Cabinet Of Curiosities: Pickman’s Model Ending Explained (In Detail)

Warning! SPOILERS for Cabinet of Curiosities episode 5 « Pickman’s Model »Episode 5 of Guillermo Del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities, titled « Pickman’s Model, » is a dark and complex gothic tale with a suitably disturbing ending. Like the following episode « Dreams in the Witch House, » this story is an adaptation of an H.P. Lovecraft short story of the same name, published in 1926. The story follows William Thurber (Ben Barnes), a talented young artist whose life begins to unravel when he becomes involved with a mysterious classmate named Richard Upton Pickman (Crispin Glover).

In 1909, when Thurber and his classmates are asked to paint an accurate representation of a half-naked man, Thurber is struck by Pickman’s graphic interpretation, which depicts the man with multiple arms and dripping with blood. While the other students ridicule Pickman for failing to follow the class mantra « paint what you see, » Thurber is so intrigued that he agrees to visit Pickman’s home and view his horrifying work. There, Pickman unveils a collection of typically disturbing Lovecraftian images and recounts his dark family history. After this encounter, the distressed Thurber begins to experience nightmarish visions similar to those Pickman claims to see.

What Happens in Cabinet of Curiosities: Pickman’s Model’s Ending?

In 1926, Thurber – now married with a young child – agrees to visit Pickman’s house to view his new work on the condition that he leaves his family and museum alone. Thurber, realizing the house is the same one he has seen in his nightmares and growing increasingly distressed by Pickman’s paintings, burns the collection and shoots Pickman dead. Much like the ending of Cabinet of Curiosities’ « Lot 36 », a horrifying Lovecraftian entity emerges from the dark, verifying Pickman’s dying words that « the paintings don’t come from my head. They come from my life. » Thurber escapes only to find that Pickman’s paintings line the walls of his museum and have been seen by his wife Rebecca (Oriana Leman), son James and colleague Joe Minot. After Joe is driven mad by one of Pickman’s paintings, Thurber returns home to discover his wife has carved out her eyes, decapitated and murdered their son, and prepared to serve his flesh to Thurber, thus completing the ritual foreshadowed throughout the episode.

Who Was Lavinia And What Was The Ritual?

Lavinia was Pickman’s great-grandmother’s great-grandmother and, like Keziah Mason in « Dreams in the Witch House », was executed for witchcraft. As Pickman tells us, Lavinia was believed to have « killed her husband during a rite and served his still-warm flesh to members of her coven. » Later in the episode, Thurber dreams of the exact event pictured in Pickman’s work, and in a later dream, he is visited by Lavinia’s « coven » and decapitated by the Witch during a ritualistic chant. While the exact purpose of the ritual is never explained, it is implied that Lavinia was a member of some form of cult along with other members of her coven and that the « feast » involving her husband’s flesh was a sacrifice to one of the entities pictured in Pickman’s drawings.

At the end of the story, Rebecca is seen preparing for a similar « feast » with the flesh of her son James. This event is actually foreshadowed in the painting Pickman sends to Thurber soon after the episode’s narrative jumps to 1926. The picture shows a young boy being devoured by entities that resemble the monster seen in Pickman’s house in the episode’s climax. It appears that Lavinia’s cult was involved in ritualistic sacrifices to this demonic entity and that Pickman, who speaks of his paintings as « family portraits » and learns of Lavinia’s actions through « family gossip », has inherited this generational curse. Pickman’s art, which turns those who view it insane, is therefore a means of transmitting this curse and ensuring the continuance of the ritual.

What Was The Monster or Pickman’s Model?

The entity that appears to Thurber after Pickman’s death is seen throughout the episode in numerous pictures. While its origins, purpose, and name are never explained in the episode, the chants heard throughout the story imply it could be a famous Lovecraftian monster. At key moments in the episode, such as during Minot’s madness and Rebecca’s preparation of her son’s body the words « Yog-sothoth » and « y’ai’ng’ngah » can be faintly heard. These are also the words Lavinia’s coven chants during Thurber’s dream. In Lovecraft’s fictional universe, these words are part of an invocation to the deity Yog-Sothoth, one of the so-called « Outer-Gods » of the Cthulhu Mythos. While Yog-Sothoth takes on many forms across Lovecraft’s work, he is said to have been born from the Nameless Mist – a progenitor of several comic entities in Lovecraft’s universe – which may explain why a mysterious dark fog is seen leaving James’ room in « Pickman’s Model » after he sees one of Pickman’s paintings.

Why Did Pickman Choose Thurber?

While Pickman chose Thurber eventually, Pickman’s initial plan was to display his paintings to all the members of Thurber’s museum. It is only once Thurber refuses to exhibit the paintings that Pickman begs him to view his work and see « what awaits us all in the darkness. » While this decision is not explicitly explained, it is implied that Pickman chooses Thurber to take his own place as an artist in service of these dark entities. Indeed, Pickman tells Thurber that he « values [his] judgment » and it is no coincidence that Pickman chooses to send a painting to Thurber’s house and not any other of his former classmates. While Pickman planned to show others his artwork, he invites Thurber to his house to show him the entity itself. Though Pickman dies before he can express his true intention, perhaps he believed he could convince Thurber to join him in painting the universe’s darkest realities.

Why Didn’t Thurber Go Mad?

The question as to why Thurber himself didn’t go mad when all others who looked at the paintings did, seems the most obvious plot hole in the episode. While it is difficult to give a definitive answer, the explanation that Pickman chose Thurber as a successor or colleague seems the most likely. Indeed, Pickman himself wasn’t driven mad by the sight of the monster, presumably because he serves the monster by producing and distributing his artwork. Since Pickman transmits the monster’s curse through his artwork, it could be that he has chosen another talented artist in Thurber to help fulfill his family’s work in service of the monster, which means Thurber is not as severely affected by the paintings as others. This also explains why it is James, and not Thurber himself, who is murdered in the ritual, as the objective was not to kill Thurber but to convince him of the true darkness of reality.

How The Ending Relates To The Themes of « Pickman’s Model »

As keen horror and Lovecraft fan, Guillermo Del Toro explains in the episode’s introduction, « Pickman’s Model » asks the audience to consider the terrifying possibility that the darkest creations are not « the work of a feverish imagination » but « a careful record, a warning » based on objective experience. Just as Thurber finally sees the « fear that awaits us all » both Minot and Rebecca significantly mutilate or remove their eyes, and both claim that they now « see » the reality of the darkness. This is a dark inversion of Thurber’s art teacher’s motto « paint what you see » and reveals that it is not that Pickman has a uniquely disturbing vision of reality, but that he is the only one who has truly seen the darkness of the universe. The ending of Guillermo Del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities’ « Pickman’s Model » is admittedly confusing and bleak, while also achieving a layered exploration of the nature and power of horror.