5 Best Movies With Unreliable Narrators

One of the most interesting techniques in film-making is the use of unreliable narration that is often put to use by writers/directors to deceive the audience into believing the protagonist’s theories, and finally lead them into the unexpected twist of the story. The procedure of story narration has progressed its way through in cinema over the years and filmmakers have often made great use of narrative structures, steering away from traditional methods and crafting ingenious techniques to build suspension, intricacy and tension to the story.

A technique which can be fairly credited to the great Japanese auteur, Akira Kurosawa, it has engaged various forms and shape over the years and has been evolving in cinema across the world today. This article takes a look at 5 movies with unreliable narrators. Check-out:

The Usual Suspects (1995)

Bryan Singer’s cult classic features one of the most famous narrations in cinema history. Kevin Spacey’s character Verbal Kint recounts the events, of which he himself was a part of, leading up to a lethal gun battle on a boat with a Customs Agent. The tale Verbal tells gets increasingly complex and intricate as he speaks about a legendary Turkish drug lord, Keyzer Soze, who is widely regarded as the most feared personality in the drug business. Just as Verbal concludes his story and walks off towards a car waiting for him, we see Agent Kujan, the Customs Agent to whom Verbal narrated his story, in a moment of shocking epiphany as he realises Verbal’s entire convoluted story-line was made up from details on a crowded bulletin board in the office in a startling game of manipulation. Kint walks off, dropping his limb, smoking a cigarette and driving off, implying that he just might be the devil who pulled the greatest trick of convincing the world that he never existed.

Memento (2000)

‘Memento’ is a nerve-racking examination of the human mind and what drives the human psyche to keep going. The seductive boldness with which Christopher Nolan crafted this ingenious masterpiece remains untouched in his career and serves as a testament to his envy-evoking skills as a director. There was something so raw, dark and intriguing about this film. Known for its famous use of the reverse chronology sequence and a narrator suffering from short-term memory loss, ‘Memento’ is an achievement in story-telling. The film follows the protagonist’s quest for revenge as he tries to unveil the identity of his wife’s murderer. Nolan uses a black and white sequence for the scenes dealing with the present-reality while he has used a colour sequence for the scenes going in reverse chronology as the ending, which is technically the beginning of the film, which reveals the true identity of the protagonist and the reason behind his Sherlock play.

The Machinist (2004)

Much like the plot of ‘Shutter Island’ and ‘Fight Club’, ‘The Machinist’ follows a disturbed insomniac who begins to experience strange, bizarre things at work and home. Trevor Reznik accidentally injures a co-worker and is soon drawn into a frightening web of madness and paranoia as he loses control over his mind and body. The mysterious aura of his existence and the life that encompasses him are revealed in a nerve-racking finale where we are shown that the episodes of his life, as revealed to us throughout the movie, are illusions formed as a by-product of his guilt concerning an incident that took place a year ago when he accidentally ran over and killed a boy but decided to drive away.

Shutter Island (2010)

Martin Scorsese’s 2010 psychological thriller, ‘Shutter Island’, further proves his grip over building tension in character driven dramas. The film tells the story of Ted, a detective who is sent to a secluded mental asylum in a mysteriously frightening island in order to uncover the mystery behind the disappearance of a woman. Scorsese’s exceptional control over the audience’s psyche is brilliantly put into display here as we see things from Ted’s perspective and his theories gradually start making complete sense and seems perfectly logical only to be fooled by an ending that reveals the disturbing truth of Ted’s life which shows that he himself has been a patient of the asylum after killing his wife and losing control of his mind.

Gone Girl (2014)

In a gut-wrenching finale, the characters’ layers are peeled off and we finally learn the truth that we were denied throughout the movie, and by the end you realise you are no longer the same person. There is almost nothing reliable about ‘Gone Girl’ in that it showcases a frustratingly deceptive narrative structure that discloses the story of a man who becomes the major suspect in the disappearance of his wife. David Fincher leads us to consider the story of his narrators in two halves as he tricks us with the characters’ flashback revelations via diary entries which are the distorted truths of the couple’s married life. The two different perspectives become increasingly convoluted as we struggle to believe in what either of them feeds us with.

That’s all folks!

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