I Am Jack's Ridiculous Plot Analysis

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The always-entertaining Onion A.V. Club has a rundown on great (or not so great) movies' twist endings, starting with the unforgettable Psycho and ending with last year's already-forgotten Hide and Seek. They include the mandatory two Charlton Heston movies, including Soylent Green, but offer this put-down of that film's Edward G. Robinson-mashing twist.

Could it work today? No. Awakened to the precariousness of the environment by early-'70s activism and films like Soylent Green, the world put the brakes on overpopulation and the exhaustion of natural resources. The air has never been cleaner, the climate's never been healthier, and corporations never put profits over people.

Cute, but Soylent Green is a camp classic because this stuff is true. Early-'70s activism, which I'm going to go ahead and re-interpret as "Paul Ehrlich," completely hyped and overestimated the rate of world population growth, the effects of pollution, the amount of oil left in the ground, etc. Early '70s sci-fi like SG that was informed by this thinking is a laugh riot, even more amusing than the 1980s nuclear hysteria that gave us the greatest disaster film of all time, Threads. But that's another post.

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  1. It doesn’t get any funnier than “Silent Running.”

  2. Gosh, I rather liked Soylent Green. I even own Harry Harrison’s Make Room, Make Room. Which is quite a different animal than the movie, let me tell you.

    Too little Joseph Cotten in the movie, I might add. In fact, I’m so offended that I’m going to go re-watch my copy of The Third Man 🙂

    Incidentally, I just watched Silent Running again. What an odd movie.

  3. “It doesn’t get any funnier than “Silent Running.”

    I like that movie. I think it is hard to top Logan’s Run for funny and it has some really hot chicks in skimpy outfits as well.

  4. Gosh, I rather liked Soylent Green. I even own Harry Harrison’s Make Room, Make Room. Which is quite a different animal than the movie, let me tell you.

    Too little Joseph Cotten in the movie, I might add. In fact, I’m so offended that I’m going to go re-watch my copy of The Third Man 🙂

    Incidentally, I just watched Silent Running again. What an odd movie.

  5. “It doesn’t get any funnier than “Silent Running.”

    I like that movie. I think it is hard to top Logan’s Run for funny and it has some really hot chicks in skimpy outfits as well.

  6. M. Night Shymalan should be credited for a great twist in The Sixth Sense. Unfortunately that sort of typecast him as the “twist ending” director: Unbreakable, The Village, Signs (sorta) seem to force the twist upon the audience. Let’s hope his latest movie is a suspense without one.

  7. Ironchef – You just made me realize something. In both “Unbreakable” and “Signs,” the amazing plot twist involves water and how it hurts people/aliens. Man, that’s lame.

  8. I always thought Around the World in 80 Days had a great “twist” ending.

  9. No Witness for the Prosecution? C’mon. How could they miss the film that, after the final kiss-off, instructs the audience to keep the secret?

  10. I thought the amazing plot twist in Unbreakable was that Samuel L. Jackson was evil.

  11. I get the Onion print edition every week, and the knee-jerk leftism in the AV section has gotten a bit old.

    And how does one measure the health of the climate?

  12. Although I suppose the water twist in “Unbreakable” was just the pre-twist twist. Whatever.

  13. Of Heston’s post-apocalyptic films I liked The Omega Man the best.

  14. I just wish John Carpenter would complete the Snake Plissken trilogy.

  15. And how does one measure the health of the climate?

    The climate reached its zeneth of health around 1899. Any change in global mean tempature after that can only be for the ill and the result of American’s sinful consumptive lifestyles.

  16. Escape from the Planet of the PLs:

    Really? I’d rank that as third, after Apes! The Musical and Made from the Best Stuff on Earth – People. Not that I don’t like Omega Man, with its crucifixion in the fountain scene, but if I must rank, I must.

  17. I love this logic:

    1. People become aware of problem, agitate, express concerns about the future.

    2. Government addresses problem.

    3. Problem is diminished.

    4. Libertarians declare problem never existed, point to predictions made before problem was addressed as proof that those who agitated over it were wrong.

    There never was a problem. And even if there was, government solutions won’t solve it. And even if they do, the private sector would have solved it without the government. And better. And cheaper.

  18. Paul,

    Agreed, though there is one sequel that must come first. The one involving one Jack Burton, who was not put on this world to “get it”. If that’s not feasible, then I demand a prequel. . .David and Egg: The Early Years.

    Oh, I have a title for the next Escape movie: Escape from Walt Disney World. That, or we go back to Snake’s adventures as a soldier in Asia.

  19. No Wild Things? That movie had the best thought-out twist ending ever… At least the movie had a couple scenes of note in it…

  20. Somebody help me out here: what was the french film referenced in the Fight Club blurb? Last year’s movies were so craptacular that I think I just erased 2005 cinema from my mind.

  21. I liked The Omega Man the best

    Having recently watched it, I’d have to say the set design was pretty cheesy, compared to Soylent Green.

  22. re: “And how does one measure the health of the climate?”

    Easy! You take its temperature! 🙂

  23. Zero – It was Haute Tension. The movie’s barely been on video for a year, but it’s already an obscure reference.

  24. Props for mentioning Threads. I saw that a few weeks ago. I didn’t understand until halfway through why my buddy thought it would be funny to grill/char hotdogs while we watched.

  25. Did you ever notice that in Road Warrior we are expected to cheer for the producers while booing the thieves, but in Thunderdome we are expected to cheer the crippling of the rather efficient and sorta Libertarian Bartertown to facilitate a primitivist tribal culture in the ruins of Sydney?

  26. Jeff, we don’t need another hero.

  27. In my book, nothing tops William Friedkin’s “To Live and Die in L.A.” for unexpected/twist endings.

  28. Oh come on, not one of those Onion picks belongs in the top ten. Here are my Best twist endings of all time:

    3: The Caine Mutiny:
    Plot: Humphrey Bogart, if fond of fondling his steal balls, but when he bogarts the strawberries, the sugar rush drive him insane.

    Twist: Weekend warrior Steve Douglas is a puppet master, putting at risk, hundreds of men’s lives, an Academy Award nomination, and national security, all so hey can have a good yarn to tell Uncle Charlie and the boys back home.

    Work? Yes. And in even a more suppressed homo-erotic way than it sounds.

    Work today? No, in today’s military it is a given that the higher up the chain of command you go the more psychotic and bloodthirsty you get.

    2: Willy Wonka and the Chocolate factory
    Plot: Eclectic group of tourists visit the inside of mass-production food stuffs factory. Rest of the world is envious because they don’t have to pay the customary $1.50 and the recluse (most eligible bachelor) owner, acts as guide.

    Twist: Rival junk food producer Slugworth is on Wonka’s payroll

    Work? No, little Charlie (the least interesting of the unimaginative cast of characters) serves nobody’s best interest by “doing the right thing”. Would have worked better had the little bastard betrayed the crazy old goat.

    Work today? Surprisingly yes, but needs the likes of Tim Burton to give whimsy to exceedingly pedantic script.

    And the number one best twist ending of any movie ever.

    1. Old Yeller
    Plot: Boy meets dog, hijinks ensues.

    Twist: After Yeller bonds with boy and saves him and his whole family from certain death, little Travis Coates blows his best friend’s fucking head off!!!

    Work? You kidding? Let’s put it this way, every person that ever sees this movie leaves the theater blubbering like a baby.

    Work today? Maybe, but you would have to put more work into making the audience believe the boy was an actual human boy, and not a space alien or vampire or something cause they’d be looking for that.

  29. I love this logic:

    1. People become aware of problem, agitate, express concerns about the future.

    2. Government addresses problem.

    3. Problem is diminished.

    4. Libertarians declare problem never existed, point to predictions made before problem was addressed as proof that those who agitated over it were wrong.

    There never was a problem. And even if there was, government solutions won’t solve it. And even if they do, the private sector would have solved it without the government. And better. And cheaper.

    You know, joe has a point. Some of the reduction in the problems of pollution, at least, probably is due to government regulation.

    I don’t think that was, or needed to be, the only solution to pollution, nor was it necessarily the best approach. It was not only “the government” that did everything to address the problem. But playing “what if” is a tricky game. It probably did have a generally beneficial effect in reducing pollution.

    Population and use of natural resources, not so much. I don’t think any government program did much top alleviate a problem there — in fact, it’s not clear there ever was a problem. Gov’t gas rationing only created or worsened shortages, for example.

    And Paul Ehrlich’s Population Bomb not only predicted an “unavoidable” disaster that never came …

    “The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s and 1980s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now. At this late date nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate…”

    … but even failed to accurately describe problems as they existed at the time of his writing.

    One of his first sentences goes something like this: “In the time it takes to read this sentence, XX people will have died of starvation.” Contemporary critic Jerry Pournelle looked at this sentence and then-current death rates due to various causes, and even assuming a rather slow reading speed and a rather broad definition of starvation-“related” deaths, showed that Erhlich’s figures were way, way overblown.

  30. goddamn spam filter.

    “no tags”

    moviepooper dot com is a good site that contains spoilers and descriptions of twists and turns. A rather superficial, but amusing, site.

    movielens dot umn dot edu is a great site that rates films for you. Pretty fun.

    cheers.

  31. I love this comment about “The Village” as to whether or not the twist works:

    Does it work? Put it this way: If you freeze-frame the moment when the climactic twist is revealed, you can actually see a leather-jacketed villager on water-skis leaping over a shark in the distance.

  32. Good call on Threads. That movie (especially the scene where the limpy cat limps through nuclear holocaust) gave me unbelievable nightmares in the 4th grade.

  33. “There never was a problem. And even if there was, government solutions won’t solve it. And even if they do, the private sector would have solved it without the government. And better. And cheaper.”

    What a TWEEST!

  34. “Having recently watched it, I’d have to say the set design was pretty cheesy, compared to Soylent Green.”

    What it lacks in set design it more than makes up for in costuming. Only Charleton Heston could make a purple, crushed velvet jacket topped with an ascot look manly.

  35. The Usual Suspects.

  36. The Third Man–say, isn’t that Harry Lime? I thought he was dead. Huh. Orson Welles is in this movie?

  37. PL:

    Even though it wasn’t much of a twist (in the sense that you knew Orson was in it and could figure out he was a major character), the way it was pulled off was incredible. The Third Man is my favorite noir ever.

  38. Orson Welles is about the greatest movie villain ever in that film, largely due to the fact that he illuminates how much sheer fun sociopaths often have in behaving the way they do. Joe Pesci in “Goodfellas” does this pretty well also.

  39. The linked page on Threads says it was released on video in 1987, which is odd since I remember watching a video of it in high school world history class in 1985. At that time, it definitely made an impression; I’m curious how it would come across now.

    I like this little bit of interjected snark from the link:

    People start to flee cities to go and live in Wales, a sure sign of desperation.

  40. What does Joe actually KNOW?
    He does contain a lot of “popular wisdom”.

  41. There is nothing joe won’t say in defense of putting unlimited power into the hands of a few elite Democrats, insisting that all must yield to the will of the chosen, for their own good.

  42. “I love this logic:
    1. People become aware of problem, agitate, express concerns about the future.
    2. Government addresses problem.
    3. Problem is diminished.
    4. Libertarians declare problem never existed, point to predictions made before problem was addressed as proof that those who agitated over it were wrong.

    There never was a problem. And even if there was, government solutions won’t solve it. And even if they do, the private sector would have solved it without the government. And better. And cheaper.”

    joe,

    You’ve absolutely nailed one of the flaws in dogmatic libertarians.

    However, one could just as easily make a similar argument about statists (of both the left and right variety).

    1. People become aware of problem, agitate, express concerns about the future.
    2. Government intervenes to address problem.
    3. Problem is exacerbated. New problems emerge.
    4. Statists declare more intervention needed, as original intervention was insufficient and underfunded. Point to growth of problem as evidence that it should have been addressed sooner. Ignore causal relationship between intervention and new problems. Enact additional interventions to address new problems. Rinse. Repeat.

    The problem wouldn’t exist today if the government had only intervened earlier. And even if it did exist, government solutions would reduce its impact. And even if they don’t, leaving it alone would have only made it worse. And think of the children.

  43. jf,

    I couldn’t agree more. Although the “twist” in The Third Man is predictable due to the curious omission of Orson, his entrance is the best ever.

    It didn’t hurt to have that fine cast and a master writer like Graham Greene involved, either. Great flick.

  44. Government did pass laws to protect the environment, but the main issue expressed in Soylent Green is overpopulation. China is the only country that tried to address overpopulation and their results are mixed, at best. In fact, underpopulation is now the main concern in many countries.

    Thomas Malthus, the most notable prognosticator of the past, was famously incorrect in his assessment of population growth and food supplies. In my opinion, most of his fellow prognosticators today are just as incorrect. If oil reserves disappeared tomorrow, we would simply create an alternative. We don’t bother today because oil is so cheap that alternative fuel solutions can’t compete without heavy subsidies. When it becomes a crisis, as it did when whale oil was in short supply, we’ll find a solution.

  45. Ironically, the movie Twister had a twisty beginning, a twisty middle, and a twisty ending, but relatively few surprises.

  46. “The Usual Suspects.”

    Yeah, Keyser’s right, what about The Usual Suspects?

  47. There never was a problem. And even if there was, government solutions won’t solve it. And even if they do, the private sector would have solved it without the government. And better. And cheaper.

    Joe,

    and we all wonder why you have a problem with this.

  48. Twist: After Yeller bonds with boy and saves him and his whole family from certain death, little Travis Coates blows his best friend’s fucking head off!!!

    bwahahahahhahah!

    jesus warren when did you get so funny.

  49. I love this comment about “The Village” as to whether or not the twist works:

    Does it work? Put it this way: If you freeze-frame the moment when the climactic twist is revealed, you can actually see a leather-jacketed villager on water-skis leaping over a shark in the distance.

    yeah the whole time i was watching the movie i was saying to myself, “they are on a generation space ship going to alpha centari” which by the way would have been waaaaay cooler.

    anyway you can imagin my disapointment that they were in conecticut.

  50. Hate twist plots. Hate them. Big hate.

    The entire rest of the movie tends to be an excuse to set up something that is almost by definition implausible.

    Similarly, if your movie has five possible endings, you f-ed something up.

  51. hey lets go with more libertarian plot twists…

    my favorate is “the Island” Where individual liberty is eliminated becosue the earth is poisoned but it all turns out to be a lie for the benifit of elites.

  52. The Fight Club twist was used 30+ years earlier in Persona, and I challenge anybody to name an earlier movie that used this particular device. Another reason to see Persona: It’s the only place I’ve ever seen the complete footage of the monk in Vietnam dousing himself with gasoline, lighting up, and burning to death, uncut and uninterrupted.

  53. Who is Keyser Soze?

    Incidentally, my buddy’s brother ruined the ending for him. He recognized Spacey’s voice at the beginning when Soze called and ruined the surprise.

  54. “Who is Keyser Soze?

    Incidentally, my buddy’s brother ruined the ending for him. He recognized Spacey’s voice at the beginning when Soze called and ruined the surprise.”

    I’m not usually so attentive in movies, but I had the same problem. I don’t remember what tipped me off in the theater, but I knew basically from half way through. That is another fault of the gimmick movie – if you figure it out, there is no point at all to the movie.

  55. How can you have an article about movies with a twist without mentioning any of these:

    http://movies2.nytimes.com/gst/movies/filmography.html?p_id=12594

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