Hooked on the Twist

I was trying to think of where I first came across a twist in a movie.  This got me thinking about twists in general so I thought I’d write a few hundred words about them, ‘see where it took me.

Don’t worry.  Any talking about twists I do will be carefully monitored to avoid spoilers.  I don’t believe there is a ‘Statute of Limitations’ on twists as some people seem to do.  
Some people seem to think, “That film is over 5/10/20 years old now, I can shout the twist all over the place, who cares?”  Well, the people who haven’t seen the movie yet, they care.  So, if I go on about some film (as I will) and you haven’t seen it, I think you’ll be safe.  Try to see it soon though, you’re on dangerous ground leaving it this long, there’s a lot of feckin' eejits about.

The first time I encountered a twist in a movie, it just blew me away.

It was ‘Sleuth’. The first adaptation of Anthony Shaffer’s stage play starring Laurence Olivier, Michael Caine and Alec Cawthorne.  (I reviewed the second version here). I remember seeing a trailer for it at some kid’s matinee show back in 1972, I remember thinking it looked rubbish and I would never watch that.  Its saving grace was that turned up on TV, a few years later, as the Christmas Night Movie.  In Ireland, back then, the Christmas Night Movie had a seriously captive audience.  There were no other channels to flick to, no other place to be.  The only thing to do was to watch the movie.  I should write a separate blog post about the movies I’ve seen on Christmas Night that I would never otherwise have seen.  There was ‘Gone With the Wind’, ‘Braveheart’ and… what else… oh, yeah, there was ‘Sleuth’.

Famously, ‘Sleuth’ has a twist.

No, I won’t tell you what it is (you probably know already).  All I need to tell you is what it did to me.

Before 'Sleuth' I already knew movies could make you happy or sad, you could laugh or even cry when nobody was looking but I didn’t know they could flip you upside down like on a roller coaster, that your stomach could be felt to plummet three inches lower down into your pants, that your head could reel and your mind, momentarily, fail to grasp the beauty of what had just unfolded before your very eyes.

I saw ‘Sleuth’ and I was hooked.  Hooked on the twist.

And there have been so few, so few really good twists.  I’m pretty good at seeing things coming, at spotting the machinations of a twist-in-the-making, so I’m rarely caught out.  Perhaps that’s why, when I am, I like it so much.

Jump forward to The Sixth Sense.  I saw that one in the cinema when it came out.  Everybody and their Granny was talking about ‘The Twist’.  “It’s an Amazing Twist.”  “You’ll never see this Twist coming.” Etc etc.  I went to see it with the express intent of figuring out the Twist before it got me.  I studied the film intently as it played out.  I even got some kids thrown out of the show for talking too much (that’s another story).  Guess what?  I didn’t figure it out.  I never saw it coming.  My belly did the flip just like in the good old days.  I loved it.

I’ll grant you that The Sixth Sense is a two dimensional construct.  You have to look at it face-on, for the effect to work.  If you go around the side of it, you can see the buttresses and wedges holding it all together.  What on earth do I mean?  Well, for example, the story only works in the scenes we are allowed to see.  What is happening to the character in the moments between those scenes?  Any myriad of events would cause the house of cards to tumble but all of them are avoided until the one arrives which deliberately kicks it all down.  It’s a rather elegant thing, I think.

But the twist of all twists - oh, man, when I think of it – was The Crying Game.  This is the most difficult one to talk about without doing Spoilers so you might want to skip this paragraph (you don’t have to).  I went to see this with Trish in Kensington on the Sunday it came out.  As usual I knew a little bit about it.  I knew it was Neil Jordan, I knew the casting of the film had presented singular difficulties…  Face it, Ken, you knew nothing. 

When it happened… when ‘Thing’ happened, it was like going off the deep end.  I had been misled in the most basic of ways and I loved it.  I turned to Trish and she whispered, “I saw that coming.”  I hadn’t the energy for the obvious reply.

So that’s it.  There were others but I just wanted to mention three.

I really want to go and find ‘Sleuth’ now and show it to my kids.  I want to see if I can make their tummy flip in the way mine did, all those years ago.  Probably not, these are less innocent times.

What great movie twists am I forgetting, I wonder?  Perhaps you might remind me of a few that you have enjoyed?

No spoilers though… 

… okay?


Unknown said...

lovely little post - especially resonant as I'm fresh from my own fabulous cinematic experience courtesy of HUGO. no twists, but superb storytelling. have to say, I saw the twist in the SIXTH SENSE a good 15 minutes or so before it hit - the scene with the husband and wife in the restaurant for their anniversary. I even got out a pen and paper to jot it down, knowing my boyfriend would never believe me if I said something after the fact. :) Like you I appreciate a good twist and it's rare I'm caught out. THE USUAL SUSPECTS was full of twists, and while I sussed out some, I'd not sorted all of them. same with MEMENTO come to that. thanks for rousing the memories. I think I'll get a copy of SLEUTH later as well. Gx

Jim Murdoch said...

I am also a fan of the twist. My novel The More Things Change has one. Can’t tell you what it is because I’ll want you to read it in a couple of years but I’ll be impressed if you see it coming because I didn’t and I wrote the damn thing. As far as films go there are a few that jump to mind: the original Planet of the Apes, The Others, Soylent Green, Memento and 12 Monkeys. The ending to Fight Club I didn’t see coming I have to say not that I cared. And the same goes for The Village but the rest of M Night Shyamalan’s twists haven’t done much for me. I did guess what was going on in The Sixth Sense but I enjoyed it anyway. The real test for me is how much the film relies on its ending. Planet of the Apes is a fine film that holds its own following multiple viewings but the same can’t be said for some of the others.

Ken Armstrong said...

ShoeGal: Thanks. I noted your satisfaction with Hugo over on FB earlier and that bumped it a long way up my list. I know my son read the book some time ago...

Usual Suspects, of course! That was a *good* one. :)

I need to see Memento again, I remember the timeline but forget the twist.

Jim: 12 Monkeys! I need to see that again. That worked well. I never got to see Planet of the Apes 'pure' if you know what I mean. By the time I got to it, it was already embedded in Pop Culture so it didn't work for me as a twist. M Night has never managed to fool me since 6th Sense but I do like Unbreakable quite a lot.

Rachel Fox said...

I loved the old "Sleuth" - remember watching it on TV with my Mum. Thought "Sixth Sense" was a total bag of pants though.

We just introduced daughter to "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" the other day - not the most amazing movie (and bit dated now...) but a not half-bad twist. We liked "Fight Club" too.


Saphrym said...

Shawshank Redemption. Some people forget it had a twist because the whole movie is just that good that the twist doesn't "make" the movie. But it does. And it's my favorite movie. But now I'm putting Sleuth in my queue. I've never seen it.

hope said...

Ah ShoeGal007 beat me to it: "The Usual Suspects". I liked the fact it built up in a way that if you paid attention, you had an idea what was happening. But the final scene on the street was my jaw drop moment.

Oddly enough, I haven't seen this film, mostly because I loved the audio book version read by actor David Strathairn so much..and not so much star Leo DeCaprio. I hear "Shutter Island" was an awful movie, but the twist as read by Strathairn...I never saw it coming!

William Dameron said...

Hi Ken, just reading your blog and really enjoy it. I can think of two fairly recent movies with a twist: "The Others" with Nicole Kidman, a very atmospheric ghost story and Seven, with a little more of a gruesome twist. I must remember to include the twist in my writing...

Ken Armstrong said...

Rachel: I brought my little sis to see Dirty Rotten Scoundrels when her visit to London coincided with its opening. I still think it's good old-fashioned funny. I like that you hate some movie that I like, it keeps us both on our toes, I like to think. :)

Saphrym: Shawshank indeed... how *did* he get the poster back on... well... never mind...

Hope: I thought Shutter Island was a great book, I was recommending it to everyone. The film, for me, was nowhere near as good.

Bill: Hi. The Others was neat indeed. And I love Se7en, not just for the end but for the overall grimy brilliance of it.