It is 80s of the 19th century. Festive table is laid in the office of a wealthy Norwegian businessman Werle. There are his son Gregers and an old Gregers’ school friend Jalmar Ekdal among the guests. Friends had not seen each other for fifteen years. Within this time, Jalmar married, had a daughter, Hedwig (she is now fourteen), and started his own business - a photographer’s studio. And, apparently, his business goes rather good. The only thing is that Jalmar has not completed his studies due to the lack of funds - his father, former companion of Werle, had been put in jail. However, Werle helped the son of a former friend: he gave Jalmar the money for his studio equipments. All this seems suspicious to Gregers: he knows his father very well. And what is the maiden name of his Jalmar’s wife? Incidentally, not Hansen? After receiving an affirmative answer, Gregers has no doubt: "benevolence" of his father is dictated by the need to arrange his former lover - in fact Gina Hansen served as a housekeeper at Werle’s house, and resigned his house shortly before Gregers’ sick mother died. The son, apparently, cannot forgive his father for his mother's death, although it is obviously it was not his guilt. As Gregers suspected father had married to get a large dowry, which he nevertheless did not get. Gregers directly asked his father whether he cheated with Gina on his deceased mother, but the father answered evasively. Then, firmly rejecting the Werle’s proposal to become his companion, the son announces that he breaks up with him. He has a special mission in his life.
It soon becomes clear what mission it is. Gregers decided to open Jalmar’s eyes to quagmire of lies, in which he has been plunged because Jalmar is a naive and a great soul strongly believing in the merchant’s goodness. With this aim Gregers visits Ekdals’ apartment, located on the attic floor and serves at the same time as a pavilion studio.
Gregers does not immediately spread before Jalmar the bitter truth. He looks at their life - at rustic and always burdened with worries Gina (actually it is her, who keeps the things in the photo studio), at the old man Ekdal, who obviously seems broken after the prison, at a fourteen Hedwig - enthusiastic and exalted girl adoring her father (as reported Hedwig was doomed - the doctor said that she would soon go blind), and finally, at the very Jalmar, hiding his parasitism in the guise of tireless work on the invention, which, according to his words, should restore well-being and the good name of his family.
Since Gregers left the Mountain Valleys, and his father's house, he requires an apartment. Such a suitable room with a separate entrance is in Ekdal’s house, and they - though not without Gina’s resistance – let the son of their benefactor rent it. The next day, Werle, worried about hostility of his son, goes to see him; he wants to know what his son was plotting against him. Having found out Gregers’ goal, merchant ridicules him and warns – he would get disappointed in Jalmar. The same, though in a more pronounced phrased, said to Gregers his neighbor on the floor, a drunkard and idler Dr. Rellingen, a frequent visitor in the Ekdals family. According to the theory of Rellingen nobody needs the truth. Having opened Jalmar’s eyes, Gregers would bring nothing but trouble, and even disaster for the family.
Gregers goes with Jalmar for a walk and tells him everything about his family life. When he returned, Jalmar announced his wife that from now on all studio things and home accounts he will conduct himself - he trusts her no longer. Is it true that she was intimate with Werle, when she worked as a housekeeper? Gina does not deny past relationship. However, before Werle’s sick wife she is not guilty - in fact, Werle pestered her, but everything that happened between them happened after the death of his wife, when Gina was not anymore working at Werle.
Jalmar somewhat calmed down. Doctor Rellingen, being present at the quarrel of spousal, sent Gregers heartily to the hell. Suddenly Werle’s present housekeeper comes to Gina. She came to say goodbye, because she is going to marry the host, and they immediately go to his factory in the Mountain Valleys. It became known that old Werle is to become blind soon.
This news, and handed to Hedwig by the housekeeper a gift certificate from Werle (according to it Hedwig will be paid a monthly allowance of one hundred crowns) derives Jalmar Ekdal off his usual good humor. The news on the same eye disease of Werle and his daughter caught him by surprise and hurt in the very heart. Is it possible that Hedwig is not his daughter, but Werle’s? Gina honestly says that cannot answer this question. Well, tomorrow morning Jalmar will leave this house.
But Jalmar returns the next day. Gradually Gina soothes and persuades him to stay. But he persistently does not notice Hedwig, so warmly loved before. The girl is in despair. The night before, Gregers advised her how to win back the love of her father, to do something that her father would see how much she loved him. Jalmar has disliked the wild duck, the one that lives in a box in the attic - because it came to Ekdal from Werle. Hedwig would prove her love to her father if she would sacrifice the wild duck, which she also does not like. Well, Hedwig agrees, she persuaded her grandfather to shoot a duck.
Tragic outcome is approaching. The next day, Jalmar does not want to see his daughter. Hedwig is hiding in the attic. At the moment when Jalmar convinced Gregers that Hedwig would leave them, when Werle, possibly her real father, enticed her with his wealth, a shot in the attic is heard. Gregers rejoices - it is old Ekdal shot a wild duck at the request of Hedwig. But the grandfather runs into the pavilion from the other side. There was an accident: Hedwig accidentally discharged a pistol in herself. Dr. Rellingen does not believe it: girl’s blouse is scorched, she deliberately shot herself. And Gregers is to blame for her death imposing his mortal ideal requirements. Without these "ideal requirements", life on earth would be bearable.