The short story The Swan is brought to our screens in the form of a narration through Wes Anderson’s impeccable lens. The 17-minute film is picture-perfect and almost appears like a one-shot film. Rupert Friend narrates this story to us with a visual representation of what happened one day 27 years ago. In pure Wes Anderson style, even if for just 17 minutes, you’re transferred to the world of Peter Watson and his two bullies. The story is rather harsh for one that may be targeted at kids, but it does have a lot of truth in it. The Swan is a short story written by Roald Dahl that discusses the unbreakable strength in oneself and the need to always fight back to the best of your capabilities. Stunning props and camera movement keep us hooked for 17 minutes runtime of the short, which has a crippling ending.
What happens in the film?
The Swan begins with a narrator telling us the story of two bullies, Ernie and his friend Raymond. Ernie’s just received a rifle as a gift for his birthday (a wise choice for a gift, for sure). Ernie decides to try and see what he can kill with his new rifle and calls upon Raymond to join him. The two of them kill 14 birds until they reach the end of the railway line. There, they find young Peter Watson, the introverted 13-year-old who studied too well and knew too much. Peter was frail and weak-looking, and the two older boys loved to take advantage of this. They bully him all the time, and now, with the rifle, Ernie is excited to try some new experiments with Peter. Little Peter had no choice but to pretend he was watching a green woodpecker to get out of the situation, but the older boys wouldn’t listen. They tied up his hands and took him to the railway tracks. Ernie and Raymond didn’t believe Peter. They wanted to teach him a lesson. They put him in the middle of the tracks and wait for a train to arrive. They tie his little feet with rope to the tracks so he has no way of escaping. Watching from the side, they’re told by Peter that this would be murder, but Ernie doesn’t think so. Ernie thinks Peter will make it out alive, maybe just badly injured if Ernie’s luck has it.
Peter, on the other hand, isn’t ready to kick the bucket just yet. He wills himself to wriggle down into the ground, lower, so he can be as flat for the train as possible. He thinks he’s made it two inches lower than he was before when he sees the train approaching from the far end. As it gets closer and bigger, Peter prepares himself, and when it goes over him, it feels like he’s being eaten by a monster, his breath taken away. Above him was a white cloud before the train came by; when it passed him, the cloud was still there. Now, Ernie gets Raymond to untie Peter from the tracks. The boys walk up to a lake nearby with pristine waters in the middle and some bushes on the sides with willow trees all around it. At first, Ernie plans on throwing Peter in as far as they can over the reeds, but Raymond spots a beautiful swan at that moment. They decide to shoot the swan, but Peter bravely tells them not to because it’s a bird sanctuary, and after all, swans are the most protected bird in England. Ernie shoots at the bird, and its beautiful, lanky neck falls onto the side of her nest. The bullies send Peter out to get the bird back to them. When he reaches them, they ask about eggs, but Peter lies, saying there’s nothing there. In truth, there were a couple of cygnets under her, but Peter hopes to keep them safe.
After troubling Peter some more, Ernie cut the wings off of the beautiful white bird and strung up the wings on Peter’s arms, as if they were his own. The large white wings lay on his sides as Peter stood. Ernie then tells him to climb onto one of the willow trees. Peter, calm as a cucumber, makes his way onto the skinny branch that Ernie has asked him to stand on. Ernie then aims his gun at Peter, telling him to jump off the branch, “take flight,” or that he’ll shoot at him. Peter doesn’t move and stays as still as he can. Nothing will move him now. Ernie counts down to 10 and then shoots. He misses Peter, but the second time around, with Peter’s cold stare infuriating him, Ernie shoots and hits Peter in the thigh. The pain is so numbing that Peter feels only the force that knocked him off of the very thin branch he was standing on. Peter grabbed onto a branch, but it snapped.
Just when Peter should’ve given up, he realizes that he will win that day. He will make it, and as he thinks these thoughts, he sees a white light flash ahead of him and leaps towards it. Three eyewitnesses say they saw a white swan looming over the village that day. Peter’s mother saw a white figure crash onto their lawn and cried out in despair, wondering what had happened to her poor boy. While this story is based on true events, we can imagine that Roald Dahl has added an element of fantasy to make us believe that Peter actually did fly. The eyewitnesses could’ve seen a real swan, but if so, why would the narrator tell us about them? The end of the film is rather ambiguous and leaves us wondering if Peter is still alive or not.
The Swan is a story about determination and faith in oneself. Thinking optimistically, because Peter was able to save himself from his bullies the first time around, we think he would’ve survived this one, too. He lies crumpled because his leg is injured, and maybe he won’t walk again, but he has flown now.
Wes Anderson’s The Swan is a compelling film that is short and quick. Some may find it a little bit boring because it is just a short story narrated by a single man with a few props and people to help him out. Still, the important message comes through, and there’s beauty in the way the story is narrated and depicted. There’s nothing much else to say but watch The Swan.