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My Five Favorite Plot Twist Endings

Cause Who Doesn't Love a Good Mind F-K?

By Sara MortonPublished 5 years ago 14 min read
Leonardo DiCaprio in Shutter Island

One of my favorite film genres is Psychological Thrillers/Mysteries. I know a lot of people don't want to think while watching a movie, but I love it when movies make me think. And nothing is better than a total plot twist ending. Even when they kind of piss me off at first, I can't help but love when I have to look back on the whole film and rethink everything I thought I knew. And an amazing twist that blows your mind while still making your film experience enjoyable is hard to pull off. So many movies now try to make themselves appear smarter with twists, but they just don't work. But it does make the clever ones even better. So why not share some of my favorites?

Now while I don't wanna give the twists away, because I hate giving spoilers, it's kind of hard not in order to talk fully in depth about the movies. So first, I'll list them all with a little recap of each film, then I'll go through them again being more analytical and explain what makes each plot twist so great. So if you don't mind spoilers, enjoy this whole list. If not- well enjoy half.

1) 'Memento'

Guy Pearce as Leonard, the Protagonist

A former insurance investigator is on a vigilant justice mission to find the man who killed his wife. However, he has a rare condition where he has short term memory loss and forgets almost everything after a few minutes. In order to remember vital information, he relies on his own methods and will stop at nothing to avenge his wife. Directed by Christopher Nolan, this is a great psychological film because it's simple enough to follow, even with its own unique way of storytelling. We've seen memory loss used for comedic value in 50 First Dates or Finding Nemo; however, this film uses it for amazing psychological value. Not to mention it helps make the twist completely unexpected...

2) 'The Sixth Sense'

Haley Joel Osment and Bruce Willis

Okay, yes I know nearly everyone knows the twist! But who cares? It's one of M. Night Shamaylan's few good films—arguably his best—and it's honestly hard not to love this movie. But on the small chance you live under a rock or you're my boyfriend (sorry, babe), I'll play along. Child psychologist Malcolm is having trouble reaching out to his current patient, 9-year-old Cole. Halfway through, we have the first twist; Cole is clairvoyant (lame "I see dead people" joke here). Cole is not only terrified of the ghosts he sees, but is too afraid to tell anyone. And that's not even the biggest twist in the film...

3) 'The Prestige'

Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman

Another Christopher Nolan film, the guy just loves screwing with us. Set in the 1890s, Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman are two magicians and partners on stage. After a trick gone wrong, they become rivals and obsess over outdoing each other and seeing who is the better magician. They go as far as to try and steal the other's tricks, travel across the world, and even injure the other. So yeah, it's Batman and Wolverine fighting over magic tricks, and, oh yeah, David Bowie is there too. But it is captivating and suspenseful, with Gothic elements that fit perfectly with the film's aesthetic. And there's also so much more...

4) 'Shutter Island'

Leonardo DiCaprio (My Man) in the Film's Theatrical Poster

US Marshal Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) is on an investigation with his new partner, Chuck (Mark Ruffalo). They are sent to Shutter Island, a psychiatric hospital for the criminally insane which is located on an island off the coast of Boston. One of the most dangerous patients has gone missing without a trace. But Teddy suspects the head of the hospital, John Cawley (Sir Ben Kingsley), is hiding more. It's an amazingly frightening film directed by the legendary Martin Scorsese. The atmosphere is perfectly dark and twisted for the film, the style pays homage to Hitchcock, and the whole cast gives their all in their performances. This twist ending, for me at least, is a little more predictable, but still absolutely brilliant.

5) 'Donnie Darko'

Jake Gyllenhaal as Donnie

Now I must give a warning, this is my favorite movie of all time. So I may end up going off on a tangent later but it's such a great film! Anywho... Jake Gyllenhaal plays the title role, Donnie, who is a mentally troubled teenager. One night, he begins seeing a man in a creepy rabbit costume who goes by Frank who tells him the world is ending. In order to save everyone and himself, Donnie begins following Frank's commands, no matter how sinister they may be. The film leaves you guessing if Frank is real or if Donnie is schizophrenic, but the ending just simply f-ks you up...

Okay, now for the Spoilers! You've been warned! Before you click off, I will just say these are all great movies I highly recommend. Most of them are on Netflix, so maybe come back here after you've seen them all? Please? Okay, let's start again.

1) 'Memento'

Leonard, and Some of His Memory Tricks

While this film has a style all its own, one of the most unique factors is that it is actually told in reverse. Many films now are told out of chronological order, but instead of just bouncing around, this film literally goes backwards. It's not only an original concept, but gives the viewer a feel for what Leonard goes through with his memory loss. And really, the film wouldn't work being told any other way. It starts out with Leonard seemingly killing the man who murdered his wife, Teddy. (SPOILER) In reality, Leonard himself accidentally killed her.

With the trauma of everything along with his condition, he's created this mission in order to redeem himself. Through most of the film, we view Teddy as the antagonist, but in the end, after he tells Leonard the truth, we realize he was actually trying to stop him from killing even more (yes, more) innocent men. And since most films with plot twists give you hints, this one also does, in a very clever way.

There are flashbacks where Leonard talks about a man he once investigated with his same condition who accidentally killed his wife, not knowing he is actually talking about himself. It's a great way to hide the truth right in front of the audience's eyes as well as give exposition.

But despite Leonard's crazy condition, we all have a bit of him in ourselves. Admit it, we're all guilty of not wanting to believe the truth, or changing bad memories in our head to suit our own feelings. Even if it's subconsciously, we've done it. The ending not only twists how the audience views the story, but Leonard. He's seen as a radical man with a noble mission, and you root for him. After the last scene, we see him for what he is—a lost man on a mission he subconsciously knows he'll never complete. You go from rooting for him to pitying him, maybe even hating him.

2) 'The Sixth Sense'

Again, I know nearly everyone already knows the twist in this film, so I'll just come out and say it: (SPOILER) Bruce Willis (Malcolm) was a ghost the whole time. While it is now so well known, I do think it's not just because people like to make jokes. Despite more recent work, M. Night Shaymalan does have some talent. He pulled off this plot twist so well. If you set aside the ending being so well known, and went into this film knowing absolutely nothing, you are totally blindsided by it.

Take for example one particular scene, when Cole comes home and Malcolm and his mother, Lynn, are sitting across from each other. From the way they look, you could swear they were just having a conversation. But in the end when they show the moment again and you take a look at their facial expressions, you can see Malcolm is waiting for Lynn to speak, but it is clear she doesn't even see him. It's little details like that which totally blow your mind in the end when you look back on them.

Another factor I love is the parallels between Cole and Malcolm. While Cole has to come to terms with his ability to see ghosts, Malcolm has to come to terms with being a ghost. When the two meet, they're both in bad spots emotionally, and cannot communicate with their loved ones—Cole with his mother and Malcolm with his wife. Throughout the film, Malcolm not only helps Cole, but Cole helps him. And in the last two scenes, Cole finally lets his mother know about his gift and Malcolm speaks to/says goodbye to his wife.

There are just so many elements that execute this film so well; the symbolism of the color red, Bruce Willis and Haley Joel Osment's performances and chemistry—it all comes together to pull off this twist ending. If only Shaymalan could continue making these type of films, and stop his downfall from... happening. (I had to, leave me alone.)

3) 'The Prestige'

Bowie is life, not even sorry

This film from the very first shot gives you hints at the twist, and it's one of the things I love about it. Like Memento, Nolan tells this film out of chronological order. This time, it starts with Bale's character, Alfred Borden, being found guilty of Jackman's character - Robert Angier's- murder. The film then explains their rivalry through flashbacks as the two read one another's diaries. In the climax, we find out Angier is somehow still alive, but Borden is still hung for his death, supposedly.

(SPOILER) In a completely different building, Borden appears and shoots Angier. Before he dies Borden reveals the secret to his transporting man trick. Alfred is a pair of twins- Albert and Fredrick- who take turns living as Alfred. When the other was not Alfred, they went into disguise as the ingenieur, Fallon. As the film goes back and shows scenes of how they made everything work, your mind is blown. But once you let it all sink in, Angier's secret to his version of the transporting trick is revealed; he was cloning himself every night, with the machine made for him by Bowie's character. During the act, he would drown the previous doppelganger under the stage, hence how Borden was framed for the murder.

These plot twists seem crazy just reading/writing them, but while watching the film they work beautifully. Nolan is able to give you hints to the turns-such as Borden's back and forth behavioral changes- without dumbing down the film. It's easy to follow while still being intelligent. If you're looking into watching a more psychological film that's still easy to follow I'd recommend this one. Plus, David Bowie.

4) 'Shutter Island'

How he wasn't even nominated for this performance, I'll never know.

We all love Leo, and for good reasons. He started off as a teen heartthrob but has grown into one of the most diverse actors in cinema. The man is constantly pushing his boundaries and choosing challenging roles that could not be pulled off with a less talented/driven actor. This is one of his films that shows all this perfectly.

As Teddy looks further into the island's secrets and gets more questions than answers, he seems to be slipping into insanity. He gets caught up in his own investigation of the man, Andrew Laeddis, who he believes started the fire that killed his wife. He finally gets to the off limits lighthouse, where he believes lobotomies are being performed, but when he gets there Cawley is waiting for him.

(SPOILER) The whole investigation was a ruse, an elaborate therapy session in hopes Teddy, the actual most dangerous patient, will have a breakthrough. After she drowned their three children, Teddy killed his wife. Overridden by guilt he lives in the delusion that he is still a US Marshal and has created a fantasy in which both he and his wife are innocent. Chuck is actually his psychiatrist, who encouraged this play-out of Teddy's delusions in order to have a breakthrough.

Teddy accepts reality, but some time later seems to regress a bit as he and Ruffalo smoke on the hospital steps. Teddy is ushered off by Cawley and orderlies. Before he leaves he says to Chuck, "Which would be worse, to live as a monster, or to die as a good man?". The last shot of the movie is of the lighthouse, hinting Teddy was right about the lobotomies and is about to receive one.

This film is definitely the darkest out of the ones on this list but fits the psychological thriller genre to a tee. The ending may leave the viewer upset, as the protagonist does not come out the winner, but it fits with the film and wraps it up perfectly. Teddy is choosing to have the lobotomy to get rid of the guilt and memories from his past. He'd rather give into Cawley in hopes of regaining some sanity than stand his grounds and out the corruption of the hospital.

Like I said, this twist may be a little more predictable, if you look out for the hints closely enough. Even so, Scorsese, DiCaprio, and everyone else is on top of their game here. It's also a perfect example (like Memento) how perspective is everything in a film. This film just wouldn't be the same told from Chuck or Cawley's point of view. To fully get the experience though, you have to watch for yourself.

5. 'Donnie Darko'

Donnie being instructed by Frank

Again, I may go off for a bit here, but not just because I love this movie so much. It is very confusing to watch, especially the first time around! So I will explain a bit.

Like I mentioned before, you spend nearly the whole movie thinking Donnie is imagining everything, his therapist even brings up to his parents he's showing signs of paranoid schizophrenia. There's also a lot of added factors in this film, that doesn't seem to make sense, like Donnie's developed obsession with time travel. But by the end of the film, it all comes together.

(SPOILER) Everything Donnie was seeing was real, and part of a very elaborate plan. Everything in this film, even if it sees out of place, happens for a reason, and connects to the next set of events. Take for example, in the beginning, when Frank leads Donnie outside to tell him the world is ending. At that moment, a plane jet engine falls into Donnie's bedroom, had Donnie been in there he would be killed. However, the FFA cannot figure out where the engine even came from, and this sets the rest of the film in motion.

Even though the acts Frank is having Donnie play out seem malicious, they all have a purpose. When he makes Donnie flood the school, it is so the school day can be canceled, and Donnie can meet Gretchen Ross, who goes on to be his love interest. As each event leads to another, the day Frank says the world would end on finally arrives. And Donnie has to make an ultimate sacrifice in order to save all his loved ones.

Everything is going wrong and falling apart, as Donnie watches a vortex form in the sky. This is where the jet engine came from. Donnie remembers something Gretchen told him about replacing everything bad in the world with something better and the last 28 days go back in reverse. Time travel was, in fact, real, and Donnie is transported back to the night the jet engine came through his room. This time, he lets himself be killed, whether that needed to happen or not is still up for debate by fans.

While it is all very confusing, it is what I consider a brilliant film. Writer and director, Richard Kelly, crosses science and religion together in this mind-blowing mesh, with tons of trippy imagery, a realistic and likable protagonist, and is wrapped up by the end but still leaves questions for the audience. Making it the perfect film to watch more than once.

My recommendation is the first watch the theatrical version, then the director's cut. That way the first time, you get the best viewing experience for this film, then the second time all your questions are answered (hopefully). Also, try and count how many celebrities make an appearance in this film, there's a lot of them.

If you're still confused, this website does a fantastic job of explaining everything better than I can.

So there it is. Again this is just my personal list, but I hope you either agree, enjoyed my lame explanations, or found your next enjoyable mind f-k.


About the Creator

Sara Morton

I'm a huge movie nerd who thinks they're always right when it comes to films. I also work in a library so I'm not afraid to shush you.

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