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How not to lose the plot with a plot twist

Written by Film

We have all been there, you will be watching a film and then a sudden twist will cause your jaw to drop and your brain to melt and leak straight into your popcorn. A great plot twist can turn an average 5 into a brilliant 10, sort of like me when I pop on my crocs. But what sorts out the nonsensical from the ingenious?

I always felt that a good plot twist is one whereupon watching the film again the signs of what is going to happen are obvious. Laying those breadcrumbs to hint to that big reveal doesn’t just make you feel like an idiot for not figuring it out sooner but helps make the twist seem more believable.

In The Usual Suspects (1995) we spend the entire movie trying to figure out who Keyser Soze is just for it to be revealed that it is the most unlikely character, Roger Kint played by Kevin Spacey. It’s a twist no one was expecting but upon a repeat, viewing turns out the answer was slapping you in the face and you didn’t even know it. At the start of the movie, Keyser Soze uses a golden lighter to start a fire. Near the ending before the epic reveal, Spacey is released from jail and his items returned to him, including a gold lighter, hinting that Spacey is in fact Soze even before the detective puts it together himself.

I find that a great plot twist makes you want to go and re-watch the film and experience it from a completely new perspective.

It is also no surprise that the master of the plot twist himself, M Night Shyamalan is also quite good at this. In The Sixth Sense (1999) we get one of the most iconic and twisty twists of all time with the reveal that Bruce Willis’ character has been dead this entire time. But it turns out this reveal is a lot more obvious then what you would expect, especially on a second viewing. The most obvious hint is of course the iconic line “I see dead people” which the kid says while speaking to the guy we later realise is dead. But it actually goes further than that. Despite being Cole’s psychiatrist, Malcolm (Bruce Willis) never actually talks to Cole’s mother, this is because Malcolm was nether actually there. Also, we never see Malcolm move things in front of other people. All these details don’t really mean much at first but that end twist makes you realise how Shyamalan was spelling it out for us.

I also find that a great plot twist doesn’t just blow your mind but makes you want to go and re-watch the film and experience it from a completely new perspective. Arrival (2016) is a great example of this as upon first watch the plot seems to be linear as Amy Adam’s character tries to decipher an alien language. But by the end we realise that we are watching a palindromic film where the alien language isn’t linear; they know the ending as they’re writing the beginning. It is a brilliant twist which makes a repeat viewing so much more interesting.

Fight Club (1999) also has the great twist that Brad Pitt and Edward Norton’s characters are actually the same person due to Norton’s character having a dissociative identity disorder.  This awesome twist makes for a fun re-watch as you can try and imagine just one person in each scene, making for a completely new viewing.

However, while many great twists work because of the build-up, some films haven’t quite caught the grasp of what makes one good instead of using them for cheap shocks that can upon closer inspection not make very much sense. The worst kind of plot twist is obviously the one where “it all took place within a dream as it basically renders the entire film up to that point redundant (apart from Inception of course because that film is just cool). Sometimes if a plot twist is so bad it can ruin a movie which otherwise would have been decent, taking away from an impactful ending, like The Dark Knight Rises (2012). Personally, I think this is a great film and a satisfying conclusion to Nolan’s Batman trilogy, minus a few small bits. At the end of the film we see Christian Bales Batman take the nuke and fly it out of Gotham, sacrificing himself but saving his city. It would have been a fitting end to the character but near the end of the film we see he actually survived and is living happy as Larry with Selina Kyle. While it is a nice end for him, it would have been much better with Bruce going out as the person he became over the series in a heroic way.

Last modified: 1st June 2020

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