The other day I offered up my five favorite film endings that weren't twist endings. As I stated before, I mean the literal ending of the film, as in the last seconds before it goes to black.
Twist endings have an upper-hand because they are undoubtedly going to force a major reaction. Good endings, ones that feel natural (or at least plausible) totally change everything you just saw and add a whole new element to the film when viewing it for the second time.
Bad endings make you want to throw something at the screen, outraged at the sheer audacity that someone either thought you would think it made sense or didn't have enough confidence in their film to let it end normally.
In this case, I was again looking at the literal ending of the film, which made it a bit tougher. Rarely is the major twist revealed at the very, very end.
THERE BE SPOILERS!
Way before twist endings were cool (and then stopped being cool), Hitchcock dropped a HUGE one. We thought we were watching a film about a crazy old lady that hurts her son's fledgling motel business by killing the guests, but he loves her so much that he tries to keep it a secret.
Turns out it's much more complicated than that. Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) is totally off his rocker and thinks that he's his mother, inhabiting both personalities and killing anyone that could possible thwart that reality.
His mother's decomposing body is found in the basement dressed up in her nicest sweater, sitting innocently in a chair. Norman is subdued and taken to jail.
The movie loses almost all of its momentum when there's a lengthy, boring pseudo-scientific explanation for why Norman did this, but really it doesn't tell us anything we don't already know.
Thankfully, it's saved by the final shot of Norman as we hear his thoughts, which have now switched back to his mother's thoughts. That grin on his face is incredibly creepy, even more so when his mother's dead skull is superimposed over the image right before the fade out.
I only wish it had faded to black instead of the shot of the car being pulled out of the mud.
I debated for awhile about whether or not this was actually a twist ending. Make no mistake...it's a hell of a climax. I haven't seen the film in a few years but checked out the ending, which still packs a wallop.
I've decided it counts as a twist for two reasons:
1. While we're likely expecting something big to happen when John Doe (Kevin Spacey) leads the detectives out to "the other victims", we probably think his plans involve killing them, not coercing one of them into killing him.
2. Knowing the ending adds an element to the film when you watch a second time, as Tracy (Gwyneth Paltrow) takes on a new importance, making both her relationship with her husband, Detective Mills (Brad Pitt) and her secret with Detective Somerset (Freeman) preludes to a horrible tragedy.
After the climax has occurred, we see police cars dealing with the aftermath as Freeman's narration takes us out: "Ernest Hemingway once wrote 'The world is a fine place and worth fight for.' I agree with the second part."
Considering what we've just witnessed, it's hard not to agree with Somerset's take on it.
#3: The Sixth Sense
I envy anyone that saw or will get to see this movie without knowing that there's a twist to look for. I knew beforehand and figured it out one scene before it was revealed.
But even if you're expecting a twist, (hell, even if you figure out what it is) that doesn't make it any less jaw-dropping. It's perfect because it doesn't take anything away from what you've just watched. In fact, it makes it that much better upon a second viewing.
Malcolm (Bruce Willis) finally realizes the truth when his wife (Olivia Williams) drops his wedding ring onto the floor. A number of other things (the table blocking the door, the cold air, the blood on the back of his shirt) make the answer undeniable.
We do get a few quick shots from earlier in the movie, but it doesn't get monotonous. Instead, we get to see more of the opening scene where Malcolm was shot (and died).
Now knowing that he must go, he sits down and tells his wife that he loves her. Perhaps hearing him in her sleep and thinking it's a dream, she tells him goodnight.
We fade to a quick shot of their wedding video, showing them dancing together. It's a reminder that they both have to move on before they can be happy again.
This whole movie is a trip. I'm still not entirely convinced that Christopher Nolan wrote this script the way that it appears on screen. He swears he didn't write it forwards and then move things around later. Either way, it's still genius.
There are a number of twists revealed throughout the film, some from scene to scene and some that stretch across the entire film. The fact that half of the film runs backwards makes this only natural.
The end (or beginning, actually) of the film has a number of twists. Lenny (Guy Pearce) is Sammy, the man he keeps telling a story about. That is, he accidentally killed his own wife (who didn't die in the attack that gave him the condition) through insulin overdose when she tested his condition. Lenny already killed the other attacker but obviously didn't remember it, so Teddy (Joe Pantoliano) has used him a number of times to kill people he wants to get rid of.
But the main reveal is that Lenny manipulates himself so that he'll kill Teddy. He's not a cold-blooded killer, but he knows he'll do it if he believes that Teddy killed his wife.
What I love the most is how the film ends in a comical way, with Lenny looking around and asking, "Now, where was I?"
#1: The Usual Suspects
Does anything even need to be said? Though it spawned a trend that I hate where "twist" movies feel the need to repeat dialogue and/or shots to make sure we understand what's just been revealed, in this case we need the help to process the bombshell that's being dropped.
It starts with the dropped cup of coffee. We want to know what Kujan (Chazz Palminteri) just figured out. At first, we don't understand what he sees on the corkboard. What do all of these names have to do with anything?
But then it starts to sink in. What really sells it is the reveal of Kobayashi on the bottom of the coffee mug. Pure brilliance.
Then, just when we we're starting to realize that Verbal Kint (Kevin Spacey) made it all up, we cut to him walking down the sidewalk, as he slowly loses the limp and stretches out his hand. And gets into a car with Kobayashi (or whatever his real name is). Verbal is Keyzer Soze.
Kujan runs out after him, but he's seconds too late. He's left standing alone on the sidewalk, looking around in confusion, whatever what the hell just happened.
And so are we.