Seeing Shooter’s hat on the porch, Mort picks it up and puts it on, starting to talk to himself about what is happening to him, realizing that Shooter is nothing more than a figment of his imagination. Mort, in fact, suffers from a dissociative personality disorder, and Shooter is a representation of his dark side of him, which allows him to commit acts that he normally could never conceive (the killing of Chico, Tom, and Ken, in addition to the fire).
How does Secret Window end?
Amy, who in the meantime has decided to go to Mort’s house, finds the house turned upside down and with the walls covered with the writing “Shooter”, a name that comes from Mort’s desire to kill her, as revealed by some flashbacks. Mort makes an appearance by mimicking Shooter’s movements and accent, attacking Amy and injuring her leg with a screwdriver.
Amy defends herself by hitting him in the face with a kick and managing to get out the back door. Ted, who also went to the place, is attracted by Amy’s screams, ending up being killed by Mort, who first stuns him and then decapitates him with a shovel. Mort also kills Amy at this point, not before mentioning the ending of the story written by Shooter.
Sometime later, Mort has now overcome writer’s block and his mood appears significantly improved. Sheriff Newsome shows up at his home, claiming he knows what Mort has done, and that he will soon be jailed. Mort doesn’t seem to be bothered by the allegations, saying “the most important thing in the story is the ending, and this works beautifully, in fact, it’s perfect!”
The sheriff walks away, and the shot moves through a secret window to the garden behind the house, where Amy and Ted’s corpses were most likely buried, while Rainey’s voiceover quotes once again the ending written by Shooter. In fact, Mort has begun to grow and consume corn to destroy any possible evidence that could frame him. After a final cut to Mort eating a cob of corn, the screen goes black.
Did Mort steal the story in Secret Window?
As you might assume, knowing that this is based on a story written by the great Stephen King, Secret Window is a very surreal narrative experience where you cannot really say anything for sure. This is completely in accordance with King’s usual writing (style), as he often likes to give us stories that border on reality and that make us wonder whether what we’ve seen was real or not. Secret Window is a prime example of that.
The issues of Secret Window arise from the unreliable narrator. Mort is an extremely unreliable narrator, both because he’s narrating his own story, and because he is mentally unstable. This whole movie is actually a representation of Mort’s deteriorating psyche and the creation of his demonic alter ego, Shooter. Although Shooter was depicted on screen by another person (John Turturro), it was later revealed that he was a reflection of Mort’s psyche and not an actual person.
This is why, ultimately, Mort did not steal Shooter’s story. The story was his own, but the healthy part of Mort’s psyche had a different ending than Shooter’s story. This is why Mort’s alter ego, Shooter, was furious with Mort and he accused him of plagiarism. This is, actually, a very intricate psychological game between two parts of the same psyche, between two opposing personalities that lived in the same body.
Mort’s psyche had been deteriorating since he saw his wife cheat on him. Now, it wasn’t a full psychotic breakdown, as one might expect, but rather a very subtle deterioration in which the traumatized writer actually created a separate personality to cope with the trauma. The problem was the fact that Shooter was evil and that he embodied all the negative emotions Mort had, which actually led Mort to commit the crimes, although he was insane. And that is the explanation of this movie.