Redefining Reality

| 14 Comments

I happened to be looking at the Wikipedia article for Keyser Soze today, and saw this:

In his 1999 review of Fight Club, film critic Roger Ebert commented that "A lot of recent films seem unsatisfied unless they can add final scenes that redefine the reality of everything that has gone before; call it the Keyser Söze syndrome."

So naturally, I tried to think of films besides Fight Club and The Usual Suspects that do that. The only ones that leap to mind are The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable. The Village comes close, but the twist arrives earlier than at the very end of the film.

Am I missing any outside of the Shayamalan oeuvre? I recall hearing that Vanilla Sky had a twist, but I haven't seen the film so I don't know if it qualifies by having a reality-redefining twist.

For our purposes, let's only consider films after The Usual Suspects (1994). And please, no spoilers.

14 Comments

How about "The Game," with Michael Douglas. I've never actually seen it, so I'm no authority, but my understanding is that it does something similar.

All the ones I can think of come before The Usual Suspects: Planet of the Apes, Soylent Green, Being There, Blade Runner. Last night I watched National Lampoon's Dorm Daze; it got one star in the cable listing, and it was definitely amatuerish. But it was entertaining, a really intricately plotted comedy of errors, and ended with a reveal-- it wasn't quite reality-redefining, and you could see it coming if you were at all paying attention, but it was still amusing to see a Keyser Soze moment in a movie like this.

All the ones I can think of come before The Usual Suspects: Planet of the Apes, Soylent Green, Being There, Blade Runner. Last night I watched National Lampoon's Dorm Daze; it got one star in the cable listing, and it was definitely amatuerish. But it was entertaining, a really intricately plotted comedy of errors, and ended with a reveal-- it wasn't quite reality-redefining, and you could see it coming if you were at all paying attention, but it was still amusing to see a Keyser Soze moment in a movie like this.

Gah, sorry about the double post. I got a 500 Internal Server Error page and thought that meant it didn't get posted.

Jacob's Ladder
Adaptation (to a degree, and you'll have to see it to know what I mean)

I kinda dig it when a movie does this well. I'm sure there are others that aren't jumping to mind...

"The Game" is a twist ending, but I wouldn't say it redefines the whole movie, since the whole time it's flopping you between believing it's true (in the context of the movie) or just a game.

Memento is definitely a twist ending - or should we call it a twist beginning?

12 Monkeys (1995) barely fits in the alloted time frame. I haven't seen that movie in quite a while.

The Others is... well I don't want to spoil it, but it's practically a clone of a movie that came before it (same twist).

Both The Prestige and The Illusionist are movies about magicians, with twist "how they did it" endings.

Also, The Machinist.

The Prestige, a very good movie.

The Thirteenth Floor, a very bad one.

Planet of the Apes was the first I thought of. Classic.

I kinda want to say Memento as well. The structure of the film is constantly redefining it.

And Psycho anyone? Though I then might have to throw in Empire Strikes Back, but I'm not sure I want to. Not wholly world changing, but certainly something we didn't see coming.

My first thought was "No Way Out" but that is older than 1994... one of my other favorites was "Just Cause" (Sean Connery). I happen to love movies that surprise me like that.

Sorry about the 500 errors-- I think that's a server timeout, and I'm not sure what to do to prevent it. The good news is that your comments are still saved, so it's more of a user interface issue (but at a deeper level than what I have control over, it seems).

I'm looking for movies in which a reveal at the end forces you to reevaluate your perception of the movie's reality. The Game and Memento are playing with perception the entire time, so the reveal doesn't really turn anything on its head. Likewise for 12 Monkeys-- it's a great moment, but it doesn't retcon the entire film. The Others definitely applies. I thought the "twist" in The Illusionist was obvious, and was annoyed that they never explained how he pulled off the absurdly realistic ghost effects (either he's a magician or he's a sorceror-- pick one). The Prestige, on the other hand, was awesome, and definitely qualifies.

Vanilla Sky defintely fits.

Some say that Minority Report has a reality-changing twist at the end, but it only affects a certain portion of the film. The writer and director say they didn't put it in there intentionally, but it is an interesting take on it.

I think The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable made me realize that some of my basic assumptions about motivation were wrong, not that the reality was different than what was "reported". Maybe that's a fine line, but I'm hoping not to include the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

It's not in any way a twist or "reality redefinition" but...

I really like how upon a second viewing of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), you notice the innocuous garbage men much earlier than you otherwise would. Very subtle.

I rationaled away the ghost effects in The Illusionist as being how one 19th-century person who had seen the event would describe it to another 19th-century person. (Still didn't make it a good movie though.)

Some other ones to consider:

House of Flying Daggers

Big Fish (a bit of a backwards version; you spend most of the movie doubting the reality of the movie but the end makes you doubt your doubt)
Primer (the problem with this one is that most people are so confused with the plot that when the big twist happens at the end it just creates more confusion instead of a revelation)

Mulholland Dr. (similar to above. The movie doesn't explain itself, and things don't make sense, but at least when I saw it, I was pausing every five minutes and trying to make the whole plot consistent... and this worked until the last five minutes.)

Waking Life. I think. I'm not sure I ever understood this one fully.

Batman Begins, maybe. I think it's in the same class as Unbreakable.

Kid fantasy movies like doing this trick where the protagonist is in some fantasy world, but it all ends up arguably just being a, well, fantasy world, except that in the last five minutes of the movie something shows up in real life that is supposed to make you think, hey, maybe the fantasy world is real. Especially if the protagonist is a young girl. MirrorMask, Coraline, Spirited Away, and Forbidden Kingdom all do this, if you want examples after 1995. Contact kinda did this, although that was more aimed at adults. Horror movies like doing this too; both of the last two horror movies I saw (The Ring and 1408) did this trick.

I've also heard that Irresistible and Atonement have something like this, but I haven't seen them yet.

Monthly Archives