The Big Reveal

The twist ending, the head-spinner, the fake-out, what M. Night Shamalayan calls “The Paradigm Shift.”

“And it turns out that, the whole time…”

The antagonist is really the protagonist’s other personality.  The murderer was in the room from the very beginning.  It was all the dream of a man who’s been cryogenically frozen for two hundred years.  They were on Earth the whole time.  The protagonist is really a ghost.  It turns out it’s not the past after all.  Everything is happening in the head of a dying man’s last moments.

What are your favorites?  When do they work?  When do they not?  When do they satisfy, when do they frustrate?  When are they the final piece of the puzzle and when do they come out of left field?  When do they make you want to see the movie again and when do they make you say “What the hell did that have to do with anything?”

And, we’re all professionals here.  Spoil away.
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103 Responses to “The Big Reveal”
  1. gdh says:

    Everyone knows the Fight Club twist, but some of Chuck Palahniuk’s other books do better… Invisible Monsters has a “paradigm shift” practically every chapter. It’s a constantly unfolding web of ever-more-fucked-up relationships between the characters that manages to make you think, “Holy shit, that’s more crazily twisted than I thought!” at least four or fives times through the course of the book.

    But sticking to films…

    I quite liked the twist at the end (beginning?) of Memento, where the protagonist turns out to have intentionally deceived himself. It’s not a big flashy revelation, but it nonetheless casts the whole preceding film in a different light.

    And for an example of the “paradigm shift” being done really very badly, I refer you to the final episode of The Prisoner, where it turns out that the whole time everything was just completely batfuck insane and nothing makes any sense and there’s a monkey guy in a rocket and OMG gospel singing and they’re really in England OMGWTF??

    • Todd says:

      some of Chuck Palahniuk’s other books do better…

      I read all of Palahniuk’s stuff while I was travelling with my wife last year. I was reading Invisible Monsters and every few pages I would gasp or shudder and I would have to share the latest plot twist with my wife.

      After a few days of that she asked me not to do it any more.

  2. rfd says:

    He was Keyser SΓΆze all along!

  3. schwa242 says:

    Fight Club – Neat twist. Didn’t see it coming at all. It was fun watching the movie again to see the clues and feel stupid for not recognizing them. I didn’t want to watch this movie for the longest time but was told to repeatedly by friends, who were kind enough to give nothing away.

    The Village – Obvious from the very beginning due to a certain abscence, though I don’t know if I should say what, as I forget what the statute of limitations on spoilers is. I still enjoyed the film, entertaining a couple different theories that would fit—one of which came true—but I don’t need to see it again.

    Secret Window – Obvious from the very beginning. If you know who the villain is when you aren’t supposed to, the only thing left to find out is a) how many people he’ll kill, b) if he’ll get away with it, and c) a character or characters’ reaction to the revelation.

    Unbreakable – The twist appears in the final twelve seconds, and nobody cares. Seemed forced. The end.

    The Empire Strikes Back – So he didn’t kill Luke’s father, he is Luke’s father, and his temporary father figure substitute was lying about it? That’s gotta hurt.

    Return of the Jedi – What is this, Dickens?

    Great Expectations – What is this, Dickens? What? Oh.

    Citizen Kane – Seeing as I had seen it done in a dozen or so Saturday morning cartoons that didn’t bother to change the name, as well as a Saturday Night Live skit that turned the surprise twist into a sandwich, it wasn’t a shock or anything, but still a film well worth watching when I finally did.

    • Todd says:

      Seeing as I had seen it done in a dozen or so Saturday morning cartoons that didn’t bother to change the name

      For me it was a Peanuts strip. I still liked the movie.

      For Secret Garden, the problem, it seemed to me, the red herring facing the protagonist wasn’t interesting enough to warrant concern. The idea that a mysterious guy would show up with a convoluted, easily disprovable story and then give the protagonist an ultimatum that doesn’t make any sense, I just kept scratching my head (I think it was my head) and saying “…so?” And I love David Koepp.

  4. You’ve got photos of most of my favorites above (plus The Village, which my fiancee and I haven’t seen, but figured out simultaneously in two seconds from hearing a one-sentance synopsis and that it was from M. Night), but here’s a few other favorites, with SPOILERS, of course . . .

    Mulholland Drive – (oh, this entire film is all happening in someone’s head, possibly as their dying thoughts, and everything we just saw was a fantasy, and what we’re seeing now is still not “real” but is closer to their actual experience . . .)

    Identity – okay, I guess I like films that take place all in peoples’ heads as they reinterpret their “reality,” and maybe I’m the only one who liked this one, but I loved the build-up as the plot became more and more impossible until the only POSSIBLE place that would make any sense was into fantasy, and what had been seeming like the sloppy plotting of most serial killer films suddenly CLICKS into place in a satisfying way. Also, wonderful character actor Pruitt Taylor Vince finally gets to take over a movie for a little while to help sell it.

    The Manchurian Candidate – and for a quiet, very quiet moment that changes EVERYTHING, Angela Lansbury closes the door, turns around, and suggests that her son pass the time with a nice game of solitaire.

    • eronanke says:

      Unfortunately, we can never be sure about the ending of Mulholland Drive, mostly becase the movie made no sense. πŸ™‚

      • greyaenigma says:

        It came pre-twisted.

      • sigh

        Mulholland Drive makes perfect sense. Everything in it can be put together to make absolute sense, though some details are certainly open to interpretation. Same with Lost Highway, which also gets this rap. Whether this is the best way to actually watch/experience the film is a matter for serious debate — is figuring out the “puzzle” really good for the puzzle itself? In any case, the reason I think Drive works, if it works for you, is that even if you choose to ignore the underlying logic (a dream-logic to be sure, but still a logic) and let it wash over you, somewhere you still feel the structural underpinnings that make “sense.” If it were indeed, as a lot of people believe, just Lynch screwing around, it wouldn’t work (the only film where I really feel Lynch is just screwing around is the very silly Wild at Heart, a mess with lovely bits).

        It appears that his new film Inland Empire may continue the “entire film takes place inside the mind of a person trying to escape from something horrible they did or was done to them” mode, and as much as I love Lynch, I worry he’s getting a bit stuck on a favorite framework.

        • eronanke says:

          Well, all I can say is that there’s always one of your kind around whenever someone calls bullshit on Lynch. πŸ™‚

          Best thing he ever did: DUNE. And that’s not saying much.

          • Todd says:

            I like a lot of David Lynch’s work, but Mulholland Dr. confused me. Not the ending, I “got” the ending no problem; I just couldn’t understand why the first half of the movie had to be so boring.

            • Well now THAT I can understand. Not really altogether agree with, but understand.

              I may be a Lynch fanatic, but with some (not all, but some) of his films, there’s a point – almost always about a third of the run time in – where he vamps over something a little too long and I just want to yell “Get on with it!” Usually not on first viewing, maybe, but any time after.

              But to get back to some of your questions about twists, Mullholland Drive worked for me immediately, but wasn’t entirely satisfying as I wanted to go back and see it again to see if Lynch had “played fair” in a number of ways (I had much the same reaction to The Sixth Sense, great twist, but had the conceit really been carried all the way through?).

              So I guess that sometimes what makes me want to see “twist”-oriented films again is to see the opening again in light of the twist, and yes, to be sure that the filmmakers have “played fair” (also true for me of Fight Club, Vanilla Sky, and The Usual Suspects, now that I think of it).

            • eronanke says:

              It’s not that I didn’t *get* it. I *got* it, as much as any viewer could without making quite a few assumptions about Lynch’s intentions, but I got really angry at society for lauding this film. And the lesbian sex scene, was that really necessary? For anything?
              Answer: No.
              But then again, I feel the same way about most sex scenes.

              • Todd says:

                And the lesbian sex scene, was that really necessary? For anything?

                You may be asking the wrong crowd. As far as I am aware, lesbian sex scenes are an end unto themselves.

                • eronanke says:

                  Ah, I always forget to factor in the y chromosome.

                  • ghostgecko says:

                    Hey, don’t paint everyone with a y chromosome with the same brush! I didn’t like it either. So pandering.

                    After 50 comments here there’s not that much left to say . . . I’m not a huge fan of the last minute twist ending. It usually smacks of desperation or condescention on the part of the writer. And most of them are actually incredibly stupid when examined closely.
                    The Village, for example. Would it have been THAT difficult to come up with a ritual where the adults could sneak away from the village and get medicine or whatever? But critting that movie is like shooting crawdads in a barrel. Identity didn’t work for me because it didn’t have much connecting with the reality of psychiatric disorders. I couldn’t perform the suspension of disbelief.
                    And while The 6th Sense was perfectly serviceable in its twist, it left me no desire to ever see it again. Why bother? It was only interesting for the twist, and once you’d figured it out, there was nothing else left. It would be like putting together the same jigsaw puzzle over and over. When a movie derives all its interest from a twist, it tends to skimp on other stuff that might make you want to rewatch.

                    • eronanke says:

                      M Night jumped the shark after 6th Sense.
                      That is all.

                    • ghostgecko says:

                      Totally. I enjoyed 6th Sense, but everything else after it kind of showed him to be a one trick pony.

                    • Todd says:

                      After 50 comments here there’s not that much left to say . . .

                      I heartily disagree. Just reading this read has made me think of at least a dozen movies that no one’s even brought up yet.

                      I’m not a huge fan of the last minute twist ending. It usually smacks of desperation or condescention on the part of the writer.

                      I disagree here as well. If it’s done right, it’s what the whole movie has been building up to, like Usual Suspects or Jacob’s Ladder. In fact, I can’t think of an instance where a paradigm shift feels tacked on or superfluous. I think the ending of The Village is certainly wildly implausible and doesn’t stand up to the amount of thought it takes to get to the theater exit (or to eject the DVD), but it’s not tacked on, it’s the point of the whole movie.

                      And while The 6th Sense was perfectly serviceable in its twist, it left me no desire to ever see it again. Why bother?

                      I think the story of the poor little boy who sees dead people is hugely compelling and heartbreaking; that’s the reason that movie was a hit, not the twist ending.

                    • I’m with you, Alcott. Gimmicky or not, my guess is most or all of the authors of these films STARTED with the twist premise, and then rolled up their sleeves to play with the mechanics of how it all works.

                    • dougo says:

                      I’m not convinced that the authors of The Usual Suspects wrote it backwards like that. If Verbal Gint was really making up the whole story as he went along, then there’s no need for truth or even self-consistency in any of the rest of the movie. Maybe they knew from the start that he was Keyser Soze, but I have a feeling they added the stuff about making up names somewhat late in the creative process.

                    • Perhaps, but we will of course never know. I somehow doubt it. Either way, the making up names bit wasn’t the real twist, that was just a little F.U. icing on the cake of the Big Reveal.

                      The Usual Suspects loses points in my book for cheating anyway. They used the unreliable narrator to get away with showing us flashbacks of a Keyser Soze who WASN’T Kevin Spacey and to add and subtract people from shots that they later reused. Still, very enjoyable.

                    • Todd says:

                      The Usual Suspects loses points in my book for cheating, but makes them back again for winning the Oscar. Because I also want to win an Oscar.

                    • ghostgecko says:

                      Well, I liked Jacob’s Ladder, it was one of the few movies that actually made me jump out of the chair at parts, so I won’t argue that. Maybe it was more fun because the rest of the movie was so weird.

                      >>>it’s not tacked on, it’s the point of the whole movie.

                      I know it’s the point of the movie. My word choice was poor. It was a dumb point. The twist was so implausible, that it felt like crappy scriptwriting. I meant “desperation” not as “I’m on page 99 and I don’t know what to write next!” but as “I’m a shitty scriptwriter but I need to eat, so I’ll just *something* even if it sucks.”. And the fact that the twist was so poor makes me feel like I’m being condescended to, like the scriptwriter was playing a slightly more complex game of playing with me.
                      I guess 6th Sense didn’t bother me quite so much because it’s fantasy – ghosts don’t exist, so it didn’t feel like a ripoff the way The Village did. I would have ended The Village with there being some kind of disaster that actually had destroyed the outside world, maybe a plague the bilnd girl contracts and brings back to destroy the village because nobody’s really self sufficent like in their dreamland (or maybe the guy who founded it is convicted of some kind of Enron scandal and the cops invade the village to get them and are mistaken for the beasts in the woods?). I dunno.
                      As for 6th Sense being compelling, that’s a personal matter. I wasn’t compelled. After all, he had a sappy happy ending where his mommy believes him and the ghosts are now his bestest friends. Maybe it’s just me being a heartless monster as usual.

              • yetra says:

                Lesbian sex scenes are always necessary.

                – a girl

          • schwa242 says:

            I liked the series Twin Peaks, but it was probably less nonsensical than his normal work because it was more a collaberative effort. I did like the movie too though.

            I can never make it through Dune. Anytime I put it on, I find myself distracted by sleep or chores, both of which are more entertaining.

  5. mr_noy says:
    When do they work? When do they not? When do they satisfy, when do they frustrate? When are they the final piece of the puzzle and when do they come out of left field? When do they make you want to see the movie again and when do they make you say “What the hell did that have to do with anything?”

    I have had every single one of these reactions, often more than once, when viewing Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America. It is possibly one of cinema’s cruelest jokes; you’ve just watched three hours of brilliance and guess what? It was all a pipe dream. Literally.

    And yet, the film continues to fascinate. Has Noodles really imagined this complex narrative 30 years into his own future? If so, his imagination is eerily accurate as his “imagined” 1970’s looks exactly like our own. He even imagines Paul McCartney’s Yesterday, the melody of which becomes a recurring theme that would seem to be a key to understanding the film.

    Is it a memory, a dream, a drug-induced hallucination? A combination of all these things? Are the figures from his past/present/future any more substantive than the shadow puppets we see dancing before him in the opium den? And what to make of that incessant telephone ringing that bookends the film? Could a man fake his own death, change his name and become a highly publicized political figure without his oldest friends not recognizing him? Did Max really throw himself into that garbage truck or did Noodles imagine it? Either way, the film always ends the same, with the young Noodles back in the opium den the night his friends Max betrayed his friends and faked his own death. Every time Noodles looks into the camera and laughs, seemingly at us, as we try to unravel what we’ve seen.

  6. mr_noy says:

    I figured out the twist the first moment I saw Brendan Gleeson’s modern looking tie.

    It was a subtle touch. It reminded me of when community theaters stage period plays and use thrift store items that look sort of period, but not quite.

    • Todd says:

      I think you’re talking about The Village, right? Not 28 Days Later.

      When I saw The Village I was so stunned by the ending that I remember looking around the theater to see if everyone else was watching the same movie I was. I thought “no, this must be some kind of a test ending, this isn’t the real ending.”

      But it was.

      • mr_noy says:

        Whoops. I responded to the wrong post. Yes, I was talking about The Village not 28 Days Later. I can see how that may have seemed confusing as Gleeson appears in both films.

        I enjoyed the film but there were lots of minor details that gave it away for me.

        Not mistakes mind you, but things that I assume were purposely left in as clues. These were mostly little period details, like the aforementioned tie; a belief system that doesn’t conform to that of any early settlers I’m aware of, the mishmash of accents and dialogue that occasionally struck me as anachronistic, those black boxes that looked very modern, etc.

        I’ve seen films that make similar mistakes, usually due to budget constraints or inexperience, but with a Shyamalan film such things immediately make me suspicious.

      • dougo says:

        Stunned as in you didn’t see it coming, or you thought it ruined the movie, a la Ebert’s famous review?

        To call it an anticlimax would be an insult not only to climaxes but to prefixes. It’s a crummy secret, about one step up the ladder of narrative originality from It Was All a Dream. It’s so witless, in fact, that when we do discover the secret, we want to rewind the film so we don’t know the secret anymore.

        And then keep on rewinding, and rewinding, until we’re back at the beginning, and can get up from our seats and walk backward out of the theater and go down the up escalator and watch the money spring from the cash register into our pockets.

        • Todd says:

          That’s a very funny couple of paragraphs; I didn’t feel quite that strongly about it, but yeah, I was stunned in that kind of way.

          When I got home and started describing the movie to my wife, she (who has a deep background in sci-fi) said “Does it turn out they’re all in a zoo on an alien planet?” Which is almost the same thing.

  7. dougo says:

    I kinda like the ones where you must/can provide your own paradigm shift, like Anything Else (time travel), Bladerunner (Deckard is a replicant), or Pulp Fiction (the briefcase contains Marcellus’s soul). Related to this are films that have a sort of “allegory shift” where they take on different meanings based on something external to the film. Coen Brothers are good at this; O Brother Where Art Thou is I guess the most obvious one (the whole Odyssey thing) but Hudsucker Proxy, Big Lebowski, and especially Barton Fink can be read from several different angles.

    • dougo says:

      I still don’t fully understand the ending of Being There, but I think it’s probably a paradigm shift. I need to watch that again soon.

      • Todd says:

        That’s interesting. I never considered it a paradigm shift, more of a last poetic image that sums up everything we’ve seen so far. Unless you’re suggesting that Chance the Gardener is, unwittingly, the new Christ here to signal a new covenant between God and humanity.

        Which, okay.

        • kornleaf says:

          i dunno about that,
          i just took it as him actually being magical,
          and confused about it (testing the water with the umbrella)
          I mean, he was just kinda sweet, not messianic

        • dougo says:

          I think that is what I’m suggesting, except probably not unwittingly. Wasn’t there also some Masonic/Templar reference at the end too?

  8. kipling00 says:

    “More human than human”

    For me – it’s always been Blade Runner and the twist was never THAT obvious until the director’s cut became widely available.

    Deckard is a Blade Runner, a police man of the future who hunts down and terminates replicants, artificially created humans. As he hunts the “skin jobs”, we learn that yes, they are criminals, but what they really want is to be human – to get answers from their creators. Deckard is a stone cold killer who makes his living killing the toys that think they’re people.

    Only at the end, only when he is left an origami unicorn does the audience learn that Deckard’s dreams are not his own. Not only has he fallen in love with a replicant, but he too is a replicant, having spent years of killing others. And soon, someone else, perhaps someone else who does not know that he or she is a replicant, will be sent to kill him and the woman he loves.

    Great twist. One of my favorites.

    • eronanke says:

      Re: “More human than human”

      That ending, although an excellent one, has always been disputed between writer, director, and actors. πŸ™

      • kipling00 says:

        And yet…

        Yet it was a constant theme throughout most of Philip K.’s books. Who decides who gets to be human? Who decides what reality is? Am I who I really think I am?

        I always thought that I was projecting Philip K’s message onto the film until they put the Unicorn dream back in. The Unicorn proves that at least the director wanted to place the seed. Why else have it?

        • eronanke says:

          Re: And yet…

          Oh, agreed!
          But he didn’t tell Ford that when he acted… Perhaps to attain the same effect?

          • kipling00 says:

            Maybe I’m wrong…

            Really? So that look of fear on Deckard’s face when he gets into the elevator is ALL for Rachel? Wow. Cause he looks terrified for himself as well.

            I think it would have been important for Ford to know too. Hmmmmmm. Maybe I am just projecting.

            I was impressed that Spielberg put in his little “is this ending all just a dream” by having his main character wear a “halo” in Minority Report. Seems like a pretty impossibly happy ending to that movie. Always wondered if Spielberg had any more shots to suggest that the entire ending was just the fantasy of a convicted criminal.

            • eronanke says:

              Re: Maybe I’m wrong…

              Don’t remember the halo… hrm
              Anyway- Ford has said in interviews that he was never told to act as if Deckard was a replicant, hence the distance between him and Scott.
              Also, Scott claims to have NEVER read “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep”.
              Most of this is from IMDB, which is not necessarily accurate, but the closest we’ll get. I also found this:
              “Harrison Ford takes issue with Ridley Scott’s revelation that Deckard is a replicant. ‘We had agreed that he definitely was not a replicant,’ Ford said.”

              • kipling00 says:

                Not too surprising…

                It wouldn’t surprise me that Scott had claimed to never have read “Androids” as it is so different from Blade Runner. (And, in my opinion, a terrible book.)

                But I can’t imagine that Scott would shoot the unicorn scene if it didn’t have some sort of meaning to the story. Yes, Scott went onto to direct the fantasy film “Legend” so maybe he has a weak spot unicorns but I doubt it.

                Ford, on the other hand, has been known to have scripts and thoughts changed based on his complaints. (The cowboy hat in American Graffiti is one of many.) It also wouldn’t surprise me that Ford would not want his character to be portrayed as a killer/sex toy as all the other replicants in the movie. (Han Solo can shoot first, but he has to have a heart.) All of the other replicants are cold on the outside, warm on the inside. Deckard is just the opposite – pathos and sadness on the outside, dead on the inside.

                ‘We had agreed that he definitely was not a replicant’ sounds to me like ‘Ridley had agreed with me that Deckard was not a replicant.’ It sounds like wishful thinking.

                Deckard being a replicant was obviously in the script – albeit subtle and maybe not mentioned directly. And the scenes were shot to support the idea. And Scott obviously liked the idea or he wouldn’t have approved the re-issue of the “director’s cut” to highlight that angle.

                So was it the original plan? Giving it a happy ending and voice overs weren’t in the original plan, but that was the way it was originally released. The dialog and story suggest that it was always part of the story. And the director’s cut suggests this was always the plan.

                As for Minority Report – it’s an often missed little throw away. Criminals are caught, suspended in sleep and given what they’ve always wished for. Cruise is captured and Halo’d. And then…. his wife “just happens” to free him, the bad guy is caught and the poor drug addicted future tellers get betty ford and a cabin by the lake. Sounds like wishful thinking of an incarcerated man to me.

                • eronanke says:

                  Re: Not too surprising…

                  OH SNAP- I thought you meant they DREW on a HALO, not put him in the coma-thingy.

                  I disagree with you, though. I don’t agree that Spielberg intended to create that effect at all. I think it was schlock, pure and simple.

                  • kipling00 says:

                    Maaaaaybe or perhaps…

                    Maybe Spielberg didn’t get it. He’s a pretty big student of film and steals whenever he can, but it’s possible he was in the dark.

                    BUT… whoever wrote Minority Report certainly knew Dick. (*snicker*) And maybe the scene was always in the script and the director, even the actors didn’t get it. Doesn’t it fit so well with Philip K’s theme of the Chinese philosopher dreaming he’s a butterfly and never knowing from that day on that he is not merely a butterfly dreaming he’s a man?

                    Maybe it was the same with Blade Runner. Maybe it called for a Unicorn dream and an orgami Unicorn and the director and actors never caught on.

                    I think Blade Runner AND Minority Report were intentional “shout outs” to Dick. The question is: Who knew?

                    • eronanke says:

                      Re: Maaaaaybe or perhaps…

                      I figured out Blade Runner just fine, but Minority Report was just summer Blockbuster w/out content for me.

                    • Todd says:

                      Re: Maaaaaybe or perhaps…

                      I’m not sure why Minority Report doesn’t have the same heft that Blade Runner does. Spielberg is certainly a talented man, there’s no reason why he couldn’t have gotten to the end zone with it.

                      Maybe it’s like a friend of mine said, that it’s a great movie right up until the point where it becomes an episode of Murder, She Wrote.

                    • eronanke says:

                      Re: Maaaaaybe or perhaps…

                      Then again, I liked Murder, She Wrote. πŸ™‚

                    • Todd says:

                      Re: Maaaaaybe or perhaps…

                      But maybe that’s why it becomes suddenly shallow and unsatisfying, because the story sets up difficult questions and then, in the end, answers them relatively easily. But if the last, say, fifteen minutes of the movie is all taking place in the head of Tom Cruise, then it becomes a very downbeat, dystopic vision of hopelessness.

                      I wonder if there was originally a shot where we pull back to reveal that Tom is still back in his halo tube, but they cut it because then it’s the same movie as Vanilla Sky.

                    • dougo says:

                      Re: Maaaaaybe or perhaps…

                      I skipped over this thread because I hadn’t seen Minority Report, but I just saw it last night and had the same thought: I wanted to see the final pull-out panorama shot dissolve into Cruise sleeping peacefully in his prison-cocoon, a la the catatonic Pryce in the torture chair at the end of (the director’s cut of) Brazil. Speaking of which, Brazil is a good addition to the list of paradigm shifts, although it only really affects the last act of the film. But there is still always the question of whether there really are terrorists or not, and whether Jill is one or not, and who exactly Sam’s father was (Jeremiah/ERE I AM JH). Lots of unresolved paradigm shifts.

  9. greyaenigma says:

    Donnie Darko: Maybe less of a twist than a mystery finally unravelled, but I liked it.

    What Lies Beneath: This was pretty strong horror/suspense film — if only they hadn’t given away the twist in every piece of marketing about it.

    Matrix: It was certainly marketed as a major twist, although it happens halfway through the film, if not earlier.

    Dragon Slayer: There’s a couple of twists/reveals in this. One of the things I like is that the protagonist keeps trying to be the hero, and he is contintually denied, right up to the end.

    Wicker Man: Another twist that may not surprise people who are paying attention, but it sure surprised our hero.

    Dark City: I think this feels less like twist because, like Mulholland Drive there’s obviously something seriously messed up going on throughout the whole movie.

    Audition: isn’t a twist ending so much as a gradually increasing twist through the whole movie, but

    Oh yeah, and The Crying Game — very impressive twist and a fine movie even aside from that.

    My favorite twists are those that, in re-watching or recalling the earlier parts of the film, you say, “So that’s why that happened!” Since I figrued out the twist early in the Sixth Sense, I was already doing this: “cool, even in a crowd, he never actually touches anyone” And the anniversary dinner becomes especially poignant. I liked The Usual Suspects for this, but since the narrator is later shown to be a liar, the puzzle pieces coming together isn’t as satisfying — as far as we know, the entire jigsaw could be fictitious.

    The stories where the narrator doesn’t even realize something about themselves can be very effective, particulary if we’re drawn into sympathizing with them. Jacob’s Ladder, Sixth Sense, Lovecraft’s Shadow Out of Innsmouth, Stephen King’s Strawberry Spring are good examples of this. Connie Willis’s Lincoln’s Dreams too, in a slightly different way. (Especially powerful in the sense of identifying with the reader.)

    • Todd says:

      I walked into Donnie Darko without knowing the first thing about it. Think of that.

      I don’t think Matrix counts, since the big reveal comes at the end of Act I. It’s a good one though, and it throws us off-balance throughout the rest of the movie.

  10. greyaenigma says:

    Lone Star — fantastic movie that would be fantastic without the twist at the end, so I tend to forget there actually is one.

  11. ndgmtlcd says:

    Chinatown is the epitome of how to do these things right, for me. The twists are all over the film but the final end is the biggie, where the incestuous billionaire gets his hands so “easily”, so unexpectedly easily (when we think his wrongs are going to be revealed and righted) on his daughter/granddaughter.

    The most recent twist I enjoyed was at the end of Minority Report, where one of the last shots we see shows the ESP trio out in the woods, far from population centers, enjoying a very comfy cabin, reading books. Reading books? What? That is one hyper-hi-tech movie and Spielberg makes them read books, codex-style, on paper? There’s no reason for it since their ESP power works not on machines, but only on humans. They could have all the hi-tech they wanted (or not) in that comfy cabin, and they should given its widespread nature in that era. The cabin seems stuffed with these old style books. I watched the whole movie again to see if anyone else read books or had books in their homes.

    • Todd says:

      Great avatar.

    • gogogh says:

      Oooo I agree with you on the Chinatown vote.

      • Todd says:

        The amazing thing about the Chinatown reveal is that it has absolutely nothing to do with the mystery that forms the spine of the story.

    • Anonymous says:

      I’m guessing they’re reading books for the same reason they’re out in a log cabin amidst all that nature–if you spent your entire life hooked up to machines in a little room, listening to millions of thoughts at one time, you’d probably stay as far away from those things as possible and focus on one little thing at a time, no?

  12. gogogh says:

    What about Empire Strikes Back?

    I was pretty young and also living in Saudi Arabia at the time, so I never got to have the theater experience for that one.

    The Crying Game?

    • Todd says:

      Empire Strikes Back and Crying Game both have great plot twists, but they aren’t true paradigm shifts. They don’t make us go back and question everything else we’ve thought about the movie beforehand.

      • gogogh says:

        Ah, okay, I see what you mean though ESB does sort of do that, but the script and direction is too shallow to really allow that sort of investigation.

    • gdh says:

      Empire Strike Back isn’t a “twist” to me, as I grew up with the Star Wars films and I honestly cannot remember a time when I didn’t know about Darth Vader being Luke’s father.

      • Todd says:

        That makes me sad. I very clearly remember being in a sold-out matinee opening weekend and the roof practically blew off the theater when the big moment came.

        Of course, now it’s been parodied so many times, my own kids will probably never get that impact from the movie.

      • gogogh says:

        You mean that you already knew the fact because you knew about it before seeing the movie or what? I wasn’t old enough or living close enough to the western world to have experienced the whole darth-vader-is-your-father phenomenon.

        • gdh says:

          No, I mean that I watched those movies over and over and over when I was a kid, and I don’t actually remember the first time I saw it. I would have been like 4. To me, the Star Wars movies are just Basic Knowledge. My knowledge of Star Wars predates my earliest coherent memories.

          • gogogh says:

            I remember seeing Buckaroo Banzai before seeing any of the Star Wars movies. My only exposure to US movies was through annual trips to Dallas where we would go to the el cheapo cinemas and pirate video stores in Saudi Arabia.

  13. I’m not sure if I’m getting the difference between a “paradigm shift” and a “plot twist”… in the order of the kind that completely changes, um well, everything… I’d like clarification.

    Is it always a headspinner? A fake out? Is the condition that the situation is still the same one but we’ve seen something to cause us to reanalyze the experience?

    Because I’ve seen some incredible stories where the antagonists have become the good guys, and although you still root for the protagonist, you’re really rooting for the antagonist as well. BUT I don’t think this is what you’re talking about since the story’s current turn of events is what changes the way we perceive the character(s). I think it’s probably different, since it’s not “…the whole time.” But still, thought I’d mention, I like it when a story does this too.

    I think what I was getting at is that I like when a story broadens our perspective. That’s what I like about “The Paradigm Shift” and also about just the right kind of Major Plot Twist. Kinda like Bowie being ‘The Sovereign’… and also, for a short time, a pack of cigarettes.

    Hayao Miyazaki’s been a lot on my mind lately. I just bought a copy of Howl’s Moving Castle. I think I ran into Howl while I was in Japan. πŸ˜›

    Anyway… I think Howl’s Moving Castle had a nice one at the end when Sophie discovers that Calcifer, the fire demon who controls the movement of the castle, is the physical embodiment of Howl’s heart. Also, she somehow travelled into Howl’s childhood to discover this, and as she’s being ripped back into her own time she gets the chance to speak to Howl and Calcifer asking them to “Find [her] in the future!”… which is how the story started, a seemingly chance encounter between Howl and Sophie might have been that he was looking for her. It’s kind of confusing to explain.

    Also in Spirited Away, another Miyazaki film, the moment Chihiro realizes that the boy who helped throughout her ordeal — she’s trapped in a spirit world –, but has no memory of who he is, is actually a river spirit that saved her life when she was a much younger child.

    • Todd says:

      I’d like clarification.

      I’m thinking of final twists that make you re-examine everything you’ve seen up to that point. That “Oh, see I thought it was that, but it turns out it was really this” moment.

      I haven’t seen Howl, but my three-year-old daughter has and was just now talking about wanting to see it again.

      And it turns out that — all the posters on Todd’s blog are just different aspects of his own personality.

      • Anonymous says:

        Better still, I’M Todd Alcott, who, along with all the other aspects of my personality posting to his livejournal, is another aspect of my personality.

      • dougo says:

        Someone should make a movie where someone who seems to have multiple personalities turns out to actually be a bunch of different people.

  14. Aw, I’m so late on this one…all my favorites have been taken. Now I have to cite a shitty one: The Ring, at that moment when the little boy freaks out: “You weren’t supposed to help her!” Good stuff for a horror movie.

    For the record, I proudly admit that I did NOT see the end of The Sixth Sense coming AT ALL. I am highly suspicious of those who claim they did. The Village, on the other hand…THAT I saw coming from a mile away–so much that I dismissed it as too obvious and kept waiting for the reveal. But by then we had all received a lot of training in expecting twist endings from his movies. I’m glad it worked on you, though!

    • Todd says:

      I saw Sixth Sense eight weeks into its run. I knew there was a big twist; I didn’t know what it was but I knew it was coming. Then there was the restaurant scene where Bruce shows up late to dinner and his wife gets up and leaves without talking to him and I thought “Aw, that’s sad, he’s a ghost too.” And then I thought “Oh. No. That’s not the big twist, is it? Shit. Oh no, I think that was the big twist.”

      I should watch that movie again and see how well it works without expectations raised. I found that Unbreakable worked just fine (although I don’t think it’s a very important movie).

      • kornleaf says:

        a. sixth sense was rather obvious on second glance, but at first glance it becomes an itch at many people’s minds mid way through, either at that moment you are describing or at the fact that no one else in the movie is talking to bruce, but the boy… yeah.. yay!

        b. unbreakable; even though i am a comic book nerd, i barely got into this movie. and, as sammy j said “the bad guy is usually the opposite of the hero” saw that when sammy j was so damn pissed that bruce was vulnerable to something.

    • greyaenigma says:

      I really did figure it out, I promse. Also during the dinner scene.

      Actually, I was thinking about mentioning that “You helped her??” from The Ring, but I didn’t, partly because I couldn’t remember whether that scene happened like that in Ringu.

      Also, I wanted to mention 13th Floor — I enjoyed that series of twists.

      • Todd says:

        Ringu has a happy ending, where they go off to kill grampa so that the little boy can stay alive.

        Ringu was the scariest freaking movie I had seen in the 20 years since John Carpenter’s The Thing came out. It was so scary that when I described the movie to friends of mine over dinner the next night, it scared them just hearing about it.

        • greyaenigma says:

          I think it was your method of delivery — handing over the hastily labelled videotape was probably a bit much.

          Ringu definitely got to me, especially that ending. I was having too much trouble following it in the very opening to be scared it.

  15. noskilz says:

    The Ghoul (1933) featuring Boris Karloff

    The Ghoul would be an example of a disappointment.

    A good twist is one that makes the veiwer go, “ah-ha, it all fits now,” but in this case, explaining away the seeming resurrection of an obsessed egyptologist with something that would be pushing it’s luck on an episode of Scooby-Doo is both unconvincing and disappointing. Maybe it seemed cleverer in 1933, or maybe the idea of pagan rites working was a little too edgy(or maybe not, there were a lot of pretty freaky films that came out of the 30’s.) It’s actually quite enjoyable, up until they decide to go with the mudane: the old prof only seemed dead, wigged the fudge out and the statue of anubis accepting the jewel was just some guy who stuck his hand through a hole in the statue

    • Todd says:

      Re: The Ghoul (1933) featuring Boris Karloff

      an obsessed egyptologist

      For a minute there I thought you were talking about Eronanke.

  16. amara_anon says:

    My favorite twist:

    There is no Shane Urbaniak.

    Dun dun dun.

  17. medox says:

    The twist in the The Others definitely changes the whole film when you look back on it, and actually makes it sadder and spookier than it seemed originally.

  18. gazblow says:

    Have you seen OLDBOY? By Chan Wook Park?

    Very violent, very creepy paradigm shift. Ew. Just got a douche-chill thinking about it.

    • Todd says:

      I liked Oldboy, although it seemed a little far-fetched to me. I liked Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance a little better, in an Unforgiven sort of way.

  19. kornleaf says:

    would you count the shining?
    seeing jack in the picture?

    what about audition, with the jumping around of possible reality points verses dreamscapes?

    or the singing detective? I mean, we know there are two separate worlds and identities but it gets flipped around who is what and where?

    Most of the time i rarely see one that works well or isn’t cheesey, There are some that just dump it on you and it is totally random and therefore shit.

    You have to hint at it. One of the most underrated movies is Copy cat, for this reason. You see the killer many times before he is “revealed,” he is in the audience when weaver speaks, he is in the police station and even says, “hi” to the main cop, but is over looked and passed over.

    • Todd says:

      would you count the shining?
      seeing jack in the picture?

      I’ve seen that movie 20 times, it’s one of my favorite ever, and I still have no idea what Kubrick was getting at with that last shot.

      Kubrick mentioned at one point that he found The Shining to be a very “hopeful” script, because it suggested that there was life after death. Okay, so you might go crazy and kill your family, but at least you don’t disappear forever.

      • kornleaf says:

        my friends and i would get drunk at least 3 times a week in college and watch that movie… scariest tuesday ever….

        anyway, your statement made me be all laughy for a few seconds
        thanks for cheering up a crappy day.

        but seriously
        can you tell me where you have seen it done well?

  20. yetra says:

    Worst example in recent times, a film called Stay. I saw it, with medium high hopes, as I like mindfuck films, love ryan gosling, ewan mcgregor, naomi watts, liked what marc forster has done, etc… But the whole thing was just a mess, and the twist at the end (very Jacob’s Ladder) was completely unsatisfying.

    Very great set design though. Almost worth it for that. And honestly, the acting was good. But the twist/explanation for what it was all about, bleh.

    • Todd says:

      I was curious about Stay because once upon a time it was going to be David Fincher’s new movie. Then it wasn’t.

      Hey, it’s Spider-Dog!

  21. sotisse2 says:

    One of the bests: Ursula Leguin’s Lathe of Heaven (not the 2002 remake)

    Worst: Signs. Night must have thought the audience needed to be hit over the head with clues.