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Film / Secret Window

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"You stole my story."

Secret Window is a 2004 Psychological Thriller, starring Johnny Depp and John Turturro. It was written and directed by David Koepp, based on the novella Secret Window, Secret Garden by Stephen King, collected in Four Past Midnight.

Mystery writer Mort Rainey is severely depressed and in the middle of a divorce. He’s been holed up in his cabin for weeks when one morning John Shooter from Mississippi arrives and accuses Mort of plagiarizing his short story "Sowing Season". Shooter demands retribution. Mort insists he wrote his story first, but makes futile attempts to prove it. He finally tells Shooter he’ll send for a copy of the Ellery Queen magazine issue in which Mort's story was published, and this will prove his was written first. Shooter agrees this will settle the matter, but while Shooter waits for the magazine to arrive, people begin turning up dead.


Beware of spoilers! This movie has some major plot twists.

This film provides examples of:

  • Adaptational Alternate Ending: The ending of the film is completely changed from the novella, despite both keeping the reveal that Mort Rainey is suffering from multiple personality disorder and is in fact his own tormentor John Shooter. However, it then diverges when in the film Mort kills his wife and her new husband and buries them in his garden, the same ending as the novel he was writing in-universe. In the novella, Mort does attempt to kill his wife after his Split-Personality Takeover but ends up getting killed instead when someone else arrives to save her. An epilogue shows her discussing Mort's mental break with her husband and hints that Shooter might be Real After All.
  • Adorkable: Mort, as demonstrated (only) when the audience gets a brief glimpse of what Mort was like before the divorce.
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  • The Bad Guy Wins: In stark contrast to the novel, the movie ends with the evil personality not only taking over the protagonist near the end, but succesfully murdering his ex-wife and her lover. He buries them in his backyard and grows a corn field over it. The police can't prove anything without any bodies and Mort consequently remains a free man. The movie chillingly ends the way Mort's own story does, with the murderous main character savouring some cooked corn cobs fertilized by his victims' corpses.
  • Bait the Dog: Done deliberately with the film version - according to the director, by the time our protagonist finally snaps completely and kills his ex-wife and her boyfriend, we were meant to be too involved with him to stop cheering him on.
  • Black Dude Dies First: Not a slasher movie, but still fits the trope.
  • Character Tics: Mort's habit of opening his mouth and clicking his jaw, which occurs more and more often as he becomes more and more unhinged. This is an actual symptom of schizophrenia.
  • Convicted by Public Opinion: When Mort is eventually revealed to be the killer, Sheriff Newsome interrupts his nonchalant casual conversation and bluntly says in a matter of fact tone that while he can't find the bodies, he knows Mort killed Amy and Ted. And of course, since he's a split personality murderer, Mort is completely confused by the sheriff's out-of-nowhere comment. Also, Mort is told to stop coming into town at certain parts of the day since the locals are freaked out by him. The implications are strong, granted, but the authorities still never find the bodies.
  • Crazy Jealous Guy: The Reveal of who the killer is and what his motive truly is.
  • Dead Animal Warning: Mort's dog is killed with a screwdriver and left as a warning by his Stalker Without a Crush. John Shooter is revealed to be in Mort's head the whole time. Mort killed his own dog.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Mort.
    Mort: Well, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't on the verge of doing Snoopy dances.
  • Death by Adaptation: Amy and Ted. In the novella, Mort died instead.
  • Dream Sequence
  • Foot-Dragging Divorcee: Mort Rainey. It gets to the point where even his wife's new boyfriend is nagging him to get it over with.
  • Foreshadowing
  • Go Mad from the Revelation: Mort when he finds out that Shooter isn't a real person, and was he split personality.
  • Imaginary Enemy: It turns out that the killer is a cross between this and a Split Personality of the main character.
  • It's Been Done: The plot revolves around a man threatening Mort for stealing his story, only to find out that Mort published his story a full two years before he claimed to have written it. Of course, it all ends up being a moot point when it's revealed the whole thing is Mort arguing with himself.
  • Karma Houdini: After Mort murders his ex-wife and her lover, he succesfully disposes of the bodies. He continues to live in the town while the locals are terrified of him and gets away with his crimes because the police can't prove anything without solid evidence, but the sherrif makes it pretty clear that he damn well knows what Mort did.
  • Kick the Dog: Poor Chico. In the novel, poor Bump.
    • Often hits as Fridge Horror for first time watchers because they tend to forget the dog/cat in the rest of the chaos and then remember at the end that if Mort and Shooter are the same person, then Mort killed his own dog/cat.
  • The Killer in Me: John Shooter does not exist; he is a schizophrenic hallucination undergone by Mort Rainey to commit acts (murder, arson) Mort could never consciously bring himself to do.
  • Lampshade Hanging: Watch the movie again after the Tomato in the Mirror ending, and you'll see it's all over the place.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: Mort's closing monologue to the police sheriff.
  • Line-of-Sight Name: Mort believes that Ted is using this trope, noting that the town Ted comes from has the word "Shooter" in it. It is revealed that Mort himself was making up parts of Shooter's personality from things in his daily life.
  • Mad Artist: the main character turns out to be a mad artist (of the 'mystery writer who acts out his own story' type) with Split Personality.
  • Meaningful Name: Shooter's Shoot Her.
    • Additionally, "mort" is French for "death", although this may have been unintentional as his full name is "Morton".
  • Messy Hair: Mort Rainey's hair was described in one review as looking as though it was combed with an eggbeater.
  • Metafiction: Not a particularly extreme example: it's a film (originally novella) about someone writing a short story.
    • More meta: Mort's split personality may be yet another reference to Stephen King's pen name "alter ego" Richard Bachman.
  • Most Writers Are Writers: Mort is a successful author suffering from writer's block. As with many King works he is a loose stand-in for King himself.
  • Nice Hat: Shooter wears one.
  • Not Proven: The sheriff and by extension the whole town. Everyone just knows Mort killed at least two people but without solid evidence, there's nothing to be done.
  • Once More, with Clarity!: Shooter and Mort continually quote the closing lines of Shooter's original version of the story, the meaning of which only becomes apparent at the end. Additionally, Mort continually has flashbacks to when he discovered his wife was cheating on him; only the last of these revealed he threatened her and her boyfriend with a gun.
  • One Dialogue, Two Conversations: Mort and Ted's at the gas station.
  • Plagiarism in Fiction: It's about an author who gets a knock on the door from a stranger who accuses him of plagiarizing a short story he wrote.
  • Psycho Ex-Husband: Mort himself at the end.
  • Real After All: In the novella, after Mort dies and Amy digs through his belongings, she finds Shooter's hat. When she returns there's a note inside from Shooter telling her that he's gone back to Mississippi. She wonders whether Shooter came to life in some form.
  • Red Herring: Ted, Amy's new lover..
  • Revised Ending: In-universe, Shooter's main objection to Rainey's supposedly having plagiarized his story is that he changed the ending, and wants him to change it back to his original ending. Of course, the latter is related to the former.
  • Room Full of Crazy: "SHOOTER ... SHOOTER ... SHOOTER ... SHOOT HER"
  • Shout-Out: A possible one to Talking Heads - at one Mort drives to his wife's house and watches her and her new boyfriend leaving and getting into his car, thinking to himself "This is not my beautiful house. This is not my beautiful wife."
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Mort in the film.
  • Split Personality: Mort. The story ends in Split-Personality Takeover and The Killer in Me.
  • Standard Female Grab Area: The antagonist drags the conscious and struggling female lead along the ground, face-down, by one wrist. No, the villain is not particularly strong; she was just Too Dumb to Live.
  • The Stinger: Johnny Depp singing in a quite disturbing little voice "mama's little baby loves shortbread, shortbread..."
  • Stop Trick: Used in the beginning to make it appear that Johnny Depp's character has driven through a parking lot with the camera on the hood and then backed away from said camera in the same shot.
  • Through the Eyes of Madness
  • Tomato in the Mirror: Mort is Shooter.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Amy walking into Mort's completely trashed house was pretty careless to start with.
  • Trademark Favorite Food: Mountain Dew and Doritos for Mort. This has progressed to corn by the end. Yes, this warrants a spoiler.
  • Unreliable Narrator: The narrator is stalked by a psychopath who accuses him of plagiarizing his book, and who attempts to frame him for several heinous crimes. In the climax, it is revealed that the narrator has been driven to madness over his guilt for plagiarizing a classmate in college, and is unconsciously committing the acts for which he thinks he's being framed. The stalker does not exist outside his own mind (although the novella hedges a bit on this point).
  • Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: Mort Rainey becomes one when it turns out that John Shooter's crimes is of his own doing. Although Mort finally ends up killing his ex-wife and her lover, and his killings stopped.
  • Writer's Block: Mort Rainey suffers from this at the film's opening.
  • Writing About Your Crime: Inverted. Mort murders two people and disposes of the bodies exactly as it happens in the story he had written.
  • Yandere: Mort himself towards Amy at the end.

Alternative Title(s): Secret Window Secret Garden


Example of: