The Swan (2023): Review and Ending Explained 

Published 09/29/2023, 5:08 PM EDT

Fantasy, darkness, and chosen reactions to situations are the core components of The Swan. A hallmark in tales from Roald Dahl with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory coming to mine, this Netflix Original proceeds on the same lines. It is a take on resilience and self-belief. Fantasy? That’s one way to look at it. The layers come in later, with numerous questions coming forward. Wes Anderson’s short sets the context as it meanders through meticulously balanced frames in his strategically built maze. 

Symmetrical presentation, with hidden doors, is a hallmark of the Academy Award nominee as he brings to life the story of Peter Wilson. A young boy who adores his feathered friends comes across two boys (Ernie and Raymond) who shoot birds for sport. When Peter refuses to allow the woodpecker to be the 15th victim, he is subjected to a journey. It is one that takes him to his breaking point, testing his endurance and willpower. 

What’s good in The Swan?


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The run-time is quite encouraging, with a quarter of an hour duration serving as a quick watch. In the era of short episodes, it would be so convenient to walk/fly onto the next episode. However, Wes Anderson and Netflix’s decision of a single short film allows time for the message to sink in. 

The director’s choice of screen ratio and the creative decision to focus on an on-screen narrator restricts distractions. Colors that do not pop reduce any potential for a loss of focus. This, combined with Rupert Friend’s gripping storytelling, sees him capture two of the audience’s five senses. 

The monologue never gets boring, even having the power to teleport the audience through the fourth wall. One particular sequence that comes to mind is the train tracks. It is frightening to imagine. Despite not having a panicky note while speaking, Friend does little to allow the audience to cast aside their fear. That is where The Swan peaks, but it is just around the midpoint. 

What’s not good in The Swan? 

When something is good, there is a constant human desire to seek more. A sub-20-minute run time can lead to this, with people wanting more; even after they have formed their theories on Peter Wilson. 

One missed opportunity comes in the form of audiences not being able to see the wind hit the protagonist as he lies helpless. Peter Wilson’s character does describe the effect, but given the effort made to transport the viewer to that fateful day; this may have benefitted The Swan and made good become great. 

The Swan: Ending Explained

The ending would be Ralph Fiennes’ speech. He explains his take on the ending where Peter Wilson is on the grass as his mother looks at him. Roald Dahl’s short story shows that he did fly and become the swan, but the film raises a question about…

Did Peter Wilson survive his flight? 

No, and yes. Peter Wilson is the narrator and the subject of the bullying in The Swan. A theory is that he did not even fly. He passed away when the first bullet hit his leg and fell to his death. As he fell from the tree, he remained alive for a bit and imagined a glorious moment of freedom. In the present day, perhaps it is the ghost of an adult Peter Wilson that prowls the maze. But wouldn’t he be a child if he was indeed a ghost?


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The other theory borders on the fantasy lens. It centers on Peter Wilson surviving his flight and making it home. The passersby who saw the swan soar may have considered it a figment of their imagination and did not revisit it. Mrs. Wilson may have elected to hide the wings. But if he survived, what happened to Raymond and Ernie? 

Did Peter Wilson become The Swan?

This seems more likely if the fantasy element is considered. He had a soft spot for birds. When pushed to a point of no return, he did not give up and retained belief in his ability to escape Raymond and Ernie. Peter Wilson took flight. However, he could not land properly, as it was his first experience with wings. The young boy is crumpled in the grass, but Anderson does not clarify his fate. 


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Reubyn Coutinho

42 articles

Reubyn Coutinho is an Editor and Film Critic at Netflix Junkie. This Mass Media Graduate from St. Xavier's has attended MAMI (2019) as a film critic.