Twist and Pout

Running thoughts on movies and their makings.
March 16 2005 8:51 AM

Twist and Pout

Readers in a twist over twist endings, plus TheRing Two.

Thanks to all the twisters and shouters who continue to respond to the column below. The mail on the inclusion of The Usual Suspects (one of my all-time Emperor's New Clothes pictures) is running about 60/40 in favor of its ignominy. (The positive e-mails contain florid words of thanks, the negative read like they were penned by Keyser Soze.) Speaking of whom: I think reader Robert Massing knows who Keyser Soze is and doesn't much care. The problem is that the convoluted scheme to ensnare the rest of the characters doesn't have much of a reason for being.

Unless... the movie is an allegory! Yes, it seems that in art, allegory is the last line of defense. The script of Million Dollar Baby was mothballed and unrealistic—but it was an allegory with boxing as its frame. The Game made no literal sense—but it was an allegory about a man being forced to surrender control to find his faith. I make the same argument myself when I meet critics of Bringing Up Baby, but that film is supposed to make you laugh.

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If it's not allegory, perhaps it is Dostoevskyan! So said defenders of Fight Club, admittedly an inventive and resonant piece of filmmaking. My gripe with the final twist is that it shifts the drama from the realm of the sociological to the realm of the psychoanalytic. And the finale, scored with the Pixies' "Where Is My Mind?" comes off facetiously—as if director David Fincher is throwing the movie away.

We can certainly argue civilly and in good faith about many of these films and their outlandish endings. But there can be no argument about Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes. Sorry. The dozen of you who wrote, "Dude, try reading Pierre Boulle's original book! It's the same ending!" should check out my original review, which discusses the novella (something of a Swiftian satire) and concludes that its ending is elaborately set up—whereas Burton's doesn't make a lick of sense. So there, dudes.

I don't want to overpraise The Ring Two (DreamWorks), but it's refreshing to see an eerie little coastal ghost movie without a twist ending. Directed by Hideo Nakata (who made the original Japanese Ringu), it hits deeper emotionally than its scarier but junkier predecessor. The emphasis here is not on that videotape from hell; it's on the vengeful child-ghost Samara, who's trying to take possession of the son (David Dorfman) of the heroine, Rachel (Naomi Watts). As the boy's body temperature drops, the physical world, bathed in ectoplasmic bad vibes, becomes a Gothic dreamscape, with swirls of long black hair, twisted trees that spontaneously combust, and moose of death. (That is not a misprint.)

The Ring Two is basically an, uh, allegory of motherly love: Accused of child abuse and brought to the brink of child murder, this mother will go to the pit of hell—depicted alternately as a dank well and the inside of a TV—to save her lost child (in this case, from another child come back from the grave to find a mother). Naomi Watts is really some kind of actress. When she casts herself into Samara's demon sea, she's like Brunnehilde in Valhalla, only much thinner. ...2 p.m. PT

It's always a delight when a contest elicits not only a flood of responses but of emotions, and on the basis of the 200 or so e-mails I've received since last Thursday, this twist endings business gets moviegoers pretty riled up. I got a lot of rants! The inevitable conclusion is that the climactic whammy is a risky play. For every The Sixth Sense, there is a corresponding—well, The Village, to stick with the Shyamster oeuvre.

The challenge here is to do justice to the badness of these endings without spoiling them for people who will now wish, for whatever masochistic reasons, to take a switchback ride into the doo-doo lagoon. So let's begin merely by citing the most reviled 20 twists. After that, spoilers will be preceded by three exclamation points!!!

By the way: Hoping to gain some insight into the thinking behind the climactic reversal, I wrote to a publicist at New Line asking nicely whether Mike Binder, the writer-director of The Upside of Anger, would care to explain why he ended such a flawed but fundamentally witty and intelligent script with such an idiotic revelation. So far, radio silence.
 
There were many endings that didn't fit the category (they were merely stupid, not twisty), and many of which I'm actually fond. Although not all of these are great movies, I like and can defend the finales of Don't Look Now, Mulholland Drive, The Others, Vanilla Sky (or, more precisely, its Spanish original, Abre Los Ojos), Femme Fatale, Saw, Dark City, eXistenz, and Arlington Road. I can even make a teensy-weensy case for the outlandish revelation at the end of Identity: Dramatically unsatisfying and therapeutically absurd, it warrants at least a point for weirdness. Magnolia? No, sorry Tim Carvell—the frogs rock. Wild Things? No—double-crosses, triple-crosses, and triple-gainer (with a twist) crosses are standard in that sort of noir, and for its Denise Richards-on-Neve Campbell action, I'd forgive it almost anything. (Similarly, such subpar surprise mysteries as Twisted, Masquerade, Color of Night, and Along Came a Spider are very much of their genre.)

After careful consideration of all the submissions, here are my 20 choices for most absurd twist endings, including the three movies I've already mentioned.
 
1. The Life of David Gale
2. The Game
3. Planet of the Apes (Tim Burton version)
4. Basic
5. The Woman in the Window (Fritz Lang)
6. Suspicion (Hitchcock)
7. No Way Out
8. The Village
9. Fight Club
10. The Forgotten
11. Secret Window
12. The Usual Suspects
13. Reindeer Games
14. Never Talk to Strangers
15. Man on Fire
16. I Bury the Living
17. The Contender
18. Swimming Pool
19. The Stepford Wives (remake)
20. The Upside of Anger

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