1922 Ending Explained by Deffinition
1922 is a Netflix adaptation of the novella of the same name by acclaimed author Stephen King. The historical horror movie stars Thomas Jane in a transformative role that centres around a farmer’s relationship with his son after both participate in the murder of his estranged wife. Horrifying, gory and haunting, the film seems very straightforward, however, there is a lot more beneath the surface and many viewers may be left asking questions at the movie’s close.
Throughout this video I will be discussing the symbolism of the rats and whether the ghosts were real or hallucinations. The latter tying into whether Wilfred killed himself or was murdered.
The symbolism of The Rats
Throughout the film Wilfred is plagued by rats. Historically rats have brought famine, plague and pestilence and are viewed as vermin, able to be stamped out much in the same way that Wilfred’s wife was.
Initially appearing to vacate the corpse of his wife they are a clear extension of her anger from beyond the grave.
The growing number of rats that stalk Wilfred highlight the decay of his wife’s body without having to show it explicitly. As Wilfred’s guilt takes over his mind so do the rats his land, farm, house and even son.
We start with one rat inside the mouth of his wife. Something he reels in disgust at. Another is caught gnawing on the livestock within the barn and from here they escalate in numbers. Though he feels the barn attack is a violation he too viewed the herd so menial that he flippantly killed one as part of the coverup. The rats are no different to him but seeing it play out repulses him. They prey on what he’s done, something made tangible when he’s bitten and has his hand amputated, a constant reminder of misdeeds.
The guilt remains and so the pack grows. hen Wilfred is in the hospital after his amputation, he has a clear opportunity to admit that he murdered his wife but instead he lets the Police believe that a Jane Doe was his estranged partner.
The film doesn’t go as far as the book (he imagines the rats eating him as his dies, revealed in an epilogue to be self-inflicted wounds), but the point stands; they aren’t just disgusting creatures, but disgusting creatures that reflect on him to his ultimate demise. That’s why the literal nature of the ghosts doesn’t matter – the rats make the story more metaphorical as is and are the real thing haunting Wilfred.
Or were they just rats?
What makes Kings work so breathtaking is that the rats can also be viewed more rationally (excuse the pun).
Firstly, a corn farm like Wilfred’s tends to have rats, so it is necessary to keep a strict waste control to prevent the site to get infested by rodents.
When Wilfred threw his wife into the well and piled a cow ontop of the corpse, the rats had a good source to feast upon. From this they were able to reproduce. It is not surprising that the farm, including the barn and house was filled with rodents.
Wilfred initially believed that this invasion of rats could be the result of his guilt, that he was literally going crazy so he started taking the pills we saw on a couple of occasions. Those were hysteria pills.
If you research this type of medicines that were prescribed for women at that time, they contained a mixture of opiates, cocaine and chloroform, which consumed in large quantities – as Wilfred did- generate hallucinations on the patient. Exactly as we saw it.
So you can admit that much of what he Wilfred saw was the effect of taking drugs combined with alcohol.
Were the Ghosts real?
Stephen King’s work is heavily steeped in the super natural. Throughout his rich body of work, there are thousands of examples of ghosts and specters haunting the characters that inhabit the books. That is why I am inclined to believe that the Ghosts were a true manifestation of the guilt that stemmed from his one horrific decision.
In the basement, Wilfred utters that “she whispered secrets to me only a dead woman could know.” This definitely confirms to me that Wilfred was haunted as it is the only possible scenario that allows him to know of his son’s death in advance.
King’s work is plagued with characters who under stress are able to visit or view higher dimensions and Wilfred definitely fits this role.
Did Wilfred Die At The End?
Whilst the book is very clear in its protagonist’s fate, the film is left open-ended. Personally, I believe that Wilfred survives the encounter with the specters due to the final line uttered by his son. Stating that it will be quick, it clearly carries the connotations of his wife’s murder which was too promised to be fast but instead was drawn out and painful.
To me, the specters want Wilfred to suffer for as long as possible and now that he has finally confessed they will want him to take his punishment in the living world before succumbing to the torture that awaits him in the after life.
The cruelest of all fates.
Obviously a lot of the film is open to interpretation and I would love to hear your thoughts on the symbolism of The Rats as well as whether the ghosts were real or not so please leave a comment below.