Friday, July 30, 2010

Twisted

Last weekend I saw Inception. Best movie of the year – so far. I love movies that make you think and have twists and turns that keep you guessing. The whole time I felt like I was hanging on for dear life. Not because it was so suspenseful (although it was) but because my puny brain was trying to keep up with all that was happening and when it was happening and who it was happening to.

And then there’s the ending. The scene right before the credits roll. The one everyone talks about. The one everyone is trying to figure out. I won’t spoil it but let’s just say the reaction in the theater was a collective groan.

I love movies with surprise twists in them and while I know I’m not the smartest person in the room (and I’m in a room by myself right now, by the way) I have to say that I sometimes can figure out what the twist is before it’s revealed. I think the reason for this is that I’m always looking for potential twists to the story. Especially if I know ahead of time that one exists.

With Inception I had been careful not to read much about the movie cuz I didn’t want it to be spoiled for me. However, I did hear that there was lots of discussion around the final scene of the movie and what it meant. Before we went into the theater I told Elizabeth that I thought I knew what the “twist” might be but that I wouldn’t tell her until afterward. When the movie ended she asked if I was right. I was and I wasn’t. I did not have a clue about the final scene BUT the question behind it was what I thought it might be.

I know this makes no sense (probably even if you’ve seen the movie) but I don’t want to spoil it for those who might see it someday. (If you wanna know what my theory was, let me know.)

Seeing Inception got me to thinking about other movies I’ve seen with surprise twists and turns AND whether I had figured them out before the end. Here’s a few of them and be careful! If you haven’t seen these, I’ll probably ruin them for you!


SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT!


The Sting
For me The Sting is the granddaddy of the surprise ending movies. The first one I remember seeing anyway. This is the movie that coined the word “sting.” No one had used it in this sense before this movie came out.

I watched the whole movie thinking how clever Paul Newman and Robert Redford were for setting up such a clever scam. And then it all fell apart and I thought, “Oh no, how will they get out of this alive?” But then comes the twist – Newman and Redford had planned for things to go wrong all the time and the bad guys played right into their hands!

Did I figure it out before the end? Not even close. No clue at all. But this is the movie that got me watching every movie for twists and turns and surprises endings.


Memento
Before Inception, Christopher Nolan wrote and directed Memento. The movie is about a man (Guy Pearce) who is trying to solve the brutal murder of his wife. The only problem is that he has kind of a long term memory problem. He can’t remember things for more than a few minutes at a time and then they begin to fade away. So he takes pictures and makes notes (mostly in the form of tattoos) to help ensure he doesn’t lose track of what he’s learned. The coolest thing about this movie is that it plays out in reverse chronological order. You see the last scene first and work back from there.

Did I figure it out before the end? Nope. In fact, I can’t remember now “whodunit.” I was too wrapped up in the gimmick of the whole thing. This remains my favorite of all the “movies that make me think” however.


The Usual Suspects
Everyone talked about how clever The Usual Suspects was so when I watched the movie, I was deliberately trying to figure out the central mystery of “Who is Keyser Söze?”

Did I figure it out before the end? Yep. It’s easy when you’re looking for it.


Sixth Sense
Like The Usual Suspects, The Sixth Sense is another movie where I knew there was a surprise ending, so I was watching for it the entire way.

Did I figure it out before the end? Yep. Once the opening scene where Bruce Willis is attacked is over, I had it figured out. The big tipoff for me is how Bruce Willis’ wife never speaks to him in any scene after the beginning. It was like he wasn’t even there! (Cuz he wasn’t.) And, on top of that, Haley Joel Osment keeps saying, “I see dead people.” Duh!


The Village
Another M. Night Shyamalan movie. Not as good as The Sixth Sense but, in its own way, even cooler. The residents of an isolated puritan-like village believe that some mysterious creatures inhabit the forest around them. They believe they are trapped and cannot leave the boundaries of their Village. Or, that’s what some in The Village want you to believe anyway.

Did I figure it out before the end? Nope. I knew there was a twist and was watching for it but until it was revealed, I didn’t have a clue.


Presumed Innocent
I had read the book, Presumed Innocent, before I saw the movie. I still think this is the best “whodunit” I’ve ever read – and the movie is almost as good as the book. The story is about a woman who has been brutally murdered and the deputy D.A. that leads the investigation. It turns out that the deputy D.A. was having an affair with the murdered woman and, as the investigation develops, he finds himself framed for the murder.

Did I figure it out before the end? Nope. The book is written from the deputy D.A.’s point of view. I was convinced that it would turn out he had done it. Mostly because I thought it would be such a clever trick to have the narrator of the story turn out to be the killer. That wasn’t it though and when you figure out who did it, well, I was just blown away.


The Matrix
The Matrix is probably more of an inspiration for Inception than anything else. Kinda the whole being “in the world but not of the world” thing. We all know the story, so no need to summarize it here.

Did I figure it out before the end? Kinda. I could see it coming but until Lawrence Fishburne explained it, I was stumped.


Gone, Baby Gone
If you’ve never seen Gone, Baby Gone you should check it out. It’s the story of two Boston detectives who investigate a little girl’s kidnapping. But it’s not that simple. It’s based on the novel by Dennis Lehane, who also wrote Mystic River and feels similar in lots of ways.

Did I figure it out before the end? Yes. And without getting specific, if you hire Morgan Freeman to play what amounts to a bit part, you gotta figure there’s a reason.


Million Dollar Baby
There is a twist in Million Dollar Baby that comes about halfway through the film. It completely changes the direction of the movie. Through the first half you think the movie is about a woman who wants to become a successful boxer and the manager / trainer who reluctantly helps her. And then it becomes something completely different.

Did I figure it out before the end? No. Did NOT see the big twist until it happened. Even then I didn’t see where things were really going for a while. And then I cried.


Donnie Darko
Donnie Darko is the freakiest, weirdest most twisted movie ever. I can’t even begin to describe what it’s about. A dysfunctional suburban family. An airplane accident. The scariest bunny costume ever.

Did I figure it out before the end? I’m not sure. I’ve seen it three times now and it still mystifies me every time. What I do know is something a friend told me about the movie: Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhall) is just trying to do the right thing.


Mulholland Drive
I’m not even sure how to describe Mulholland Drive. A hopeful starlet, a car wreck, amnesia, dreams, reality and then it changes every two seconds from there until the end.

Did I figure it out before the end? No. There is no figuring this movie out.


Murder on the Orient Express
The old Agatha Christie story “Mystery on the Orient Express” has been made and remade a few times over the years. The latest version is a PBS “Masterpiece Mystery” version that I saw recently. What seems like a casual trip on a luxurious train with a group of random passengers is anything but. When someone is murdered you find out that virtually everyone on the train could be a suspect. And when the detective, Hercule Poirot, reveals “whodunit” you realize you were right.

Did I figure it out before the end? Nope. Even though I’d seen it before. Even though the clues are obvious. Didn’t see it coming.


Crimson Tide
Okay, Crimson Tide is not a mystery in any real sense. It’s about a nuclear missile submarine that loses contact with the outside world, just as an apparent attack on the United States is about to begin. The first officer (played by Denzel Washington) stages a mutiny to prevent the captain (played by Gene Hackman) from launching his missiles. The protocol is for the missiles to be launched but the first officer believes its nuts to do so given the fact that they aren’t able to confirm the order.

Did I figure it out before the end? Okay, that’s not really the right question here. I threw this one in because I think I could have written a better ending. The movie ends with Denzel preventing the missiles from being launched and, thank heaven, cuz the stinkin’ Commies didn’t attack after all. Crisis averted! However, through the whole movie I thought the twist was gonna be that the Commies DID attack and because of Denzel’s mutiny, the world has been destroyed. My ending would have been better.
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