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The Dead Don’t Hurt Ending, Explained

The Dead Don’t Hurt Ending, Explained

Viggo Mortensen wrote, directed, produced, and starred in the throwback Western The Dead Don’t Hurt, a passionate labor of love that paid off. Set in 19th-century San Francisco and Nevada, the story concerns Vivienne Le Coudy (Vicky Krieps), a French Canadian settler adapting to life on the harsh American frontier during the Civil War. Vivienne meets and falls for Danish settler Holger Olsen (Mortensen) and the two begin life anew together.

Alas, when Olsen fights for the North in the Civil War, Vivienne faces an unspeakable horror that alters the course of her life. The Dead Don’t Hurt has received positive reviews for Krieps’ powerful performance, Mortensen’s deft ability to flip genre conventions, and for pulling no punches in its brutal depiction of America’s westward expansion. However, a few confusing plot points in the final act have left certain fans wondering what happened at the end of The Dead Don’t Hurt and what its final moments mean for Vivienne and Holger.

The Dead Don't Hurt

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What Is The Dead Don’t Hurt About?

Viv and Holger sit by a rock in The Dead Don't Hurt
Shout! Studios

The Dead Don’t Hurt is an acclaimed Western that begins in San Francisco in the 1860s. A French-Canadian pioneer woman, Vivienne Le Coudy, arrived from the North looking for a better life. In San Francisco, a wealthy French art collector (Colin Morgan) courts Vivienne and offers her a life of luxury. To underscore her rebellious spirit, Vivienne distances herself from the art collector, eventually falling in love with the rugged outdoorsman Holger Olsen, a Danish immigrant who later joins the Union Army and fights for the North in the American Civil War.

Told non-linearly, the nontraditional movie Western depicts Vivienne’s tragic fate in the second scene and reverse engineers her story from there. Viewers are informed from the beginning that Vivienne dies at the end of her story, with Mortensen flashing backward and forward to fill in the gaps of her tragic frontier life. Yet, before detailing what took her life, a few key plot elements bear closer examination. After evading the art collector’s aggressive advances, Vivienne agrees to travel along with Holger to his secluded Nevada cabin. Independent and self-reliant as they come, Vivienne refuses to marry Holger despite genuinely loving him.

In Nevada, Vivienne gets a job as a bartender in a town called Elk Flats. The town is controlled by Alfred Jeffries (Garrett Dillahunt) and his drunk, sadistic son Weston (Solly McLeod). Vivienne is left alone when the Civil War breaks out and Holger leaves to fight for the North. In Holger’s absence, Vivienne experiences an unthinkable tragedy that changes her life forever.

The Inciting Event in Vivienne’s Life

Viv wears a floral shawl in The Dead Don't Hurt
Shout! Factory

After Holger leaves for the war, Vivienne continues her duties in the Elk Flats saloon. The alcoholic and violent Weston Jeffries attacks Vivienne when she is alone and brutally rapes her. The devastating incident results in Vivienne’s pregnancy. Despite being uncertain of the child’s father’s identity, Vivienne decides to keep it and raise it alone. As viewers are left to wonder if Holger or Weston is the father of Vivienne’s son, Vivienne compartmentalizes her trauma and raises the boy with love and compassion.


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The movie jumps five years ahead when Holger returns from battle. Holger meets Vivienne’s son, Vincent, and wonders if the boy belongs to him. Vivienne explains her horrific encounter with Weston, prompting Holger to lash out in a vengeful rage. Holger sets out to confront Weston, but Vivienne informs him that Weston has been run out of town for serial murder. Resigned to the news, Holger, Vivienne, and Vincent live together on the frontier for a while, enjoying peaceful tranquility for the most part. The tender moments of fleeting bliss lead to more tragedy for Vivienne in the final act.

What Happens to Vivienne at the end of The Dead Don’t Hurt?

Viv wears a red shawl in The Dead Don't Hurt
Shout! Studios

The family’s brief moments of happiness are sapped when Vivienne suddenly falls ill and eventually dies. A doctor arrives and attributes the cause of death to syphilis, a disease she likely contracted from Weston. Following her tragic demise, Holger and Vincent track Weston down in the woods and mortally injure him. After leaving Weston for dead in the wild, Holger and Vincent ride as far West as they can until they find the Pacific Ocean. It is implied that Holger will raise Vincent as his son, despite the mystery of his parentage. In many ways, it does not matter if Holger or Weston fathered Vincent. Holger and Vivienne treated the boy as their blood-related kin every step of the way, with both Krieps and Mortensen delivering knockout performances.



Viggo Mortensen and Jane Campion Sit Down for a Director-on-Director Chat About The Dead Don’t Hurt

Filmmaker Jane Campion has a conversation with Viggo Mortensen about his film The Dead Don’t Hurt, in theaters now from Shout! Studios.

Despite the harrowing tragedy Vivienne experienced, she rose to the occasion and raised Vincent as a loving mother, regardless of who his father was. Her body was violated, her innocence was stripped, and her dignity and humility were robbed. Yet, at no point does Vivienne resent Vincent or treat him like an illegitimate child. On the contrary, Vivienne somehow finds the strength and wisdom to raise Vincent as if he were Holger’s son born out of love.

It’s an incredible tale of resilience in the face of traumatizing abuse, proving that Vivienne acted with selfless heroism that defined her story more than anything else. Although her death is revealed to viewers in the movie’s second scene, the how and why of it all paints a portrait of a strong-willed and independent-minded woman unwilling to let one tragic incident inform her family’s future. Vivienne may be dead, but she refuses to let Weston’s actions hurt Vincent’s well-being.

The Dead Don’t Hurt is currently playing in select theaters.

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