plot twists

My love of plot has been established, certainly, but permit me to say a few words about the intellectual delights of the plot that twists. I’m going to talk about film here for just a minute.

The trick to making a convoluted or complex plot work is (I think) pacing. You’ve got to keep things moving quickly enough to keep the viewer (or reader) running at an easy jog, too intrigued to give up, but breathless. I have been thinking about this since we watched Identity on DVD yesterday (John Cusack leads a great cast, well worth seeing), and trying to put together a short list of movies that have (for lack of a better term) a corkscrew plot that ends up someplace you don’t see coming.

The obvious film in this category is The Sixth Sense. I have never run into anyone who went into the movie unprepared, and guessed the twist (at least, nobody I believed). The same is true of M. Night Shyamalan’s next movie, Unbreakable (which I liked better than The Sixth Sense, but I’m pretty much alone in that camp.) Other movies which raised the confounding of expectations to an art form include Arlington Road, 12 Monkeys, Brazil, and The Usual Suspects (although TUS is flawed by an shift in POV toward the end that is, really, a cheat). Having said this, I realize that the twists in all these movies all have something in common, in that not one of them has what you’d call an uplifting or happy ending. I expect some people might disagree with me about Unbreakable, but I do find that ending rather dark. Running around Philadelphia wearing a rain slicker while you’re being pelted with humanity’s worst thoughts, well. It just doesn’t strike me as a happy career choice.

[digression] It’s no coincidence that the Mathematician loves these movies, as he always roots for the Dark Forces. In fact, we’ve had an argument going for years about Brazil, in which he says the ending is a happy one and I insist it is absolutely the opposite of happy: a man driven insane by torture is not my idea of a good time. But, sez the Mathematician, he’s finally where he wants to be. I don’t know, maybe this is a mathematician vs non-mathematician view of things. [/digression]

Writing this I come to a realization: for me, the test of a really well done corkscrew plot is the fact that I am forced not only to accept the inevitability, but to embrace a Bad Ending as the only possible and true resolution. And more than that: I kinda like it.

5 Replies to “plot twists”

  1. I figured out the twist of The Sixth Sense!

    But, the film had been out for six months when I saw it, so even though I didn’t know what the twist was, I knew there was a twist, which put me “on the hunt” as soon as the movie started, so to speak. Also, when I saw the movie, the film broke two-thirds of the way through, so I had five minutes to sit and work it out in my head.

    I also have to say that I figured out The Usual Suspects very quickly, and I have hated that movie ever since I saw it because it took what had started out as an interesting story about interesting characters and turned it into a “trick movie” instead.

  2. “Fight Club” had a great twist that came out of absolutely nowhere – it had me, and the people I first watched it with, completely flummoxed.

  3. I admit both “The Sixth Sense” and “Fight Club” floored me when I saw them first. And I think that all the people who went on and on about the twist in “Sixth Sense” were cruel – getting completely taken in by a plot twist is one of my favourite things in a movie. I don’t like predictable. The only time “ruining” a twist was amusing was telling an entire hostel of students that Dewey was the killer in “Scream 3” then refusing to elaberate. That was probably more comical than the movie itself. Besides, I think we may have uped its NZ ratings no end!

  4. Funny that you mention this, my fiance and I were discussing movies with a twist just the other day. He claims that he knew that the MC was dead in “The Sixth Sense,” but I do not believe him–the wavering stare gave him away.

    I loved “Unbreakable” as well. He also argued that “Unbreakable” did not have a twist. I defy his logic, UNwavering stare be damned. Other movies that had great twists were The Others and Fight Club (as was mentioned above).

    Finally, I’m very much a fan (as well as a writer) of Flash Fiction–stories 1000 words or less, but usually closer to 500 words. To me, what makes Flash Fiction compelling is the twist at the end. I believe it’s the trademark of a good piece of Flash. One of my favorites, and I think you would appreciate it too, is “Get You Dirty” by Pam Casto:

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