A Twist of Lemon

David Edelstein calls for his audience’s least favorite twist film endings and gets over 200 comments and suggestions from readers. Like him, I’d happily defend the twists in Mulholland Drive, Arlington Road (one of the most underrated films of the last ten years), and even Wild Things. Appreciated the twist in Vanilla Sky, although I don’t think it’s very far from the “it was all a dream” pet peeve he describes. Mystified: is the ending of Dark City really a “twist?” After all, Kiefer Sutherland’s character, Dr. Schreber, tells you everything you need to know about the city before the opening credits.

But on to the list: I am disappointed by his putting Usual Suspects on the list of films with the “worst” twist endings, because formally, I think the film earns the twist at the end. I’m a little more ambivalent about the twist in Fight Club, especially the ways in which Tyler’s revelation contains the film’s more subversive elements, but styliitsically it fits the film rather well, especially given how the “projectionist” sequence anticipates the possibility that the film is being manipulated.

If I had to put one film at the top of the list, it would be The Village (my original take). Other films I’d add: the awful Sean Connery vehicle (and pro-death penalty screed), Just Cause to the top of the list . Frequency‘s time-travel resolution of its serial murder manhunt is a bit too easy, and I’ll throw another Shyamalan film on the list with Unbreakable, which also seemed a bit obvious and bit too easy.

So what are some of your favorite (or better, least favorite) twist endings?


  1. prolurkr Said,

    March 17, 2005 @ 11:20 am

    The worst “twist” ending I have ever seen is The Village. Not only is it transparent, it’s lame. How are they getting supplies in if no one outside knows they are there? Where are the new sheep going to come from? Or are they just going to peacefully starve to death? This is one of those films that expects to audience to suspend belief to an unbelievably high level. That said it is a beautifully filmed picture that should maybe be viewed with the sound off. Have a party and make up your own dialogue and plot…couldn’t be any worse than the original.

  2. Dylan Said,

    March 17, 2005 @ 12:24 pm

    The Village is the worst of Shyamalan’s films, but I liked it much better on a second viewing when I realized that he was trying to get away from the strict pattern he’d set for himself of trick endings and going more towards an allegory about terrorism and the government.

    I will defend Unbreakable to the death, I just don’t have the energy right now.

    The worst twist in recent memory for me was The Life of David Gale… a horrible movie which, when the twist finally came along, had left me feeling so manipulated that I wanted to throw something at the screen. Maybe I had high hopes for the film, but it was an utter piece of crap… and the twist just made it worse.

  3. Chuck Said,

    March 17, 2005 @ 3:31 pm

    I haven’t seen “David Gale.” I ws frightened off by all of the negative reviews, including Edelstein’s. I’d be curious to hear your defense of “Unbreakable,” and my dissing of it here is probably a bit harsh.

    The Village’s cinematography is great, but yeah, it would be great fun to “rewrite” the dialogue for that film.

  4. Mel Said,

    March 17, 2005 @ 5:24 pm

    thinking about this raises interesting questions about how one should define “twist” or “twist ending” — i.e., if there’s a gimmicky structure perceptible earlier on (like in Identity) is that a twist, or is it only a twist if you can’t guess it?

    I didn’t mind it in David Gale. But I’d watch Kevin Spacey read the phonebook.

  5. Dylan Said,

    March 18, 2005 @ 12:26 am

    Ok… my defense of “Unbreakable”, in a nutshell…

    Although I believed this before “Signs”, I think that “Unbreakable” can be better viewed after seeing “Signs.” What is unique about what Shyalaman does, and this is not a secret or deep insight, is make human versions of all the popular supernatural ones. In Sixth Sense, the ghost story. Unbreakable, the Superhero. Signs, the Alien story. I guess The Village is a bit more difficult to define, but is more of a Twilight Zone sort of experience (I read, later, that there was a TZ episode of a similar plot).

    Unbreakable is slow, but I was never bored. It is almost Taratinian in the way it analyzes its superheros. There is something very, I don’t know, authentic about the Willis/Jackson duo’s motivations. Jackson, as a person who grew up fragile, and found his solace in comic books, could very well justify his existance by trying to find his opposite, or the yin to his yang. I don’t know… for some reason, that was very believable to me.

    And Willis’ portrayal of a person coming to terms with a superpower… it was authentic. The superpowers he had, they just seemed natural. This wasn’t a guy with x-ray vision who could stretch his arms like plastic. No, he was a man who had above average endurance and strength, and when he came to terms with how unique he was, and channeled it into doing good, he was able to operate at the peak of a performance.

    Shyalaman’s style is so subtle, that none of this seems like a stretch. And his cinematography in this film far exceeds any of the other films.

    I sincerely suggest giving this film a second look, with a bit of an open mind. There are some treasures in it.

  6. Chuck Said,

    March 18, 2005 @ 8:40 am

    Mel, that’s a good question that I tried to ignore when writing the blog entry. I think there’s a difference between a “gimmick” twist (“The Village”) and an unexpected narrative turn, but even with two cups of coffee, I’m not prepared to define that.

    Dylan, I liked Unbreakable until the twist ending but found the sudden shift in the characterization of the Sam. Jackson character to be a bit over the top. I certainly appreciated the somewhat elegant development of the Bruce Willis character’s realization of his “powers,” but that plot turn seemed excessive, though it has been five or so years since I saw that film.

  7. Cassie Said,

    March 18, 2005 @ 12:11 pm

    I never found The Usual Suspects to /have/ a twist, as it goes. It was all one thing, from the beginning, and the signs were there if you knew what to look for. The only thing that changed was that most of us didn’t know what to look for before it was explained. You might as well call sleight-of-hand a plot twist.

    The Village was the first and, so far, only Shyalaman film I’ve seen. It bored the crap out of me, for the most part, though I did learn that my fascination with Joaquin Phoenix extends to bad roles as well. Even I managed to guess what was going on — it was annoying.

    I liked both Mulholland Drive (save for the lesbian sex scene, which is apparently unsurprising since I like girls & am interested in gender politics) and Arlington Road. My feelings for Vanilla Sky mostly involve the excellent scripting of Penelope Cruz’ character, who has a few very memorable lines that I still use, and the movie’s excellent soundtrack.

  8. Dylan Said,

    March 18, 2005 @ 1:51 pm

    The genius of Mulholland Drive’s lesbian sex scene is, at least for me, when I first watched it I went “Awesome… lesbian sex… but how gratuitous,” until you watch to the end and realize that it wasn’t all that gratuitous, but actually served as a major plot point.

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