Greatest Film Plot Twists
Film Spoilers and
Surprise Endings


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Greatest Movie Plot Twists, Spoilers and Surprise Endings
Film Title/Year and Plot Twist-Spoiler-Surprise Ending Description
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Unbreakable (2000)

The Deranged Price Had Orchestrated Three Acts of Terrorism to Locate Dunn as a Super-Hero - His Exact Opposite

In writer/producer/director M. Night Shyamalan's suspense thriller about superheros, Philadelphia security guard David Dunn (Bruce Willis) miraculously walked away unhurt as the only survivor of a major train wreck.

Dunn was approached by the mysterious and fragile Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), aka "Mr. Glass" (because of his genetic fragile bone disorder requiring frequent hospitalizations), who was an eccentric comic-book collector/dealer at a store named "Limited Editions." Dunn was told a far-fetched theory by Price, that he was, in reality, his exact opposite ("However unreal it may seem, we are connected, you and I. We're on the same curve, just on opposite ends"). Dunn was an incarnation of a modern-day invincible super-hero with special supernatural powers and paranormal crime-fighting abilities.

Although disbelieving, Dunn began to be convinced of his abilities, including his special gift of ESP and the ability to sense people who committed immoral acts (i.e., a jewel thief, a racist hate-criminal, rapist). He saved some members of a family held hostage by a sadistic torturer wearing an orange suit. However, his main "kryptonite" weakness was water, and he nearly drowned as a youth.

In the film's surprise, a preposterous twist ending, Dunn met with Price in the back office of his comic-book store. Dunn sensed Price's evil deeds when shaking hands with him and there was a flash. He realized that the deranged mastermind genius Price was responsible for the massive train wreck (as well as a plane crash and hotel building fire).

Price/Mr. Glass had arranged for these fatal terrorist disasters (evidenced by numerous newspaper clippings displayed on a bulletin board) in the hopes of finding someone, a real-life superhero, who was "unbreakable" and could survive the catastrophes:

Do you know what the scariest thing is? To not know your place in this world, to not know why you're here. That's...just an awful feeling...I almost gave up hope. There were so many times I questioned myself...But I found you. So many sacrifices just to find you...Now that we know who you are, I know who I am. I'm not a mistake! It all makes sense! In a comic, you know how you can tell who the arch-villain's going to be? He's the exact opposite of the hero. And most times, they're friends, like you and me! I should've known way back when. You know why, David? Because of the kids. They called me Mr. Glass.

Although Price appeared to be vulnerable, he was instead an insane super-villain and Dunn's arch-nemesis. The film ended with Dunn notifying police who arrested Price (revealed in a caption: "David Dunn led authorities to Limited Edition where evidence of three acts of terrorism was found"). Price was committed to an institution (revealed in a caption: "Elijah Price is now in an institution for the criminally insane").



Unfaithful (2002)

After Husband Edward Discovered His Wife Connie's "Unfaithful" Affair with a French Rare Bookdealer, He Killed the Man; Although They Contemplated Turning Themselves Into Police, Their Crime Went Unpunished

Classy soft-core film director Adrian Lyne's erotic drama dealt with the disastrous consequences of a wild extra-marital affair, with its subsequent guilt, suspicion, and tragedy, although it also made adultery look sexy and exciting. It was a reworking of director Claude Chabrol's La Femme Infidele (1969, Fr.) (aka The Unfaithful Wife).

It told about an adulterous affair, including various passionate, 'unfaithful' encounters in NYC, between:

  • wayward and straying NY suburban housewife Constance "Connie" Sumner (Diane Lane)
  • Frenchman rare bookdealer Paul Martel (Olivier Martinez)

Their cheating threatened her marriage of eleven years to her husband Edward (Richard Gere). The repercussions of the affair, once discovered by Ed, led him to angrily kill Martel (crushing his skull with a snowglobe - a gift he had once given Connie, that she had given to Paul), and their efforts to cover up for each other (each knowing that the other one was guilty) after police found the body wrapped in a rug at a dump.

The film ended enigmatically with the two of them in their car at an intersection (with several cycles of a changing stoplight) discussing what to do (while their son slept). Ed was thinking of turning himself in (although Connie was dissuading him by dreamily suggesting that they leave the country, get a beach house, and take different names: "We can spend the rest of our lives on that beach, and when we die, we can just push out to sea. What do you think?" He responded: "Perfect, sounds perfect").

Finally, the camera pulled back to reveal that they were parked outside a police station - their crimes went unpunished. [In one alternate ending, one of many considered, Ed definitely said his goodbyes and proceeded to enter.]






Unknown (2011)

There was No "Dr. Martin Harris" - He Was an Undercover Trained Assassin, Part of a Team of Professionals Intent on Killing an Arab Prince in a Berlin Hotel During a Biotechnology Conference, and on Stealing Valuable Computer Secrets from Professor Bressler

This mind-bending, twisty-turning thriller began with a married couple, American botanist Dr. Martin Harris (Liam Neeson) and his striking cool-blonde wife Elizabeth (January Jones) arriving at the Berlin Airport in late November. He was there to attend a biotech conference sponsored by German Professor L.P. Bressler (Sebastian Koch), and funded by Prince Shada (Mido Hamada) (who had been targeted in previous assassination attempts).

Martin's briefcase (the MacGuffin - with identification papers) was inadvertently left in a luggage cart, and he realized the oversight when they arrived at the Adlon Hotel. Without telling Elizabeth (who was registering at the desk), Martin caught another taxi, driven by Eastern European (Bosnia) illegal immigrant Gina (Diane Kruger), and on their way back to the airport on slippery roads, their car swerved and plunged into the river - a freakish accident. He was pulled from the watery wreckage by the courageous taxi driver who smashed the rear window and pulled him out. [Was she also a spy or covert field agent, tailing him and working to prevent him from carrying out his task?] Four days later with a head injury, he awoke from a coma in a Berlin hospital - with no ID, faulty memory, selective amnesia, no wife, only a little money, and an unknown identity. [This was not a plot twist involving his last-minute death hallucinations.]

At the hotel, where security officials warily questioned him (and an Internet search brought up someone else's picture on the University website), Martin approached his wife, who coldly rebuked him. She presented another Martin Harris (Aidan Quinn) - with name tag. Martin realized that for some reason, no one agreed that he was Martin Harris. He wondered to himself - was his wife being coerced and held captive, or was she in on the deception? Was the head injury causing the disorientation or dementia? Was his identity stolen? Soon, clues began to pile up after Martin contacted ex-Stasi private investigator Ernst Jurgen (Bruno Ganz) to sort out what had happened. Jurgen told him: "Ask enough questions and a man who is lying will eventually change his story, but a man who tells the truth cannot change his however unlikely his story sounds."

The film stretched credibility to the limit and there were implausibilities, but it was stylishly told, with these elements coming to the forefront:

  • During his search for the truth, Martin was being pursued by a hired killer (an individual named Smith (Olivier Schneider)), who first trailed him in a subway tunnel, and then almost killed him during a return visit to the hospital - Smith broke the neck of the attendant nurse Gretchen (Eva Lobau). Smith was joined by another ominous hitman named Jones (Stipe Erceg).
  • Martin was being sought - to be eliminated - because of the unexpected turn of events when he left his briefcase at the airport and went into a coma. His series of missteps threatened to endanger his planned mission, and caused his team of assassins to change their existing plans and invoke a backup plan with a second "Martin"; technically, Martin didn't really exist at all.
  • Both Gina and Martin became targets and he was determined to save the two of them - and stop a perceived assassination plot on Prince Shada. During an attack on them in her apartment, she helped him kill Smith with a deadly syringe applied to his neck.
  • Martin had been in Berlin the previous August, staying at the same Hotel Adlon with his brunette accomplice, when he had planted explosives in their suite's wall, to be detonated in November during the conference, to kill the Prince. It was to be made to look like Shada was killed by terrorist extremists - with Bressler as collateral damage.
  • The main goal of the team was not to kill the Prince, however, but to actually steal computer secrets from Bressler, the real target. Bressler's valuable information composed of groundbreaking formulas to harvest corn anywhere in the world, would provide the Prince with additional income after oil reserves were depleted. The passwords to Bressler's protected computer files were code words found in a book - the Latin names for two flowers (Lily and Laurel) which were the names of Bressler's two daughters.
  • Martin's long-time trusted American associate Rodney Cole (Frank Langella) was actually one of the leaders of the team; he had taken pictures of Martin with his "wife", helped compose a back history for Martin (to be memorized), and arranged for everything to take place, including Plan B, etc. Cole was also present when Jurgen suicidally took cyanide before he could be coerced into talking, and he was planning to make Martin's death look like a nameless junkie overdose.
  • Jones was squashed between two vehicles, and Rodney was killed in a black van which tumbled off the top level of an abandoned parking garage and exploded. At the hotel, Martin fought hand-to-hand against his own colleague, the second "Martin," and sliced his throat with broken glass. After copying Bressler's files, Elizabeth was blown up when she tried to disarm the bomb in the hotel room, while other hotel guests were safely evacuated.
  • The film ended with Prof. Bressler at a press conference announcing that his research on a new strain of fast-growing, drought-tolerant and pest-resistant corn would be made freely available worldwide (as a gift from the Prince) to wipe out hunger. Agribusiness company shares dropped 14% at Bressler's announcement. (It appeared that representatives of a large food company had hired Section 15 to kill Bressler and the Prince, and steal Bressler's secrets before they could be revealed.) Martin and Gina, with new identities and fake names (Claudia and Henry Taylor), caught a train departing from Berlin - concluding the film as it began with two individuals with fake identities on a journey.










Urban Legend (1998)

The Killer Was Brenda, Seeking Revenge for the Death of Her Boyfriend/Fiancee; Although She Should Have Died, She Survived at Another School

This teen horror film was filled with references to various grisly 'urban legends' (defined as "contemporary folklore passed on as a true story" -- for example, death by a killer in a car's back seat, death from saying "Bloody Mary" five times, death to a baby-sitter from a phone-caller from an upstairs bedroom, death from a lethal combination of pop rocks and soda pop, etc.).

On the Maine campus of fictional Pendleton University, a horrific legendary (or covered-up?) mass murder had occurred in 1973, almost 25 years earlier, in Stanley Hall, with only one survivor. Six students with slit throats from a hunting knife were killed by a beserk Abnormal Psychology professor who then committed suicide by stabbing himself through the heart. [The historical massacre was first described by student Parker Riley (Michael Rosenbaum), but disbelieved by another student, aspiring journalist Paul Gardner (Jared Leto) as a "bulls--t story".]

The first murder was the film's opening scene - the decapitation of current 20 year-old Pendleton U. student Michelle Mancini (Natasha Gregson Wagner) with an axe wielded by someone in the back seat of her car, although she might have avoided dying - but fled before heeding the warning of creepy, stuttering gas-station attendant Michael McDonald (Brad Dourif) ("Someone's in the back seat!").

Smart, red-haired coed Natalie Simon (Alicia Witt) was a high-school friend of Michelle's - they had been team captains of their cheerleading squad. Natalie and her friends had recently learned about the phenomenon of urban legends in a class on folklore taught by expert Professor Wexler (Robert Englund) (who was later considered a major suspect since he was the sole 1973 survivor). It was possible that the killer was re-enacting various deadly legends ("Someone out there is taking all these stories and making them reality"). Natalie feared that a "lunatic" serial killer was on the loose on-campus, although others thought the murders were not real or only a coincidence.

The murders (including the opening murder) were:

Victims
Murder Method
Pendleton U. student Michelle Mancini (Natasha Gregson Wagner) decapitation with an axe
joking frat boy Damon Brooks (Joshua Jackson) accidental hanging/strangulation in the woods (although his body went missing)
Natalie's angry, manic-depressive goth roommate Tosh Guaneri (Danielle Harris) strangulation and slashed wrists in her room (although ruled a suicide)
Dean Adams (John Neville) run over and impaled on parking garage spikes
Professor William Wexler (Robert Englund) left in a bloody pool of blood and then stuffed in the back of Paul Gardner's (Jared Leto) vehicle to make him look guilty
Parker's dog Hootie zapped in a microwave
Parker Riley (Michael Rosenbaum) ingested bathroom cleaner Drano (rather than soda) with pop rocks
sex-obsessed student broadcaster Sasha Thomas (Tara Reid) and her black technical engineer Serina Harris (Regina King): two workers at the school's WZAB radio station strangled
long-haired Weird Janitor (Julian Richings) a gang headlight-flashing incident truck crash incident

The key to the motivation of the murderer was that Natalie had a hidden secret - she and past friend/victim Michelle had reenacted a modified version of an urban legend (the "Gang High-Beam Initiation" - driving with headlights off and lethally targeting the first driver who flashes their lights). They caused the senseless and tragic death of another motorist who lost control - although the two only received probation for "reckless endangerment." As it turned out in the big reveal, the dead motorist (David Evans) was the boyfriend ("the love of my life") of vengeful and deranged curly-haired student Brenda Bates (Rebecca Gayheart).

After a number of killings, Brenda had assembled many of the dead corpses on the top floor of dilapidated Stanley Hall, where she had lit candles, and told a captured Natalie: "Gotcha!" She threatened: "Don't you want to be an urban legend? All your friends are now." Brenda's plan was to kill Natalie, and acquire her friend Paul as her new boyfriend. After failing to perform a deadly "Kidney Heist" operation on Natalie, Brenda was shot twice by both black, Foxy Brown-wannabe campus guard Reese Wilson (Loretta Devine) and Natalie, and then crashed backwards through the third floor window. She reappeared wielding an axe in the backseat of Paul's vehicle, and was propelled into a river through the windshield when it crashed on a bridge - but the film's brief epilogue showed her still alive!

Brenda was in a group of students in another school, embellishing the "urban legend" story just seen. She proposed to tell them exactly what had happened in the film's final line: "I believe you... but you didn't tell it right...Not at all. OK, listen up, guys, 'cause this is how the story really goes." The entire film (and its events) became an urban legend of its own ("This'll become a legend too, you know").








The Usual Suspects (1995)

"Verbal" Kint Was Keyser Soze; Kint's Tale Was Entirely Fabricated and Made Up From Elements of Kujan's Office Bulletin Board

The secret identity of manipulative, crippled con-man Roger "Verbal" Kint (Kevin Spacey) was revealed in the clever twist ending. During a lengthy interrogation by US Customs Agent Dave Kujan (Chazz Palminteri), the two-bit crook Kint told a convoluted story about his involvement regarding a fire and massacre on a docked ship at an LA harbor during a heist of a Turkish drug shipment, as he was the sole survivor of the botched raid among a group of misfit criminals.

As the crippled Kint was released (after receiving 'Keyser Soze's' gold watch and gold lighter --another clue!) and limped away from the police station, his hand deformity and his limp suddenly disappeared from his stride. Kujan simultaneously realized - upon breaking a coffee cup and other trivial clues - that Kint was, in fact, the greatly-feared, legendary criminal mastermind and kingpin Keyser Soze of Kint's own extraordinarily-fabricated story.

To his stunned amazement, Kujan noticed that many of the elements of Kint's preposterous story were found on the bulletin board behind his desk:

  • the coffee mug logo for Kobayashi was the same name as the blackmailing lawyer in Kint's account
  • the bulletin board was made by Quartet, a company in Skokie, Illinois, referred to in Kint's story as a "barbershop quartet"
  • there was a picture of a wanted lady who was "orca fat" - with a list of her alias names on a wanted sheet - one of which was the name "REDFOOT" - one of Kint's fabricated characters ("Some guy in California, his name is Redfoot")
  • there was a vacation flyer for traveling to "Guatemala" ("A Winning Combination - Guatemala - The best buy for your client's vacation dollars") - Kint had said: "Back when I was pickin' beans in Guatemala, we used to make fresh coffee."

"The cripple" Kint was picked up in a black car by Kobayashi (Pete Postlethwaite). The film's last line was Kint's voice-over:

The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist. And like that, he's gone.






U-Turn (1997)

The Double Crosses and Twists Led to the Deaths of Everyone Involved; During the Bloody Encounters, It was Revealed that Grace was the Illegitimate Child of Her Father Jake, and She Had Been Engaged in Consensual Incest with Him after Marrying Him

Director Oliver Stone's western-styled film noir, similar to Blood Simple (1984) and Red Rock West (1993), was filled with so many unpredictable double-crossing twists and turns that it was difficult to know from moment to moment who would survive and who would perish in the short 24 hour time span of the film. The bloody, violence-filled black comedy about deception, jealousy and greed was also complete with quick editing, jerky camera movements, odd angled shots, deep saturated colors, brights flashs, etc. The fatalistic film opened with an ironic song, "It's a Good Day" (by Peggy Lee) and symbols of death - roadkill on a desert highway, buzzards circling in the air, a carcass' entrails being picked at, and a scorpion on a waterfaucet. One of the first lines about the hot weather foreshadowed death: "Day like today, you'd be dead in no time."

Disreputable, pill-popping lout/gambler Bobby Cooper (Sean Penn) was driving along in his red 1964 1/2 Ford Mustang convertible when it suffered a busted radiator hose, and he pulled off the highway into the small desolate town of Superior, Arizona. While his car was being 'repaired' at Harlin's Garage by greasy, grinning satanic mechanic Darrell (Billy Bob Thornton) ("an ignorant, inbred, tumbleweed hick"), he walked to town where he caught a glimpse of the film's gorgeous femme fatale temptress in a tight orange dress: "half-breed" Apache Grace McKenna (Jennifer Lopez). She flirtatiously invited him to her house, where they were caught kissing when her grizzly, insanely-jealous older husband Jake McKenna (Nick Nolte), a wealthy realtor, unexpectedly arrived home. He screamed at her: "I got a mind to put you over my knee and paddle your ass raw," although later he told Bobby: "I'll bet you she just had you hard as a rock, just wiggling her ass in your face. I bet you just wanted to pull her pants down and hog her out."

In flashbacks, it was revealed that Bobby, a former tennis teacher, owed $30,000 to Russian mobsters in Las Vegas, Nevada, and was tortured with two fingers cut off one hand with garden shears for an overdue debt. His hand was still bandaged. His desire to get on the road and deliver the cash in a satchel backfired during a violent grocery store robbery (a shotgun blast shredded the bills), and the beleaguered Bobby was trapped in the hellish town with no money to pay for its repair. The plot intensified when there were various tempting proposals offered to solve his dilemma:

  • Grace's despicable husband proposed killing his younger wife ("Women, can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em"), because he claimed: "I'm just sick and tired of her goddamn little games," and he suggested splitting her $50,000 life insurance policy money. Jake was jealous of her, tormented by her, and accusatory, calling her masochistic: "Like f--king half this town behind my back and laughing at me. The bitch! She wants me to hit her, and then when I hit her, she likes it." But then he said softly: "She's my family. She's my little girl. My baby." However, when he had the opportunity, Bobby resisted pushing her off a desert cliff to make it look like an accident (after she sighed and wished to fly away to escape: "I wish I was a bird...If I was a bird, I'd fly to Florida, Disney World"). When he was holding her back from falling, she quipped: "I bet right now, you don't know if you want to kill me or f--k me." Afterwards, they did make love outdoors, but it was coitus interruptus and Bobby claimed: "You're becoming the queen of hot and cold." (a significant clue about her personality).
  • Grace, desperate for revenge, proposed killing her abusive husband, who was hoarding money in a locked safe under the floorboards in their bedroom - he kept the safe's key on a chain around his neck. She also revealed sordid stories of an unfaithful Jake keeping Grace's mother on the side (after her real father died), while he was raping Grace for many years. Supposedly, Jake killed Grace's alcoholic mother (he pushed her off a cliff at Apache Leap, although it was ruled accidental - drunken insanity), then forced Grace to marry him.

Bobby chose to help Grace eliminate Jake. He entered the McKenna home through a back door left unlocked by Grace. As Grace made love on the bed with McKenna entering her from behind, Jake abusively blamed her: "You've been a bad girl, haven't you, Grace!...Oh, f--k it away, f--k it away! But it ain't ever gonna go away, 'cause your mama she won't go away, she won't leave you alone. Broke your mama's heart when you stole me. You been a bad girl, Grace, you bitch! Broke her heart." [There was a momentary flash in which Grace was replaced by her mother during sex - in a disturbing flashback.]

During a struggle in the bedroom, Bobby claimed that killing Jake was Grace's idea ("She wants you dead. She wants your money...You know what kind of woman Grace is, Jake") and that he would kill her for Jake for only $200. Yet together with Bobby, Grace gruesomely murdered Jake with a tomahawk embedded first in his back and then in his chest. Afterwards, Grace and Bobby made love next to the dead body: "Let him watch. I want him to know what he's missing."

As they escaped from town, they were pulled over by suspicious Sheriff Virgil Potter (Powers Booth), another of Grace's lovers whom she had 'played' like Bobby. Manipulatively, Grace turned on Bobby, blaming him for Jake's death ("He killed Jake and he said he'd kill me if I didn't come with him. All he wants is the money"). Bobby exclaimed: "You're f--kin' him too? Is everybody f--king everybody in this crazy goddamn town?" When Potter felt betrayed, he was enraged: "I watched you f--k that pervert for years. All the time, you was telling me you loved me...Just you and me, Grace...I want you to be my wife. What do you say, Grace?" When she told him to go back to his family, Potter revealed Grace's darkest secret - Grace was illegitimate, and engaged in consensual father-daughter incest:

You see, old crazy Jake is really her Papa. And she liked f--kin' her Papa. Now she's killed that son of a bitch just like she's gonna kill you.

Incensed by the revelation, Grace shot and killed the Sheriff with three bullets. Now, two bodies were stashed in the trunk. As they drove away, there were flashbacks of Grace having sex with her father as she confessed:

Don't you really want to know? Was Jake my father? Was I fucking my -- ?...Yes, I was! I was f--king my daddy! And I married him! I married him, okay? I just wanted to be a kid and he took that from me. They treated me like, like meat. A piece of meat. F--k them! F--k the whole town! They deserved to die!

The Deadly Ending

In the absurdist ending at a cliffside (one of many false endings), untrusting Bobby proposed that they split the money and then go their separate ways ("I think you're a lying, backstabbing, psycho bitch and one day you'll kill me"). The two dead bodies were tossed off the edge, and then Grace pushed Bobby over the side, breaking his leg. But she didn't realize that he had the keys to the car in his pocket. When she scrambled down to his side for the keys, after handing them to her, he strangled her after he again told her: "I don't know whether to love you - or kill you."

After struggling to get back to the car on the ridge, he thought he had made it with the money, but then the radiator hose busted again (he cried out: "Oh, s--t. Arizona"). Laughing maniacally, he expired in the hot desert sun.










Valmont (1989, Fr./UK)

Valmont Died in A Duel of Honor Against Danceny; Cecile Was Pregnant with Valmont's Child; Merteuil Was Seducing Cecile's Young Music Teacher Danceny; and Cecile Married Gercourt

Director Milos Forman's romantic drama was based on Pierre Choderlos de Laclos' classic 1782 novel about seduction - a boudoir soap opera set in the baroque period. It told about scheming and devious widow Marquise de Merteuil (Annette Bening) who made a two-part bet with a former lover - womanizing playboy and philanderer Vicomte de Valmont (Colin Firth):

  • (1) the seduction of the married, honorable, and virtuous Mme. de Tourvel (Meg Tilly)
  • (2) the deflowering of virginal 15 year-old convent-educated Cecile (Fairuza Balk) before her arranged marriage to the Marquise's own unfaithful lover, the older Gercourt (Jeffrey Jones), in order to cuckold him

As part of the prize bargain for the wager, if Valmont succeeded, the Marquise agreed to give her body to him ("Anything you want"...he had suggested: "your body"). Valmont seduced ingenue Cecile while he helped her write a love-note to her young crush - her 17 year-old harp music teacher Chevalier Danceny (Henry Thomas), by pulling up her skirt and raping her from behind (off-screen). He also inflamed the love-suppressed desires of Mme. de Tourvel who allowed herself to be seduced and abandoned (but returned for one more night of love-making).

When Valmont came to claim the Marquise's body as payment, she reneged in a scene during her bath, and refused to honor her bargain, claiming it was "just a joke," ("Am I something that one wins as a wager?") while he argued: "I won and I have the right to collect my prize!" However, she later appeared to acquiesce to him ("Isn't it lonely when there's no one to share your secrets with?...Would you like to share my latest secret?"), but cunningly revealed that she was sleeping with Danceny, and had vengefully told him that Valmont had taken his love's virginity ("Cecile lost her virginity in your arms").

This set up the final scene of a one-sided, futile fencing duel of honor between Danceny and an inebriated Valmont, leading to the latter's quick death (off-screen) and burial - with all of his female conquests paying their respects at his open coffin and grave.

Before her marriage to Gercourt, Cecile also whispered to Valmont's elderly aunt Madame de Rosemonde (Fabia Drake) her secret -- that she was pregnant with Valmont's child, and she received a subdued but overjoyed reply: "My angel, my sweet angel."







Vanilla Sky (2001)

After a Disfiguring Accident, David Had A Contract With A Cyrogenics Company (Life Extension) For Their Services; Everything After He Fell Down In the Street (and Awakened with "Open Your Eyes") Was a Lucid VR Dream; He Suicidally Killed Himself With a Drug Overdose, But Everything in His Life Turned Into A Torturous Nightmare Due to His Memories; To End the Virtual Dream, He Jumped Off a Building to Wake Up

Writer/director Cameron Crowe's film was a remake of Open Your Eyes/Abre los Ojos (1997, Sp.) by director Alejandro Amenabar. It opened with soaring birds-eye views of New York City. The first spoken words were from Sofia Serrano (Penelope Cruz): "Open your eyes. Open your eyes" - a recording on the alarm clock CD of wealthy, good-looking, and privileged David Aames (Tom Cruise), heir to his family's publishing empire. He awoke and then drove into a vacant Times Square area in a black Jaguar. He then awakened from the dream to more words of "Open your eyes" spoken this time by accompanying blonde girlfriend or "f--k buddy" Julie Gianni (Cameron Diaz).

The 32 year-old David Aames, charged with the crime of murder and wearing a latex facial mask to cover a facial disfigurement, was relating his dreams and his life story (told in flashbacks) to psychologist McCabe (Kurt Russell). After stalking David outside Sofia's apartment, the jilted Julie deliberately crashed her car, killing herself and seriously injuring him as a passenger - causing him to enter a coma for almost a month with serious facial and body injuries. But he told new friend Sofia upon their next meeting in the park about his horrible dream of the accident: "But I survived with my arm and my face reconstructed. And what's worse - I can't wake up," although in voice-over (speaking to the psychologist), he revealed it was a dream:

My dreams are a cruel joke. They taunt me. Even in my dreams, I'm an idiot who knows he's about to wake up to reality. If I could only avoid sleep. But I can't. I try to tell myself what to dream.

Placed in a cell, he wore a facial prosthetic-mask to hide his deformity. With his disfigured and scarred face, he met Sofia at her dance studio and later called, saying: "I'm back in your life," while his best friend Brian Shelby (Jason Lee) recognized a difference in him: "The new guy is s--t." After a night on the town at a discotheque with Sofia and Brian, David drunkenly told Brian: "Tomorrow, I'll wish I was dead" -- prophetic words. He fell asleep drunk in the street - and was awakened with the phrase whispered by Sofia: "Open your eyes."

From here on, the film was a virtual reality dream with Sofia and others ("We created our own world together"), while David suffered unsettling disjunctions, dreamy wish fulfillments, and bewildering reality flips (e.g., his face changed from being deformed to being completely healed after his doctors performed a restorative facial reconstruction surgical procedure, Sofia became his girlfriend and they made love in a nude scene, but Sofia was sometimes transformed into his obsessive ex-lover Julie, etc.). During love-making with Sofia, she also asked, tellingly: "Is this a dream?" and he answered: "Absolutely" as they kissed.

Later, he became crazed and out of control when his own face turned back into its hideous form and when Sofia 'changed into' Julie (although she claimed she was Sofia). After being booked, although David thought he had only beaten up Julie, he was accused of her murder - the reason for his imprisonment in a psychiatric penitentiary (for the criminally insane awaiting trial). The true nature of his 'reality' or 'dream' world was first brought into play when he was advised by a 'technical support' representative of L.E. (or Life Extension) at a bar: "You must overcome your fears and regain control" and then reminded that he had signed a contract with L.E.: "You and I signed a contract, David."

A continual thread throughout the film was the remarkable story of Benny the dog who was frozen for three months and thawed out to live a normal life -- this miraculous recovery was advertised by a cryogenics company called Life Extension (or L.E.), claiming it could do the same for humans. David's psychologist also asked: "Can you tell the difference between dreams and reality?" David recalled that he had repressed his killing of Sofia when she wouldn't 'turn back' into the 'other' Sofia. Becoming deranged, he smothered her with a pillow while making love to her (crying out: "I don't wanna see your face"). His psychologist reasoned that his guilt about the way he treated Julie led Sofia to turn into Julie ("Your feelings of responsibility or guilt over Julie might have easily turned Sofia into Julie") - and he would be tried for murder, and would plead his innocence in the trial as "temporary derangement."

At the end of the film, David was permitted to visit the high-rise offices of the L.E. company with his psychologist, realizing: "I think I've been here before." The company advertised "a journey of reawakening after the preservation of the human body at extremely low temperatures." LE representative Rebecca Dearborn (Tilda Swinton) explained how the company offered after-death immortality:

Your anguish, your discontent, even your death is no longer necessary in a traditional sense. Whatever malady hides behind that mask is temporary. Within an hour of your passing, LE will transfer your body to a vessel where you will be sealed and frozen at 196 degrees below zero.

David had also signed up for an optional component called Lucid Dream: "the cryonic union of science and entertainment" -- "Upon resurrection [after death], you will continue in an ageless state, preserved but living in the present with a future of your choosing. Your death will be wiped from your memory. Your life will continue as a realistic work of art painted by you, minute to minute...a living dream, Life: Part Two." He also learned that his subconscious might play "tricks" on him, but the risk was worth it: "This is a revolution of the mind."

Abruptly, David ran from the office screaming: "I want to wake up!...It's a nightmare...Tech support!" - and Edmund Ventura (Noah Taylor) from the Oasis Project (formerly Life Extension L.E.), whom David had earlier seen at the bar, appeared and formally introduced himself: "We first met 150 years ago...Everything is your creation" and David was soon to face a "true moment of choice" -- David was told about when the "Lucid Dream" began - when he fell down drunk on the pavement after being at the discotheque:

That was the moment you chose for the splice. The end of your real life and the beginning of LE's Lucid Dream.

In the Lucid Dream state, he was frozen and dreaming. He was also told: "You sculpted your Lucid Dream out of the iconography of your youth - an album cover that once moved you..." and other pop cultural artifacts (fatherhood in To Kill a Mockingbird, the love triangle in Jules et Jim, etc). What really happened was erased or replaced from his memory: "You never saw Sofia again...You longed for Sofia. You shut yourself away for months. You were alone. You couldn't stand the pain anymore, the headaches..." and then he took a drug overdose and killed himself (on 12/26/2001 at the age of 33) after signing the contract with L.E.

On the rooftop (with the sky a vanilla color - his mother's favorite time of day), Edmund further explained: "Your subconscious did create problems. Your dream turned into a nightmare." David was then given the choice of returning to his Lucid Dream or entering into "the world out there...just like Benny the dog" although in the future, he was cautioned: "the sweet is never as sweet without the sour." Before facing his last fear - of heights - before leaving the dream world forever by jumping off the building, David first conjured up best friend Brian and then Sofia, and kissed her farewell ("I'm frozen and you're dead. And I love you") and then said: "I'll see you in another life when we are both cats." He turned back while perched on the edge of the building, and then jumped.

An instant before he hit the ground, the film projected more pop-cultural images of his life and then a strange woman's voice (a nurse?) soothed him with: "Relax, David. Open your eyes..." as his eye opened, in close-up.

See earlier write-up for Open Your Eyes/Abre los Ojos (1997, Sp.)
















The Vanishing (1988, Neth./Fr.) (aka Spoorloos, or Untraceable)

Both Saskia Wagter and Rex Hofman Shared the Same Fate - They Were Buried Alive Three Years Apart

This original film masterpiece, a psychological chiller from director George Sluizer, was based upon the novella The Golden Egg. In this unnerving tale, a Dutch couple were vacationing in France:

  • Saskia Wagter (Johanna Ter Steege), red-haired
  • Rex Hofman (Gene Bervoets), her lover-boyfriend

At a rural French roadside gas station, Saska suddenly and mysteriously vanished - about 15 minutes into the film.

Later, shown in flashback, middle-class chemistry teacher, and sociopathic kidnapper Raymond Lemorne (Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu) was at a vending machine to buy drinks inside the truck-rest stop. He lured her to his car - she sat in the front seat after seeing a picture of his family (believing that he was respectable and harmless). He poured chloroform into a handkerchief, and applied it to her face. She struggled against him, but then passed out.

Haunted by the curious, obsessive need to find his missing girlfriend, Rex spent three years on a frantic search for her. He eventually came face-to-face with her abductor, who had devised a similar hideous fate for him. Rex was also targeted by Lemorne, who realized that he could commit an ultimately more evil crime. Raymond promised Rex that after he drank some spiked coffee, he would experience what happened to his girlfriend.

In the shocking, heart-stopping ending, Rex woke up in pitch darkness. He found himself buried alive in a cramped coffin under the earth, with only a cigarette lighter for brief light. He discovered that he was claustrophobically entombed alive. He cried out: "Help! Help! Help!...Saskia!" He dug with his fingers at the few seams he could find in his coffin, before realizing that his lighter was about to go out forever.

Rex Buried Alive

The dwindling light of the flame became a tunnel through which he saw Saskia. Newspaper headlines in the back seat of Raymond's car told about a Mysterious Double Disappearance - of both Saskia and Rex.


Saskia
(Johanna Ter Steege)

Kidnapper Raymond Lemorne

Chloroforming

Vertigo (1958)

Madeleine Elster's Death/Murder Was Staged, Using Look-Alike Judy Barton to Make It Appear As a Suicide; Judy Tragically Met the Same Fate as Madeleine

Hitchcock's film was a romantic suspense/thriller about a macabre, doomed romance - a desperate love for an illusion. It followed a troubled man's obsessive search to end his vertigo (and the deaths that resulted from his 'falling in love' affliction). The thriller became a masterful study of romantic longing, identity, voyeurism, treachery and death, female victimization and degrading manipulation, the feminine "ideal," and fatal sexual obsession for a cool-blonde heroine.

The dizzying trick camerawork (a reverse zoom, dolly-out) visualized the vortex of vertigo and acrophobia (fear of heights) in the film's opening shots and in the bell tower scenes.

Acrophobic obsessed and retired SF police detective John "Scotty" Ferguson (James Stewart) slipped into a surrealistic world of obsession, confused by the real and the imaginary. In one of filmdom's best 'identity-switch' plot twists ever invented (although revealed to the audience before the main protagonist), Scotty fell in love with the blonde, ethereal Madeleine Elster (Kim Novak), the suicidal wife of his old school friend Gavin Elster (Tom Helmore). As it turned out, Elster had hired a red-headed shop-girl named Judy Barton (also Kim Novak) to impersonate his blonde wife, and act suicidally "haunted" in front of Scotty. It was a ruse that worked, especially after Scotty pulled Madeleine from drowning in San Francisco Bay, and fell in love with her.

When 'Madeleine' climbed a high Spanish mission bell tower to jump to her death, Scotty's vertigo prevented him from following closely behind. This was when Elster pulled the switch - after already murdering his 'real' wife (whom Scotty had never met), Elster dumped her corpse from the tower and made Scotty the perfect witness to her "suicide." Conveniently, Scotty never took a close look at the body.

The film cycled back on itself when Scotty ran across Judy - who bore an uncanny resemblance to the now-dead "Madeleine." After forcing her to look like his lost love, he realized that Judy was not Elster's wife but his mistress and they had meticulously planned his wife's murder. The key to solving her identity was a necklace.

In the film's second terrifying sequence, Scottie dragged Judy Barton / Madeleine (Kim Novak) up the stairs to the top of the mission's bell tower to recreate the suicide.

She suffered a 'second' (and fatal) fall after she recoiled from the shadowy sight of a nun (thought to be a ghost) and stepped backwards through an opening in the tower. She plunged off the tower -- and this time, her death was real! The last shot in the tragic ending showed a stunned, open-mouthed Scottie standing on the belfry tower ledge as he stared down at Judy's dead body.







The Second Fatal Fall

The Village (2004)

The Village Was Part of a Modern-Day Nature Reserve, Not in the Year 1897; It Was Created 30 Years Earlier by Elder Walker as An Escape/Refuge From Tragedy in the Outside World; The Creatures Were Elders in Disguise, To Keep the People in Line; The Village's Secret Remained Intact After Blind Ivy's Trip to Procure Medicine

M. Night Shyamalan's film (with another of the director's trademark twist endings) was criticized at the time of its release for its unbelievable, contrived and illogical premise. The feature film was similar to an expanded version of a Twilight Zone half-hour episode.

The small village of Covington (its name meant a forest of witches) was an insulated valley town and utopian community in rural Pennsylvania located in the center of a densely-wooded area. It appeared that the isolated, plain-dressing village dwellers were living in the year 1897 (seen in a gravestone marker), surrounded by mysterious woods inhabited by elusive and fearsome creatures (called inaccurately "Those We Do Not Speak of") that often left skinned animals in the area. Every now and then, the creatures would visit the village, ominously dressed in cloaks that were red ("the bad color"), and leave red-blood markings on doors. To keep a truce with the creatures and guard their boundaries, the village had established watch-fires, guard towers, warning bells, and everyone scrupulously avoided anything that bore the creatures' favorite color, red. To be safe and ward off the creatures, villagers could wear a hooded robe with the "safe color" - yellow.

Late in the film, the village's head Elder, Edward Walker (William Hurt), a former American History Professor at the University of Pennsylvania, revealed to his blind red-haired, spirited daughter Ivy (Bryce Dallas Howard), with the gift of a kind of second sight (psychic powers allowed her to see people's auras), that the creatures were fabrications - to prevent younger members from venturing out. Red woodland-creature cloaks were stored in a nearby shed. The village's head and other elders were using the village as an escape/refuge from life-damaging, traumatic tragedies (evidence and memorials of the losses were kept in secretive locked chests in their households).

In a voice-over narrated montage, Walker opened his box that contained mementos from his past life in the outside world. He looked at a picture of a group of a dozen or so fellow therapy patients standing in front of a grief Counseling Center, who had each experienced a life-changing event. His was the violent murder of his billionaire father by his business partner - although he was enabled by his dead father's inheritance to purchase the land for "the village." All of the other elders had suffered similar tragedies - usually a violent loss of a loved one (gang rape and murder, for example, or gun violence), and they had sworn to keep the code of never establishing contact with the outside world. About 30 years earlier, he had established the vast acreage, surrounded by a high fence and patrolled by security guards, as the Walker Wildlife Preserve, with government officials paid off so that it was designated as a 'no-fly' zone.

[The evidence of depravity in the outside world was reinforced in the preserve's security office, where 'Jay' - the guard (director Shyamalan himself) read the daily news in a July, 2004 Philadelphia Journal newspaper at his desk - about the discovery of the body of a missing child after three days, a multiple slaying case, and war combat deaths, and listened simultaneously to radio reports of the same news.]

A completely new generation of young people had grown up in the village, believing that they were in the late 19th century when it was really 2004 in modern times. An improbable and perilous excursion taken by Ivy, to procure medicines from an outside town to help cure her boyfriend Lucius Hunt (Joaquin Phoenix) brought about most of the revelations. Wounded and dying Lucius had been repeatedly stabbed by one of the inhabitants, mentally-disabled village idiot Noah Percy (post-Oscar winning Adrien Brody). During Ivy's journey, Noah - wearing one of the hulking red creature cloaks - also stalked after Ivy in the woods. She cleverly tricked him into falling into a deep pit and dying. She successfuly brought back the antibiotics for Lucius and reunited with her bed-ridden lover, and the Elders continued to remain in solidarity to keep the villagers in ignorance:

Your son has made our stories real. Noah has given us a chance to continue this place [pause] if that is something we still wish for.

The death of Noah in the woods both saved Lucius and reinvigorated the myth that held the village together. Ivy affirmed: "I'm back, Lucius" - the film's final line of dialogue. Would Lucius live, and would Ivy tell him of her experience?







The Virgin Suicides (1999)

Lux Stalled, Allowing Her Three Sisters to Commit Suicide, After Which She Also Succumbed As Part of Their Suicide Pact

In Sofia Coppola's dramatic tale, her feature directing-debut film, five blond teenaged sisters ultimately took their own lives, due to a repressive and restrictive upbringing by their strict Roman Catholic parents (James Woods and Kathleen Turner) in an idealized mid-1970s Michigan suburb. The first to commit suicide on her second try was Cecilia (Hanna Hall), by throwing herself out a bedroom window and impaling herself on an iron fence.

Beautiful Lux Lisbon (Kirsten Dunst) invited over four male friends, presumably to help the girls escape. She stalled the boys by smoking alone in her living room, so that her other three older sisters could all commit suicide:

  • Bonnie (Chelse Swain) - hanged herself in the basement
  • Therese (Leslie Hayman) - overdosed on sleeping pills
  • Mary (A.J. Cook) - gassed herself in the oven

Lux was the last to succumb - by carbon monoxide fumes from the car in the closed garage.

The film ended with the four male admirers of the girls standing across the street from the vacated Lisbon house, while the Narrator (voice of Giovanni Ribisi), one of the unnamed neighborhood boys, reminisced (in the film's final lines):

So much has been said about the girls over the years, but we have never found an answer. It didn't matter in the end how old they had been, or that they were girls, but only that we had loved them, and that they hadn't heard us calling - still do not hear us calling them from out of those rooms, where they went to be alone for all time, and where we will never find the pieces to put them back together.






Greatest Movie Plot Twists, Spoilers and Surprise Endings

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