The 7 Most Confusing Movie Plot Twists Explained
Movie twists are par great, obviously, but some of them are so complicated that they make you want to re-watch the film immediately. Here are some of the cleverest feints around, which are definitely worth a bit of extra exploration to really understand them.
It goes without saying that spoilers follow—if you haven't seen the movie and don't want to be spoiled, skip to the next one.
1| The Machinist
Christian Bale underwent an extreme body transformation to play the role of Trevor Reznik, an emaciated insomniac growing increasingly paranoid and experiencing hallucinations.
Trevor thinks he's being tormented by a co-worker called Ivan, but none of his work mates will admit to knowing him. Trevor grows close to a waitress called Maria who serves him coffee at night at a local diner, and he feels protective over her young son Nicholas, especially when Trevor starts to believe Ivan is going to hurt the boy.
But all of a sudden no one at the diner knows who Maria is. What's going on??!
The twist: Well... it turns out a year ago Trevor killed a child in a hit and run accident which was witnessed by the child's mother.
Mother and son are his visions of Maria (who in reality is a completely different waitress who he never speaks to) and Nicholas (who is his hallucination). Ivan is also his hallucination and is actually a vision of himself, before the accident when he could eat and sleep and so looked healthy and happy.
is guilt about the crime has been driving him mad. At the close of the movie, Trevor finally recognizes the truth and hands himself into the police, meaning he can finally sleep.
Christopher Nolan's masterpiece is twisty-turny all the way through. Hell, the whole thing is told backwards, but it's the big twist—the one that comes at the end of the movie, but occurred at the beginning of the movie's timeline (get it?)—that's the head scratcher.
Guy Pearce plays Leonard, a man with anterograde amnesia, which means he can't make new memories and has short term memory loss every few minutes.
Leonard uses tattoos, notes and polaroids to help him keep track of what he's doing, particular in relation to his big mission—to find the man who raped and murdered his wife and injured him, giving him his condition.
During his ongoing investigation, Leonard tells the story of Sammy Jankis, a man with the same condition as him, who Leonard investigated when he was an insurance loss adjuster. Jankis killed his wife by giving her an over dose of insulin—she didn't believe he had amnesia and kept requesting more insulin in an attempt to get him to admit he was lying.
Anyways, through a series of clues and leads, Leonard finds the man he believes is his and his wife's attacker, a guy called Teddy, and kills him.
The twist: Only that's not what actually happened. At all.
The attackers who injured Leonard causing his condition raped his wife but didn't actually kill her. Leonard did, via an insulin overdose—Leonard isSammy Jankis, but created the story as a way of dealing with the guilt.
Teddy is not the attacker. He's actually an undercover cop who has been helping/using Leonard for a year. He helped Leonard find and kill the actual attacker a year ago, but Leonard couldn't remember so Teddy has allowed him to track and kill other dodgy characters, who Leonard is deceiving into thinking are the culprit.
Teddy explains all this to Leonard. After he's finished, Leonard destroys evidence of another man he's killed (believing him to be the attacker) and deliberately writes 'Do Not Trust Teddy' on his polaroid—an action which eventually leads to Leonard murdering Teddy (which we saw at the start of the movie, but is actually the end of the timeline).
3| Mulholland Drive
David Lynch is surely the king of confusion but he insists this movie, which was originally conceived as a pilot for a TV series, does contain a clear and comprehensible narrative. We're not fool enough to pretend to be able to understand every beat of this gorgeous but slightly intangible film, but here is what we think happens.
Naomi Watts plays Betty Elms, a promising and hopeful young actress on the cusp of stardom. One day, a woman who calls herself Rita—who has amnesia and has just survived a car accident -takes refuge in Betty's house. Betty befriends her and tries to help her piece together her identity.
The two uncover various clues, including Rita's memory of a woman called Diane Selwyn who the two are unable to contact. They become lovers. Rita uses a blue key she found in her purse to unlock a blue box that Betty finds in hers.
The twist: And then everything changes. The previous narrative was a dream of failed actress Diane Selwyn. Selwyn cast her self as the innocent and promising young Betty, when in fact she's a failed actress suffering from depression and psychosis.
Rita is actually a more successful actress called Camilla who Diane was having an affair with, which has now ended. Diane has taken out a hit on Camilla and when she receives a sign from the hit man that Camilla is dead (a blue key), Diane shoots herself.
4| American Psycho
Christian Bale plays Patrick Bateman, a psychotic investment banker obsessed with his appearance, his music collection and his business cards.
Bateman begins his murderous spree by offing a homeless guy, then follows up by killing his co-worker Paul, and making it look like he's gone to London. His killings escalate—including friends, prostitutes, cops, a security guard and a janitor. Despite the fact that he later confesses, to his lawyer's answer phone, Bateman never gets punished for his crimes.
The twist: When Bateman returns to his colleague Paul's flat expecting it to be a crime scene, it's actually empty and for sale. Bateman then confesses his crimes to his lawyer, but his lawyer assumes it's a joke and tells Bateman he had lunch with Paul in London the week before.
In the movie version, it's not entirely clear what's meant to have happened—has Patrick just escaped the punishment he deserves? In the book, it's all a little more ambiguous with Bateman as an unreliable narrator. There's every suggestion he's fantasising or even hallucinating the killings.
5| Donnie Darko
Richard Kelly's cult debut is one of the most wilfully confusing and ambiguous movies around and to be able to satisfactorily explain every element would take more brain space than we have.
The gist is this. At the start, Donnie is woken by Frank, dressed as a rabbit, who saves him from being crushed to death by a falling aircraft engine. Donnie lives out 28 days completing various missions, but ultimately returns to very first day again—this time opting to be killed by the falling engine.
The twist: It's all about parallel universes, and the key to understanding is detailed in the book The Philosophy of Time Travel written by Roberta Sparrow aka Grandma Death, in the movie.
At the start, a tangent universe is created—a parallel universe which is identical to the primary universe (the normal one). In the parallel universe, there's an extra duplicate version of the jet engine created when the tangent universe is formed, because... we're not sure, rules or something.
Donnie, who's the hero, must return this duplicate engine through a portal he creates, which he does at the end of the film, in order to re-set the timeline and collapse the tangent universe, returning to the original. He decides to die back in the real world because in doing so he'll save Frank and his girlfriend Gretchen.
OK, this one is almost too complicated to explain without reams of text—if you're desperate for a full explanation, try this one.
6| Vanilla Sky
This is the Tom Cruise remake of Alejandro Amenábar's rather better Spanish language movie Open Your Eyes. In it, Cruise plays David, a wealthy, handsome owner of a publishing firm who begins dating lovely Sofia (Penelope Cruz), much to the dislike of his former girlfriend Julianna (Cameron Diaz).
Julianna crashes her car with David in it, killing herself and leaving him disfigured. David goes on an almighty bender believing his scars can't be healed, nor his relationship saved. But Sofia forgives him, and he manages to repair his face.
All is well until one day everything goes weird, and all his pictures of Sofia suddenly have Julianna in them. When he finds Julianna's in his apartment, he suffocates her and ends up in prison for murder.
The twist: Actually David's been cryogenically frozen for 150 years. After the car crash and believing there to be no way to salvage his face, he paid a company called Life Extension to freeze him and project him into a lucid dream.
But somehow the dream has become a nightmare, with bits of his old memories seeping in. He's given a choice—go back to sleep in the now fixed dream or wake up, knowing that his friends and family will all be dead. He decides not to settle for the dream and wakes.
7| Fight Club
The Narrator, Edward Norton, meets the charismatic Tyler Durden on a flight and soon they're hanging out, living together and with other men regularly engaging in Fight Club—an underground meet up where guys gather to scrap. Durden's clubs expand until they've developed into an anti-capitalist anti-corporate movement called Project Mayhem, which makes the narrator more and more uncomfortable as he begins to understand the scale of damage Tyler and his follows are planning to inflict.
The twist: Only the Narrator IS Tyler Durden—they are two disassociated personalties sharing the same body. Durden hijacks the Narrator's body while he sleeps and gets up to no good without the Narrator's knowledge. The Narrator tries to tell the police but they're caught up in the conspiracy. Instead he realizes his only solution is to control the gun that 'Tyler' is holding and shoot himself in the face.
This story originally appeared on Esquire.co.uk.
* Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.