Anna S. (eliade) wrote,
Anna S.
eliade

TJIF

J as in Joss, of course.

I meant to say yesterday how happy anniesj made me by posting My Goddamn Spike. I love this Spike, which is enough like my Spike that I really have nothing to add. Except maybe that my Spike will look twenty-six...forever.

I've been in a hairy funk. I owe people e-mail. So noted.

Last night I went offline and rewatched The Usual Suspects, which was a random choice, but timely, I later realized, since it's directed by Bryan Singer, who's done both X-Men movies. It's one of those movies that grips you less, I think, after the first viewing--you know the ending, and yeah, it's fun to watch it again with that in mind, but the same tension isn't there. And the more times you watch it, the more of its substance is replaced by style. Not that I'd dismiss it for that, in the usual way of things, but everything in the movie hinges on one question--it's what drives most of the movie's urgency. Once that's a known element, its interest becomes abstract.

Still, if you've never seen The Usual Suspects, you shouldn't read anything more I'm going to say about the movie. It would be bad and wrong.



Once you know the ending, you can go back and see how many hints they dropped all the way through the film, and how many chances they were willing to take back when Kevin Spacey was a smaller star. If they were making this now, everyone would know going into the the theater that he's Keyser Soze. But then, they could get away with the movie's opening scene, where Spacey whispers several lines of dialogue. Even though they don't show his face, his voice is recognizable when you know it's him. I doubt many people recognized it, though, when the movie originally came out. There's also a giveaway in how Keaton reacts to Soze's uncrippled left hand, which becomes meaningful later. We get another hint of this later when we see close-up shots on the fictional Soze's left hand swinging by his side as he strides out of the fire, while his backstory is being retold.

Fictional Soze, because *that* was clearly not Spacey. And now, with the power of DVD technology, I could confirm that. Which to me raises one of the big questions about the movie's structure: how fair is it? I mean, this is a movie about identity, a mystery in which we're supposed to discover Keyser Soze. It's deliberately misleading--we're meant to think it's Keaton. That's fine. But the movie makes very sure that we *won't* figure out its secret too soon, by playing a game with point-of-view that the audience isn't clued in on. The Soze we see in the backstory is the exaggerated, colorful creation of the storyteller, and so it doesn't need to be the same actor. And when Soze starts to describe everything that happened at the docks, he's lying. But we don't know that; at that point, he's still just Verbal Kint to us, and we take the story at face value. So we're tricked by it all--several times the camera cuts between the faceless shadow of Soze, killing off his hired hands, and "Verbal Kint," who is huddling passively on the sidelines as the action goes down. The camera tells us that they're different men; the camera lies, like the man telling the story. (Though the *really* weird thing is: "Kint" is clearly not telling Kujan about what Soze is doing. So that part of the narrative is an even bigger trick of misdirection. It's the interweaving of verbal storytelling and interior recollection.)

It's not until Agent Kujan calls into question what Verbal really saw that we begin to realize that the recollected narrative may be artificial--when Kujan reconstructs the entire story to focus on Keaton, to suggest that he might be Soze, we understand how big a part point-of-view has played in the story's telling. And it's only when Verbal is revealed as Soze, and the story is revealed as a fabrication of details plucked from whatever random fodder is available to hand, that we realize we've been fooled just as Kujan has been. The story has been a fiction.

I don't think it's *fair*, really, in the way that we like mysteries to be fair--we like to think we can puzzle out the culprit by piecing together the clues--but it's a good story. Though some people probably did figure out who Soze was. Smart bastards. I've never been able to do that. I'm not especially good at mysteries; complex plot tricks easily confuse me. Even this movie is like some kind of optical illusion that never resolves itself--I still can't figure out where the truth ends and the lie begins. "Kobayashi" was obviously real, even if that wasn't his name.

So here's my best summary: Soze arranged for the line-up, intending for Kobayashi to come and present his proposal to the group; Edie Finneran throws that plan out of whack, and the hit on the "New York's finest taxi service" is a sideline proposed by one of the group that Soze can't reasonably stop. Soze brings things back online by arranging that Redfoot will offer them a second job, thereby welding them more solidly together in complicity. And then after the job on the docks goes down, he gets caught, unintentionally. He never brings his own name into it at all--it's Kujan who does that, and that's when Soze decides to use Keaton as his straw man. The interpretation of the story that we see is actually the product of a strange cooperation between Kujan and Soze, in which Soze plays off Kujan's expectations, and Kujan helps construct the story he wants to believe.

I don't know why I'm going on about this, except that it's kind of neat, and I don't know that I could write a story like this, so it's interesting to try and unravel its tricks.
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