The Protagonist Did It – Part One
We all love that clichéd ending: the person who has been guiding us through the story, the one whose voice we trusted above all others, the character who never even registered on the radar of suspicion as an inconspicuous blip, is the killer, or mad, or even a blooming ghost. Not just in films either. One of Agatha Christie’s most popular novels, the one to immortalise Hercule Poirot as a famous literary detective, was told from a first person’s perspective. And guess who the killer was? No, I’m not going to tell you the title. You have to find that gem for yourselves.
Anyway, we all know the main ones. Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 Psycho (of course); Fight Club (David Fincher, 1999); Sixth Sense (M. Night Shyamalan, 1999); The Others (Alejandro Amenábar, 2001); The horrendous My Bloody Valentine remake (Patrick Lussier, 2009); Shutter Island (Martin Scorsese, 2010. I promise I never saw it coming). I’m sure if you cast your eyes over your DVD collection you could name some more.
What follows is a list of my favourite films from around the world (read, not America) that belong to a genre that I like to call ‘the protagonist did it… or, ha! You thought there was someone else there but it was all in the protagonist’s mind… or, that guy’s just plain bonkers’. I’m working on the title.
By the way, the following is a major spoiler alert. If you like to be surprised and are not fully confident in your past repertoire of world cinema viewing, do not read. And if you do, no hate mail please.
The Cabinet Of Dr Caligari (1920)
Robert Weiner’s ode to German Expressionism, released in 1920, is one of the earliest examples of a narrator that is not to be trusted – mainly because he’s a couple of currants short of a fruitcake.
It begins with Francis, our main man, recalling a terrifying story of a madman and his miracle of science: Cesare. Cesare is a somnambulist who is controlled by the quirky but brilliant Dr Caligari. When Cesare correctly predicts the death of Francis’ friend, suspicions are raised as to the ulterior motives of Caligari and his bizarre familiar. A bit of research later and it is discovered the great Doctor is the director of a mental asylum and obsessed with the idea of using unfortunate sufferers of somnambulism to carry out his murderous fantasies. The Doctor is duly imprisoned. The end…..or is it?
It has been said that The Cabinet Of Dr Caligari is not only influential for its use of crookedly theatrical and eerie sets, but also for its introduction of the infamous twist ending. Sure enough, once this dastardly tale of scientific wonder and murder returns to its narrator, we find Francis is surrounded by the characters of his story (all together now… and you were there… and you…and you…). He is, of course, incarcerated in an insane asylum where the director is no other than Caligari himself. As he is led away screaming, Caligari turns to the camera to announce, somewhat mysteriously, that he now understands the young man’s illness and can thus cure him of his afflictions. Was it all a madman’s whim? Are we now witnessing reality? Who should we trust? Who knows? It doesn’t really matter. What matters is without this diamond the below films may never have materialised – which would have been a darned shame.
Les Diaboliques (1955)
If you haven’t seen this film go and rent it, buy it, beg your local independent cinema to screen it…however you go about it, watch it. Now.
Done? Good stuff. Directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot in 1955, Les Diaboliques preceded Psycho by five years and is, in my humble opinion, highly underrated in its influence of psychological thrillers.
Fresh from the set of Wages Of Fear (1953), Clouzot directs his wife Vera and the enchanting Simone Signoret as Christina and Nicole as they plot to murder Michel, the man of both their affections. When his body disappears, and there are sightings of him around the school where they work, Christina falls ill with guilt and terror. In one of the greatest film climaxes to reach the screen, Christina finds the man she thinks she murdered rising from a bath tub, resulting in her heart arresting and consequent death. It transpires that Nicole and Michel have been in cahoots from the start, planning to capitalise on Christina’s pre-existing heart condition. Not satisfied with this however, Clouzot chooses to leave his audience even more flummoxed as we are told that Christina too has been sighted after her death. Have we really uncovered the entirety of this plot’s loops and turns? Wild Things (1998), eat your heart out. Remakes? Take a hike. Accept no substitutes.
Santa Sangre (1989)
Turning our backs on black, white and tinted aesthetics we plunge ourselves into a whirlpool of breathtaking and overwhelming reds, yellows, oranges, blues and whites. Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Santa Sangre (Holy Blood) burst onto the screen in 1989 with a colour palette capable of inducing madness. Slightly more coherent than Jodorowsky’s previous contributions but still undoubtedly a bizarre visual poem, Santa Sangre flits back and forth between the childhood and present day of our protagonist Fenix, both played by none other than Jodorowsky’s sons Axel and Adan. Highly involved with psychosexual narrative and visual themes, the film presents mysterious murders and the disturbingly close relationship between mother and son in a way any post-Psycho audience should be able to understand. This is perhaps the most perplexing of my ‘the protagonist did it’ entries; your heads will be left spinning by so much more than the ‘mother and son are one’ ending.
And for that reason I shall leave it there for now. I wouldn’t want to be held responsible for any Scanners (1981) moments. Next time I’ll be peering into the topsy-turvy worlds of Tenebrae (1982), Switchblade Romance (2003), and A Tale Of Two Sisters (2003).
Recent World Cinema Features
Ryan Andrews. Failed vampire hunter-turned-director Ryan Andrews speaks
to the masses just days before the UK premiere of his new horror film, Elfie…
Five Underrated Movies You Need To See. Sometimes a film goes unnoticed, perhaps…
Top 5 Films To Win Over World Cinema Sceptics. Despite the joys that world…
Animating Reality. By definition an animated documentary shouldn’t really work.…
Gael García Bernal – Spanish Language Cinema As Social Message. Much more than an…
Leave a Comment
No comments yet