The series of short movies released by Wes Anderson on Netflix in 2023 has represented an exciting journey in the world of Roald Dahl: first, it was The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar, then The Swan, The Rat Catcher, and finally Poison, four interpretations of Dahl’s dreamy and highly symbolic universe. The final release, Poison, is the most enigmatic film of the series: based on a well-known short story by the British author, the plot has a sudden ending and a deeper meaning that needs to be explained. Let’s analyze it.
You can find here on Netflix Tudum the official presentation of Wes Anderson’s four short movies based on Roald Dahl.
Wes Anderson/Roald Dahl, Poison: the ending & meaning
Poison, the short film by Wes Anderson based on the story by Roald Dahl, tells the story of Henry, a man lying on his bed, frightened. When Timber, the narrator, enters the room, Henry orders him to stay silent and get closer slowly. He explains the problem: he has a krait sleeping on his stomach. It’s a highly venomous snake, and Harry is afraid to move a muscle. If the krait bites him, he will die quickly.
The situation in Poison evolves very quickly, and that’s why you need its meaning explained after you reach the ending. Harry tells Timber to call the doctor, and Dr. Ganderbai shows up. He has an idea: he will soak the mattress with chloroform so that the snake will be sedated and they can take it out easily. When the doctor starts acting, Harry begins to raise his voice. “Oh, God Almighty, get on, get on,” he shouts in the short story by Roald Dahl. After waiting enough time, the doctor and Timber pull the sheets, looking for the krait. But there is no trace of the snake. So the doctor asks Harry if it’s possible that he dreamt about it, and that abruptly leads us to the ending of Poison, exposing a meaning that needs to be explained.
What happens at the ending of Poison is that Harry starts shouting racist insults against Dr. Ganderbai. Harry is furious; he felt attacked when the doctor asked if he really saw the snake, but that’s not the real meaning that Roald Dahl wanted to convey. The point is that the moment Harry felt safe, with his life no longer in danger, his true nature came out, and the racism inside him exploded against Dr. Ganderbai, who belonged to a different race.
No snake ever bit Harry in Roald Dahl’s book and Wes Anderson’s short film, but the meaning of the story implies that a poison is anyway inside him: it’s related to the urticating nature of racism, a form of hate that lies inside people, rooted in the irrational repulsion from individuals who are perceived as different. The way racism hides inside Harry for most of the story could make us think that Poison was simply about the battle between a man and a snake, But the ending reveals its meaning: the real focus of Poison by Roald Dahl is the disguising nature of humans, able to be conquered by racism and act irrationally when you least expect it.