Netflix’s short film ‘The Swan’ revolves around Ernie and Raymond, who are celebrating the former’s birthday with a gun he received as a gift. While shooting down birds for fun with the gun, the vicious duo comes across Peter Watson, a harmless boy who has been observing a bird. Ernie and Raymond then tie Peter’s hands and make him lie down on the railway track to find out whether the moving train will kill the boy. Meanwhile, the narrator reveals that he is the grown-up Peter. Although the train passes through the track, it doesn’t kill Peter. Ernie and Raymond then come across a swan on the lake.
Ernie and Raymond kill the swan despite the opposition of Peter. After killing the bird, they cut down the wings of the bird and attach the same to Peter. The duo then leads the boy to a willow tree that hangs onto the lake. They force him to climb the tree and stand above one of the highest branches of the same. When Peter gets on top of a branch, Ernie and Raymond ask him to fly from the same after threatening to shoot him with the former’s gun. Ernie fires the gun once as a warning but Peter doesn’t follow the duo’s order.
Peter’s “disobedience” provokes Ernie, who fires the gun once again. What follows is a fantastical development concerning Peter’s escape from the two boys. But how does he do it? Well, let us unravel the nuances of the short film’s ending!
The Ending: Peter Watson’s Ambiguous Flight
After getting shot, Peter doesn’t remain on the branch. He flies away to his house in the village and lands on his compound, alarming his mother. Multiple villagers also witness Peter’s unbelievable and puzzling flight. Naturally, the viewers must be wondering how a typical English boy named Peter, hailing from a generic British village, can fly away like a bird. That’s where the narrative of ‘The Swan’ becomes fantastical or even allegorical, departing from its brutally realistic narrative style of the majority of the short film. Wes Anderson’s short film is an adaptation of Roald Dahl’s eponymous short story and the renowned children’s author uses Peter’s flight as an allegorical development to convey a significant message.
Peter’s flight is a symbol of unflinching endurance and unshakable will the little boy displays when he gets bullied. Peter’s calm and composed life takes a turn when he meets Ernie and Raymond. A life immersed in cherishing the beauty of nature and the world, in general, ends up on the line after the unfortunate meeting. Peter then meets death at a short distance once in the form of a moving train and again in the form of a piercing bullet. The innocence of childhood evaporates from him, leaving him choiceless in front of a life-threatening crisis. Peter’s predicament is severe enough to shake even the mightiest of adults.
But Peter doesn’t cave into the terror of Ernie and Raymond. He doesn’t panic and adds spice to the vicious happiness the two boys have been cruelly celebrating by torturing Peter. He doesn’t beg for the non-existing generosity of the barbarous duo even when his life gets threatened. Dahl, through Peter’s flight, teaches us that endurance in times of danger will result in a positive outcome. As far as Peter is concerned, his endurance and unshakable will result in his escape from Ernie and Raymond, which is manifested through his allegorical flight. By flying away from the captivity of the two boys, Peter attains freedom.
Flight is an action often associated with the concept of freedom. “Flying away” indicates the intention of escaping from someone or something. Peter flies away to attain the same freedom denied by Ernie and Raymond. By attaining that freedom, Peter becomes “unconquerable,” as Dahl himself says in the short film. It is significant to remember that Peter’s flight is a result of endurance. He doesn’t fly away from Ernie and Raymond right after getting the wings. He is capable of doing the same only after going beyond the limits of endurance, which teaches us that patience is a very valuable virtue.
Patience, endurance, and a will to not accept defeat are integral parts of a “free” life. Since Peter has these virtues, they give him the fantastical ability to escape. Dahl, through Peter’s endurance and eventual flight, reminds us that patience and endurance will give us the wings to fly above our concerns when we are dealing with supposedly inescapable predicaments.