In case you’re new to Medium Cool, BGinCHI is here once a week to offer a thread on culture, mainly film & books, with some TV thrown in.
For this week’s Medium Cool, it’s Valentine’s Day, so let’s talk about endings.
This past week I taught Otto Preminger’s “Anatomy of a Murder” in my undergrad film class. One thing that has always struck me about this film is its ending. We’ve had a nice courtroom drama, met an interesting ensemble of characters, likely rooted for Jimmy Stewart’s character (Paul Biegler, defense attorney) to succeed in getting his client out of a murder rap, and then in the end, Biegler and his friend discover that the defendant and his wife have run out on them.
As the credits roll, we might well wonder whether we have misjudged the proceedings, putting our hopes on something the film has seduced us into. We’re forced by the end to reconsider the film from start to finish.
What other works (film, TV, books) can you think of that do this, and how do they do it?
“He loved Big Brother.”
Inb4 “Usual Suspects” gets taken.
The image is a still of the final long take that ends Michael Haneke’s 2005 film, Caché.
In it, you learn something that might change your thinking about the central (but unsolvable) mystery of the film. It’s been famously argued over since someone actually paid attention to it (the credits roll over it, so it was a long time before someone said anything). There’s no dialogue, so it’s just guess work.
Incredible film at many levels.
@Baud: Terrific example.
I suppose it’s so old as to be passe, but I remember being pretty blown away by the ending of Momento.
Formerly disgruntled in Oregon
Memento has an ending that changes your perspective on the rest of the film.
Gin & Tonic
Uh, Blade Runner?
Formerly disgruntled in Oregon
@mali muso: Good timing ?
Inside Man‘s ending may fall into this category, although in truth there is less ambiguity.
@Formerly disgruntled in Oregon: Wow, that was freaky.
Remember when The Crying Game was shocking?
@Kristine: Hmm. For the life of me I can’t remember the end of that film, though I really liked it.
The 1982 British gangster film, “The Long Good Friday.” Some subtle reversals lead to a chilling end scene involving Bob Hoskins.
There is a kind of melancholic reversal at the conclusion of “McCabe and Mrs Miller.”
“Rogue One” ends in a somewhat surprising fashion, somewhat unusual for a Star Wars film.
And of course, “Seven”
@BGinCHI: Without giving too much away, good and bad switch places.
The ending of Parasite was pretty damn surprising, but it feels a little to recent to give away.
@Formerly disgruntled in Oregon: Great minds think alike…
The Sixth Sense.
When Willis suddenly clutched his side at the end, all sorts of small inconsistencies throughout the movie suddenly made sense. It is still the best movie Shyamalan has made.
I think the most common technique for doing this is to have an unreliable narrator or point-of-view character. The Usual Suspects and Memento came to my mind for that, after Shutter Island.
A compelling story is told, in which most (but not all) events have so plausible an explanation that you don’t even think of alternatives, but at the end you’re offered a different perspective that turns out to be the correct one.
@patrick II: Great example.
Emma from FL
@patrick II: Agreed. I am not usually surprised by a film and this one did it.
Yes. Thanks for not spoiling.
I had heard so many good things about “Parasite,” but did not read detail reviews. It might not have spoiled everything, but I was very glad that I was able to just watch things unfold.
The Planet of the Apes was a movie that really surprised me with the ending. Of course back then, with no internet, the surprise was actually a surprise for most movie-goers.
In more recent times, The Sixth Sense did a good job of making the viewer see the whole story differently.
ETA: Or what Patrick II said.
Though there are a lot of films with surprise endings, I’m more interested in an ending that forces you to re-think the whole narrative.
There are probably a lot more films that do this than books.
Shakespeare’s Measure For Measure, for example, has a twist at the end that forces you to re-imagine the motives of the main character (the Duke of Vienna). When teaching it, though, I urge my students to study his motives throughout the play, as they betray what he’s up to from the outset.
I think one of the great endings in terms of ‘lover over all’ is the end of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless mind and that Clem and Joel will go through it more time.
First ones which spring to mind and in varying degree fit the parameters:
Make Way for Tomorrow
Man Hunt (1941 — the one with Walter Pidgeon, provided one slips on the shoes of its contemporary audience when watching)
A Crooked Somebody
Kind Hearts and Coronets
The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek
In a distinct minority, as had the ending of Usual Suspects doped out about 30 minutes into it, the remainder of the time spent just waiting for it to get there.
@mali muso: @Formerly disgruntled in Oregon:
Agreed. Though I think the way the film was structured, any ending would have had the same effect.
One of my all-time favorite movies.
Major Major Major Major
First thing that comes to mind is Midsommar. Not an exact parallel, but it seduces/brainwashes you like the cultists do to the main characters and makes you root for some pretty fucked up stuff by the end.
I don’t like “this makes me rethink everything!” endings in general. Still mad about The Use Of Weapons.
James E Powell
Cliche maybe, but Casablanca. I wonder what it was like for those seeing it in theater in 1942.
The Graduate. I’ve always wondered how many takes there were and if their facial expressions were intentional or just caught on camera.
Thelma & Louise. Saw this with a several women. Two things I did not expect: the ending itself and the women I was with almost giving it a standing ovation.
@rm: Yes! That dizzying reveal about time is really wonderful.
“Chinatown” and “Insomnia” come to mind.
@RSA: You’re absolutely right, though this is my least favorite version of this structure.
I also hold the (apparently) unpopular opinion that Shutter Island is a terrible, terrible film.
@scottinnj: Yeah, that’s a smart film.
Have you seen I’m Thinking of Ending Things?
Kaufman has a hell of an imagination…..
David Lynch’s “Mulholland Drive.” The first 75-80% of the movie you think you maybe sorta know what’s going on, and then–very suddenly–everything is turned upside down and inside out and you haven’t a clue how what you’re seeing relates to everything that happened earlier. It’s completely discombobulating.
@Major Major Major Major:
Banks was fond of throwing a curveball in the last line or so of his books. The sign-off at the end of The Player of Games, for instance. That fits the bill of ‘reevaluate the whole premise of the story’ pretty well.
I haven’t seen the movie, but I was surprised at how highly the novel was praised for what seemed like a pretty ordinary twist.
I once read a short story that played on my expectations in an unusual way, though I don’t remember the title or the author. A crime is committed. The police have a suspect. Seeing the shortcomings of the case against the suspect, a couple of amateur detectives start their own investigation. In the traditional English mystery style, they manage to solve the ingenious crime and identify the real culprit. When they present their solution to the police, though, a detective walks them through the police investigation, the actual evidence, and the original suspect, who confessed in the end.
It wasn’t in-depth enough to make me revisit the narrative, though.
Emma from FL
@RSA: There are a couple of 1930s or 40s short stories that used similar tropes, but it was usually the psychiatrist who was the escaped madman. Fredric Brown? I should check.
@Major Major Major Major:
Yeah, that was… unnecessary? I don’t know.
Major Major Major Major
@dmsilev: oh, that ending is cute though, it doesn’t make you rethink anything so fundamental.
@RSA: in my head it is simply not the ending. Lol
@Emma from FL: Could have been! You’re right about the pulps playing with the genre at times.
@Major Major Major Major: Still haven’t seen Misdommar. Damn it. Need to.
Hmm. The Duke is like a Deity (or the playwright). He sets things in motion (a Duke ex Machina), but ultimately much of the play is about Angelo and Isabella.
No one else has mentioned books, so I will. Also, not an ending, but an earthquake-sized shift in the middle. If anyone has ever read any of William Trevor’s novels, they’ll know how the plot can totally change in just a single, small sentence. An elderly man thought to be kindly is suddenly discovered to be a monstrous psychopathic predator.
One more, which just barely squeezes into the category (IMHO).
State and Main
@Zuleika: Great example.
@Major Major Major Major: It reveals that the main character was steered into the story by SC right from the beginning. The whole thing was a set-up.
The chronically misunderstood and better than its fans, “Fight Club.”
As for TV, pull most about anything with the name Rod Serling attached to it out of the proverbial hat.
@RSA: There’s a Donald Westlake story I think about all the time in which a guy commits a crime that he can easily get away with, but then he can’t help but cooperate with the cops and then he gets “framed” for the crime, which he actually committed.
I really like that kind of playful twist.
LOL, well done!
The Thin Black Duke
Christopher Nolan’s Following. It was his first movie. It took him a year to make because the budget was the loose change he found under the cushions of the sofa, so he filmed it on weekends at the homes of his friends. A B&W mystery noir, the story is a jigsaw narrative of flashbacks and flashforwards that leads the viewer to a stunning conclusion. As annoying as it is to admit it, sometimes Nolan is as smart as he thinks he is.
Agatha Christie: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
Shirley Jackson: The Lottery
The first time I read them and hit the last page, I immediately went back to read them again from the top, to see how the trick was worked.
Major Major Major Major
@dmsilev: which is cute, but does not actually change the main character or the plot we watched in any way. It’s a good add-on twist which enriches the story, as opposed to like nuking it.
The Thin Black Duke
@Zuleika: Excellent choice. That was the first David Lynch movie I liked, because Blue Velvet managed to annoy and bore me at the same time.
@BGinCHI: No I have not and I must add it to my list as I am a huge Jesse Plemons fan. I thought he stole many of the scenes he was in Breaking Bad (no small feat) and sealed it for me on USS Callister.
I always liked Primal Fear because it has so much of Chicago in it. One scene was in the closest drinking place to where I lived, and there was a lot of action in the (very unrealistically depicted) lower level of streets east of Michigan and south of the river, an area I had spent a lot of time exploring by bicycle. The ending certainly had a twist, but I can’t say it made me rethink everything that came before. It certainly changed the way the audience had to think about a character we had been seduced into sympathizing with.
Major Major Major Major
@Zuleika: not coincidentally, the first 70-80% of Mulholland Drive was a TV pilot for Disney, and the rest he cobbled together after some dude paid him a few million to.
@NotMax: Make Way for Tomorrow is a terrific film. Beulah Bondi has such deeply ingrained dignity and grace that shines through every performance.
There are those who call me...tim... (Still posh)
Well, a plot twist is 1 thing, but Anatomy’s ending is perfect in its way. Biegler and his staff are a happy-go-lucky crew to start, and for them, it’s just another day in paradise.
The Thin Black Duke
I highly recommend Russian Doll, the excellent sf/urban drama on Netflix. A ten-episode series that absolutely nails the landing.
@Brachiator: He’s manipulating everyone from his first speech of the play (he knows exactly why he’s leaving, though he isn’t really, and he knows exactly what “special character” Angelo will produce in his stead). He then dresses as a friar and surveils Isabella and her brother, dispensing advice and setting in motion the bed trick and the head tricks that move the plot forward, setting up Angelo for his just desserts. But then it’s the Duke himself, in springing a trap for Angelo, who springs one for Isabella, coercing her to marry him despite the fact that she’s shown every intention of becoming a nun. Not to mention that in order to grease the skids of her (questionable) desire, she withholds the knowledge that Isabella’s brother is still alive, letting her think this until the Duke reveals him at the same time he pops the question.
He’s no deity, and he’s no Christ figure, unless you think God & Jesus are manipulative men who coerce people into forced moral choices. Actually, I might agree with that……
@debbie: Trevor, yes. Good call. That slow, deliberate build up.
@Mike J: Geez, heck yes. Hadn’t thought about it, and should have.
Actually one other one…and I will not say too much to spoil it…but a move that opens and ends with the same scene…and you see that scene in a completely different light…Once Upon A Time in America.
Yeah, although still not as shocking as Ebert giving it away.
I can sometimes find snippets of movies on Youtube as a response to blog comments, etc, but there have been a couple of times when I could have used this one:
“She’s not a tart.”
“No, of course not. She’s a lady.”
“No, she’s not that either.”
@scottinnj: He’s also terrific is season 2 of Fargo.
@rm: excellent choice. I saw Arrival four times with different people. The “aha” moment would vary with each group. Wife complained after the first viewing that I shouldn’t gasp loudly in a theatre.
There are at least a half-dozen Alfred Hitchcock movies that would fit into this category, including Suspicion and Vertigo. Psycho is practically a parody of the whole sub-genre.
Vertigo is a strange one because even though it’s sixty years old and very well known, I still see people commenting on it who don’t seem to “get it”. I hear it described as a creepy romance when the “romance” is all part of the director screwing with you. Did people skip the last ten minutes?
@PST: I don’t know if I’ve ever seen that, but that’s exactly what I’m talking about here.
@The Thin Black Duke: I had a hard time getting into it, but I should re-try.
Have you watched Lodge 49? Slow take-off, but it’s super good.
There are those who call me...tim... (Still posh)
@NotMax: I saw that alone, got blown away, decided I had to watch it with my girlfriend…and, like you, she nailed it early. Now, THAT was a plot twist. Good thing she wasn’t along with the small group I went to Sixth Sense with. I can just hear the whole half-full theater going, “Seriously, Lady?”
“To Serve Man”
I agree with those who referenced The Sixth Sense. It was more than just a surprise ending. It made you go back and reinterpret what you’d just seen.
Ruth Rendell (as Barbara Vine) has several books that do this. But one of my favorites isn’t an ending but a beginning — the beginning of A Dark-Adapted Eye, which is mysterious until you learn more later in the book, and then you just have to go back and reread the beginning.
Yup. I really liked Unbreakable, too. Everything else of his is tied for last place. McAvoy had great performances in the last two, but I didn’t care for them otherwise.
I think Dr, Foster with the always interesting to watch Suranne Jones falls into this category. It didn’t help that I paid no attention to the program description & figured it was one of those cozy British shows where the town doctor assists the local constabulary in solving the murder of the week. It most definitely was not that.
Oh, yes, the ending of Vertigo is so great.
Since Jimmy Stewart started all of this off.. After the Thin Man was one of his first big roles, and at the end it’s revealed that he’s playing a very non-Jimmy Stewart part. And like all the Thin Man movies, it’s a fun little flick in other ways as well.
The Conversation with Gene Hackman is another one with a final scene that turns the movie on its head.
@Splitting Image: They missed all the spirals, evidently.
Rear Window has a great structure too, which is suspenseful in plot, but also in character (that is, you aren’t sure whether you trust even the “good guy”).
I love Anatomy of a Murder, but I have to say I don’t remember the ending. Love the score!
@BGinCHI: Agreed. Just terrible.
@Major Major Major Major:
That’s kind of the way Pulp Fiction was. I was talking to a couple of friends after and saying, “a minute, did we really just laugh at someone getting his head blown off?”
I binge-watched the David Suchet Poirot series last year and thought the Ackroyd story was the most abominably bungled piece of the whole series. The original has stuck in my mind for years because it worked. The TV version didn’t even try to deal with the twist.
I had a similar experience reading “The Lottery”. Still one of the all-time great short stories.
The novel Triangle by Katherine Webber, about the Triangle fire, had such a surprise ending, I immediately reread the book to see where I’d missed any clues.
@BGinCHI: Cool, thanks.
I’ll mention a short story by Neil Gaiman, “Other People,” from his Fragile Things collection; it’s less than a thousand words and the text can be found online. Gaiman has said that it’s such an obvious conceit he thought he’d stolen the idea. But apparently not. @Emma from FL’s mention of Frederic Brown is on target.
This discussion has made me realize that a shift in perspective can happen when the author makes us revisit our assumptions about where, when, or who we’re reading about. I’m thinking it may be easier to do in fantasy/SF short form than other genres.
The end of the two part Star Trek:TNG episode Chain of Command where Picard admits to Counselor Troi that he would have admitted there were five lights just to get the torture to stop.
For a movie that doesn’t have a twist ending but the book it’s taken from does, the Maltese Falcon famously ends with “the stuff that dreams are made of” and the shot of Mary Astor behind the elevator latticed doors, The book, however, ends with a scene where Effie the loyal secretary realizes what a bastard Sam Spade is and shuts down their relationship in a sentence.
I love “mindfuck” movies, and went into Jacob’s Ladder (the one with Tim Robbins as a Vietnam vet) knowing it was a mindfuck movie, but not the precise nature of the twist. I did figure it out before the big reveal, but that didn’t undermine how much I liked the movie.
Francis Coppola’s The Conversation. (I see Geoduck has beat me to it.)
This is stretching the rules a little, but Richard Rush’s The Stuntman, starring Peter O’Toole as a manic, and vaguely menacing, film director. It stretches the rules because nearly every scene in the film consists of the protagonist and/or the audience convinced they’re seeing one thing, only to have the scene finish with a big reveal. It’s a wonderful film about movie magic. Also, maybe a murder mystery.
The Prestige. Maybe this is kind of cheating, since it’s all about magicians, who make their careers out of convincing the audience that they’re seeing one thing, when something else is actually happening.
Mike in NC
@BGinCHI: “Shutter Island” was also Dennis Lehane’s worst book.
I agree that “Unbreakable” was an excellent movie. Roger Ebert noted, after watching both of those, how well Bruce Willis works with kids, and Bruce’s relationships with the the kids (one the character’s son) helped make both of those movies.
What you need to know about Anatomy of a Murder is that it’s real, based on a real case tried in a real courtroom and the author of the book was the defense attorney. And he got stiffed for his fee. In the long term he made up for it with book sales and royalties. If only I had been able to make up for all the times I got stiffed for my fee the same way. In law school the “film club” showed it every year. Perhaps if had been shown in Crim Pro we would have learned to get as much of our fees up front as we could.
Oh. Citizen Kane of course.
The first time I saw it, I stunned my college room-mate by leaning over to him and whispering, “You know, I’ll bet Rosebud is….” It had become obvious to me at that point, because it was involved in the only scene in the film in which Charles Foster Kane was happy.
@JMG: The last line in The Maltese Falcon is Ward Bond saying, “Huh?” after Bogart’s famous line
I like adding the “Huh?”
Fight Club. When all is revealed I was pretty stunned and marveled at Fincher’s chops. Saw it again a few weeks later and was more impressed at the way Norton and Pitt never appear together in front of anyone else. Totally different story.
@RSA: I think you’re right.
It’s riskier in other genres, because it’s so hard to build up a world that is then undercut. Noir does this, but often we kind of know it’s coming.
Another great ending to consider is the very, very end of Altman’s The Long Goodbye. SPOILER ALERT. After Marlowe shoots Terry Lennox, he’s walking away from us down that long road and he’s joyful (kicking up his heels, dancing with a stranger…). Why? He’s been staunchly defending Terry, his good friend, all throughout the film. There’s an answer, but it forces us to reexamine the whole film, and Marlowe’s character. Brilliant film.
@Splitting Image: In 1969, Larry Yust made a low-budget but still quite good short-film adaptation of The Lottery. It’s available on YouTube.
@Mike J: God, yes. I know it’s coming and it still blows me away.
Also, Ex Machina.
Also, the coda of Z. Doesn’t really change the meaning of the whole movie–except how you might have believed the whole time that justice was, inexorably, coming.
@Uncle Omar: Here’s a great piece on John Voelker.
@patrick II: I’ve always thought Willis was pretty good, but Sixth Sense bumped up my respect.
The last episode of Newhart.
As a schoolboy, I checked out a copy of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd from my school library, and then discovered the last chapter had fallen out of the cheap paperback.
I remember that Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? also had a surprise ending, based on the detective character finally realising who Evans was.
@BGinCHI: Primal Fear was Edward Norton’s first big role, as I recall, with a stunt quality to it along the lines of The Usual Suspects. He’s a choir boy who murders an archbishop. The nominal main character is the lawyer who defends him played by Richard Gere.
The scene at the end of The Caine Mutiny, when defense attorney Jose Ferrer chews out the celebrating junior officers for their treatment of Captain Queeg, shifts their perspective as well as the audience’s. Ferrer reminds them that Queeg’s nerves were shot because his grim months of command during the undeclared North Atlantic U-Boat war. They could and should have helped Queeg, Ferrer tells them. Instead they, especially Fred MacMurray, undermined him. The officers’ high spirits are punctured by this truth telling, and they and the audience are taught a lesson about personal and collective responsibility.
@Omnes Omnibus: Yes, the last episode of Newhart is one of the greatest moments in television, no doubt about it.
Ackroyd is arguably one of Christie’s five or six finest works, yet the filmmakers mangled it.
Same thing is true of Dorothy L. Sayers’ Gaudy Night. Among (if not the) best of her novels, but they made an utter hash of it in the TV adaptation. Almost unwatchable.
My friends and I were talking about The Prestige last week, and I realized that it’s probably time for a rewatch. It was a fun little ‘wtf did I just watch?’ movie.
I also need to rewatch 2011’s Take Shelter, with Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain. Because that ending was ‘oh, so this wasn’t all in his head?’
Does Sunset Boulevard fit here? I’m not sure.
The Stunt Man may move up or move down a notch or three over time but has never left the personal top dozen list since it first came out.
I’m old enough to remember when not every film had a twist ending.
There’s a six episode mystery on HBO now called The Head. It’s kind of a puzzle box, kinda Agatha Christie style with unreliable memories and flashbacks inside of flashbacks. Interesting, not great.
Mention of the last episode of Newhart reminds me that the last episode of St. Elsewhere might fit here.
That was a great ending. And in that same vein, the last episode of St. Elsewhere.
ETA: JanieM got there first.
Ha! I almost mentioned Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?, but other than the surprise twist I don’t think it’s one of her best. Since Christie specialised in surprise twists and hidden-in-plain-sight clues, in fact, it would have been possible to name just about any of her stories. But Roger Ackroyd is really in a class by itself. At the time, it was very controversial among her fellow detective writers. DLS had to protect her from the ire of other members of The Detection Club, many of whom thought Christie had violated the Code they all signed.* Sayers wrote a paper defending her.
*It was fun and tongue-in-cheek, but still laid out a kind of “best practices” of detective fiction that mostly concerned fairness to the reader.
Maybe he just wanted to steal our wire cutters.
@The Thin Black Duke: Such a great series.
Maybe not quite fitting the brief, but I remember being pretty discombobulated after watching Akira Kurosawa’s “Rashomon” in my Japanese culture class in college.
Yes, and yes again. Whole film is quite the edgy ride.
FYI, The Prestige is currently available on Prime.
brought this up before, but it fits into this theme…
for those who are looking for a “bad” example… see Dallas Season 9 which was the Pam’s dream season.
UK LeGuin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” destroys all that precedes in it’s final sentences.
Boule’s “Monkey Planet” (source material for “Planet of the Apes”) has a nice last-sentence twist.
And “Ubik” by Dick—what a 360 ending . . .
The plot of “The Usual Suspects” made no sense. A mob boss was killing everyone who might identify him — and to do that he gets himself arrested, a mugshot, fingerprints and and interviewed.I guess the movie was entertaining enough that people didn’t notice, but the clever ending also made the whole movie senseless.
The Thin Black Duke
Norman Spinrad’s The Iron Dream.
@Scout211: Similarly, Soylent Green had a bit of a surprise ending-ish, but wasn’t really subtle enough to fit in with what BG is talking about (I don’t think). Heston didn’t do subtle.
@patrick II: He was already in the system as he was brought in with the rest of the usual suspects earlier in the movie. He was using his “verbal” persona to hide his actual identity.
Have long contended that Heston’s primary strength was doing tall.
Anonymous At Work
@PST: I saw that opening weekend through a weird twist of events, out of town trips and bored teachers. Norton was damn impressive.
Haven’t seen it mentioned but Fallen. Denzel set to kill the bad guy, twist ensues, and the narrator reveals that the bad guy survived (or who else would be telling the tale)?
@The Thin Black Duke: A friend in college talked up Blue Velvet something fierce. So a group of us stayed up one night to catch it on cable. After being thoroughly underwhelmed, for the rest of the term any time one of us wanted to wind him up we’d just sing “she wore blue velvet…” and walk away.
How about Ian McEwan’s “Atonement” in the surprise ending/unreliable narrator category? I’ve only read the book, but I think the movie was not significantly different.
@Splitting Image: I like the original books far better than the Masterpiece theater adaptations.
The Stuntman has always been one of my favorite movies. And, I don’t think anyone has mentioned 12 Monkeys, a time travel story with a twist on twist ending.
@patrick II: @LurkerNoLonger: I have toyed with the theory that Verbal wasn’t Soze, but an underling who Soze had pose as him, as part of some even more complex plot. And also to keep Soze’s identity secret, of course.
My picks are Altman’s Images and Don’t Look Now directed by Nicholas Roeg.
Cache (and probably a number of other Haneke films, like Benny’s Video, the Seventh Continent, The White Ribbon, Code Unknown. Those don’t necessarily make you reconsider the whole movie but in the case of Benny’s Video, the last half)
Memento (as an experiment, I re-edited this movie so the story plays out linearly and the ending is STILL surprising! It’s a good movie even without the trickery, which is an impressive feat)
Following (a great example of this, but not as subtle as Anatomy or Cache)
Inception (maybe debatable, but I remember spending a lot of time trying to figure out if you ever see him go to sleep but not wake up- there’s a scene where he can’t tell if he’s awake so he starts to spin the top but then drops it and is interrupted before he can do it properly)
Solaris (again, you don’t question the entire film, but the ending makes you reconsider the last 2 hours of it!)
Nine Queens (I guess most con-artist stories do this to some degree, but Nine Queens is probably the best one!)
Perfect Blue (I’m not even sure where exactly you get “lost” in this one because there are several layers of dream/hallucination and also it’s hard to tell what scenes are “real” and which ones are scenes from the movie the main character is acting in. Good mind-fckery in this one!)
Ocean’s 12 (lol- not very good but the end definitely upends the rest of the movie! I guess all of the Oceans movies do this to some degree but this one is the most blatant)
Brazil (I guess you’re not left questioning what exactly happened in this; you’re just left feeling ill by how depressing the real end of Sam Lowry is)
Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch by Phillip Dick (I read this a while back, so I’m not sure if it happens at the very end, but you’re definitely not sure what to make of a huge chunk of the story)
Second Variety by Phillip Dick (I think this was a movie, too but didn’t see it; definitely a sickening twist at the end that undoes the whole setup of the story)
Maze of Death by Dick (a real twilight Zone/Black Mirror vibe at the end of this one. Also, depressing as hell, but most Dick stories are!)
The Trial by Kafka (and the Orson Welles/Anthony Perkins film! This is a weird one because you KNOW something is amiss the whole time but the language and actions of the characters are so contradictory that it’s hard to hold onto anything solid)
Player of Games (someone mentioned this- it’s funny because while reading it, I kept wondering when the REAL story was going to start; it seemed like 200 pages of setup and then at the end, you realize that… well, I guess I won’t spoil it)
Invitation to a Beheading by Vladimir Nabokov (I think a lot of his books do this, since he loves using unreliable narrators- this is just the most explosive example that I’ve read of his)
@Ken: I like the theory.
The additional snippet of dialogue well into the closing credits of The Stunt Man is the cherry on the sundae.
Always wondered how many people left the theater or turned it off while the credits rolled and never heard that.
Not a true “what the fuck did I just watch” ending. But I always liked the twist at the end of The Taking of Pelham One Two Three.
Since no one has mentioned it yet, I’ll suggest the Bible. I imagine it’s possible someone has read the Bible cold, with no previous knowledge of the Abrahamic religions; I wonder what they thought after the four Gospels.
I wanted to add Timecrimes or Los Cronocrímenes in the original Spanish. It’s a time travel murder mystery. Good stuff.
@BGinCHI: the ending of The Sting forces you to reconsider a character and several scenes, and provides a very tidy end of the con that was not foreseeable before.
Finale of The Prisoner doesn’t meet the criterion (in my book) but probably deserves honorable mention as a conundrum.
Ceci n est pas mon nym
A great film, and I’m still puzzled by the ending. We love Juliette Binoche, but this one and another of hers, Copie Conforme (Certified Copy) definitely left us in a “what the hell just happened” head-scratching mode.
Another French (well, French/English) one where the ending did that to us: Swimming Pool.
And one of my favorite the-end-changes-everything movies, perhaps too long ago for you yutes to know it: The Sting. I remember going back to watch it again and reinterpret every interaction and facial expression with the knowledge of the ending.
You got it.
The Duke, like a deity, like the playwright, manipulates and causes actions, but he himself is not much affected by anything and really is not a part of the action of the play.
This is one of my favorite Shakespeare plays, but in some ways he wrote himself into a corner and just barely escaped. The play is more or less a comedy and Shakespeare follows convention in bringing about a happy ending. The Duke proposes to Isabella, but even Shakespeare realizes that this is a bit of a cheat and downplays her reaction to the proposal.
@Gravenstone: It’s a very good movie, no long build up, it takes off right away. Also a great cast.
@Ceci n est pas mon nym
re: The Sting
(dancing around giving away spoilers) Not the ending, but the revelation of Salino was a true surprise that cast what preceded it in a new light.
Since I have two granddaughters, ages 2 and 5, my example is a bit different. Disney does the twist twice in Frozen, once when the man we take to be the romantic lead turns out to be a villain and then when love’s true kiss comes, not from the heroine’s lover, but from her sister.
David Mamet’s The Spanish Prisoner has a skewed ending, and Fincher’s The Game, although it doesn’t take any benefit from a point-by-point analysis of the plot afterward, repeatedly inveigles the viewer into supposing it’s about to turn into another stupid, formulaic thriller—and then doesn’t.
Lastly, although it’s not really in line with the other titles here, Antonioni’s L’avventura begins with a mystery, moves on to a search for the answer to the said mystery…and then walks away, not merely leaving the puzzle unresolved, but apparently forgotten by the cast. When it premiered at Cannes in 1960, the audience went berserk: assaulted the projectionist, burned the first two reels of the film, kicked the director’s dog and posted several unkind tweets. The young Ruhollah Musavi Khomeini, until that time an influential editor and critic at Cahiers du Cinéma, was moved to quit France, reject La Nouvelle Vague and take up the study of Islamic theology, with results that are now well-known.
It also happens to be an exceptionally beautiful film, any frame of which could be blown up and framed to the benefit of any room.
@dmsilev: But that’s what makes SC “Special Circumstances”. For all the seemingly idyllic utopianism of the Culture, Banks makes sure that one realizes in a less than utopian universe, someone’s still got to do the dirty work. The gimlet eyed views of the AIs often provide the commentary.
Mildly curious as to whether the thread title alludes to Frank Kermode’s eponymous book of 1967 (which I think I read in college soon after it came out but can’t recall a damn thing about it) or the 2011 Julian Barnes novel or the 2017 flick made from it, or all of the above, some of the above, none of the above. But only mildly curious, with no other interest in the thread.
Greenglass House, a young adult/older kids mystery by Kate Milford, has a very well done twist at the end – you find out one of the character’s is actually a ghost and not who you’d thought for the whole book. It made my son and I immediately look back through the whole book to look for clues. They were there, but easy to miss hints rather than dead giveaways. Highly recommended read if you’re in the market for that sort of thing!
@Rand Careaga: Wow!
Tsk. Just deserts.
Seeing Chinatown referenced reminds me that sometimes it is not the ending itself that’s surprising or (definitely like Anatomy of a Murder) that forces a possibly different view of the precedings, but the viewer’s expectations of where a narrative like what one is watching is likely to go. After all, few of us are naive moviewatchers, and there are certain stories, and ways of telling them, that are typical and even stereotypical. When the prevailing stereotypes are violated, as in Chinatown, it forces one to reconsider what story was being told, as well as how. On a rewatch, some scenes can be quite different than one thought they were at first viewing. In my case, the ending was something like I’d have thought it should be, and I was surpised that the filmmakers went ahead and did it. And frankly, in Anatomy I’d always wondered about those two, and think that many at the time it was released would have, too. There again, it was almost a relief to see that trigger pulled.
Shrek also has a great surprise ending with Princess Fiona’s true form being an ogre.
This Twilight Zone episode has always haunted me (from wikipedia)
An impoverished, aging woman (Agnes Moorehead) lives alone in a rustic cabin. She is dressed shabbily, and there are no modern conveniences in evidence. After hearing a strange deafening noise above her kitchen roof, she is accosted by small intruders that come from a miniature flying saucer that has landed on her rooftop. Two tiny figures, apparently about six inches high, which may be robots or beings wearing pressure suits, emerge from the craft.
The small figures attack the woman, using small, pistol-like weapons that leave radiation burns on her skin, and, after following her into her cabin, slashing her ankle and hand with her own kitchen knife. The suspense builds as the woman searches for the invaders. She eventually destroys one, wrapping it in a blanket and beating it until it is still, then throwing it into the burning fireplace. She follows the other to the saucer-ship on her roof, which she proceeds to attack with a hatchet.
All this has taken place with no words being spoken, but now a voice (director Douglas Heyes) is heard speaking in English from within the craft. The intruder frantically warns that his partner, “Gresham”, is dead; and that the planet is inhabited by a “race of giants” and impossible to defeat. The camera pans to the markings on the side of the ship, which reads U.S. Air Force Space Probe No. 1. The “tiny” invaders were human astronauts from Earth; the woman in the small farmhouse belongs to a race of giant humanoids native to another planet. She finishes destroying the ship and then climbs back down from the roof into the house, exhausted.
@Geminid: A lot turns on how old you were when you saw each movie, but for me your reference to Ferrer’s chewing out of the crowd really resonates.
@Citizen_X: #97 As for Z, I spent the last 4 years telling everybody who said “We’ve got the bastard now!” to remember the end of Z and even today the bastard got away.
@The Thin Black Duke: god, I hated that show. Just a stupid ripoff of Groundhog Day, and they couldn’t even come up with an ending and just ripped off the non-ending from 8 1/2. What a waste of time.
@BGinCHI: lodge 49 was the best show of the last decade (slightly ahead of Better Call Saul for me). Pity we won’t get the final two seasons.
@BGinCHI: Shutter Island may be Scorsese’s worst movie. So stupid.
@dm: The Prestige was another shite movie from Nolan. The twist was obvious and totally stupid.
SPOILER: the protagonist has the power to duplicate anything out of nothing, and chooses to do idiotic magic tricks with it instead of, say, ending poverty or hunger.
The Age of Innocence, by Edith Wharton, where we see everything from the perspective of Newland Archer, who thinks of himself as something of a free-thinker, in control of his life, and by the end he understands just how wrong he was. Scorsese’s movie is also great.
The Book of the New Sun, by Gene Wolfe, which seems to be a Bildungsroman fantasy about a noble, kind-hearted orphan, and turns out to be something completely different.
The show runners blew the dismount, and parts of the setup, too, but Game of Thrones (and probably ASOIAF as well, if it’s ever finished) is a long tale about how the heroine turns out to be the villain.
Also, Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman, which seems to be a picaresque tale about bicycles and turns into something horrifying (and is hilarious throughout).
@Uncle Omar: It just took a while. (I’m pretty stubborn.)
The Wicker Man.
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.
Tom Tryon’s novel The Other. Not just a surprise ending, but a twist that made me immediately re-read the entire book to see “how did he DO that?”
The Wicker Man (original version.) The last five minutes are stunning and horrific. Even after repeated viewings I still find it to be a deeply disturbing film.
“There is the source of all our woe! That accursed island over the Earth!”
from Avram Davidson’s “The Island Under the Earth”
I cannot remember the name of this movie, help me please. At the beginning of the story, a man saves someone’s life. This same man then wondered if he could also do the worst thing a person could do. It’s ends with someone being buried alive. I saw this movie about 30 years and the ending still haunts me.
@SiubhanDuinne: I was wondering if anyone would mention The Murder of Roger Ackroyd! That one messed me up good when I was a kid!
@patrick II: I watched it for the first time in our home with a bunch of teenage friends of our daughter. One of them, who also hadn’t seen it before, went nuts when the ending came along. If the director had been in the room he would have said “yes, that’s exactly the reaction I was hoping for.” It was a perfect moment.
Witness for the Prosecution. Power, Laughton, Dietrich. Short story by Agatha Christie, multiple twists.