Ignorance Is Bliss: Iconic Films We Wish We Could See With Fresh Eyes
Bates Motel ̶ and thus Psycho ̶ got me thinking about those movies with twists so surprising and genius that they’ve become part of our pop culture; movies with endings so enduring that even if you haven’t seen the films, you know how they end. Then I started wondering what it would have been like to see these movies with a clean slate, not knowing the big plot twist. Honestly, I’m a little jealous of the first audiences for some of the movies so intrinsic in our culture that we can’t even remember not knowing the twist. So here are the movies that I wish I could watch with these first audiences and be a part of cinematic history (Obviously, there are spoilers in this posting, but really, you probably know all these endings if you haven’t been under a rock or on a deserted island for years.):
5. Soylent Green
I haven’t even seen this movie, but I’ll never get to watch it without the mantra “Soylent Green is people!” running through my head. It’s basically a joke in today’s culture, but could you imagine the jaw dropping that occurred in the first theaters to show this film? In a futuristic world where the world is overpopulated and people live off of rations, mostly from the Soylent Corporation ̶ especially the green kind, which is supposedly made from some rare plankton ̶ our heroic detective investigates murder. However, his investigations uncover more than just a single homicide when he finds out that the Soylent Corporation has been making Soylent Green out of human remains! Dun dun dun!! As grotesque as this ending is, I’ll never be able to watch it without giggling.
4. The Others
I suppose this one isn’t as iconic as the rest of the films on this list, but I never got to watch it without knowing the ending, so I’m including it on this list. The movie follows a family with an overprotective mother (Nicole Kidman) that has locked her children in the house after her husband goes off to war. However, strange things start happening that lead them to believe the house is haunted (and something is really wrong with the children). Well, turns out, the house is haunted, but our protagonists aren’t the ones being haunted. They’ve been dead the whole time! *gasp* Nicole Kidman apparently shot her kids and herself before any of these events took place, and the “hauntings” are actually the new living residents moving in and trying to deal with the spirits. I’m not saying The Others is a good movie, but I think that twist was really smart: ghosts being haunted by the living. And while I can appreciate the twist, I’ll never get the first viewing gasp. Alas.
3. The Empire Strikes Back
It’s barely even a twist anymore. Darth Vader has always been Luke Skywalker’s father. The line that makes it onto almost every list of famous movie lines has been parodied, memed, played on repeat, everything. “Luke, I am your father.” (You know you read that in Darth Vader’s voice.) Then there’s the whole Luke and Leia being siblings twist, which gets less focus but only because there’s no one-liner in an epic voice to sum it up. Now, I can’t imagine this ever being surprising to any audience with how ingrained this is in our society, but wouldn’t it be so sweet to watch the whole Star Wars saga without knowing anything about it? To hate Darth Vader and everything he stands for just to find out he’s the father of our hero? To root for Luke and Leia to be together till, oops, they’re actually twins? That will never happen again for anyone, as far as I can predict. Children learn who Luke’s father is before they learn their own father’s name.
2. The Sixth Sense
No list is complete without this M. Night Shyamalan masterpiece. This film set the standard for all Shyamalan films, which could be considered a good thing or a bad thing, considering how some of his other movies turned out. Sadly, this movie came out when I was just barely too young to see it in theaters (Thanks, Mom), so I got to hear all about it second hand, rather than experience it for myself. Hayley Joel Osment, in all his cuteness, plays a kid who “can see dead people,” and a psychiatrist (Bruce Willis) comes to his rescue to try to help him deal with this issue. However, in a twist no one saw coming (unless all your friends told you before you saw it), Bruce Willis is actually dead! He’s been dead the whole time, shot by his patient at the beginning of the film! It’s a movie that really needs to be watched twice, once ignorant of the twist, and once seeing how Shyamalan made it all work perfectly. This is the movie that I’m most upset that I didn’t get the clean slate viewing, because I’d really like to know if I would have seen the signs or been as surprised as everyone else. Well, now I’ll never know.
1. Psycho (1960)
Obviously, #1 on this list is Psycho. This film put plot twists on the map. Obviously, there’s the Mrs. Norman Bates shocker when we find the taxidermied Mrs. Bates in the fruit cellar and Norman rushes in dressed as his mother. That was a big cinema moment. But we also can’t forget the actual murder of the main character, who was a big name actress of the day, which happens about 40 minutes in (if that). Janet Leigh, who played our ill-fated Marion Crane in the film, was a big draw for audiences, and no one expected her to get killed off so soon! Psycho stands, as far as I’m concerned, as one of the best films to ever incorporate multiple twists, and pull it off so well.
Honorable Mention: Fight Club
Fight Club doesn’t exactly make the list, because the twist isn’t really a defining part of the movie, as far as I’m concerned. The movie is brilliant, though honestly, the twist doesn’t do much for me. However, it is one of the few films where the protagonist-is-really-crazy twist doesn’t bother me. The surprisingly crazy protagonist is up there with it-was-all-a-dream for me. But the Edward Norton/Brad Pitt pair works ̶ relatively ̶ when they’re separate people and when we find out that Norton made up Pitt as an alternate personality. But seriously, I think the audiences’ jaws were already on the floor while watching this movie, so there was nowhere further for them to drop when the twist was revealed. I don’t think not knowing the ending would really affect my viewing of the film.
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