The “Twist” Genre and the Crying Game
September 30th 2008 @ 4:16 pm Bordwell,Uncategorized

Bordwell’s definitions of fabula and syuzhet help illuminate exactly how the “twist” genre, as explored by Erlend Lavik, operates. Typically in these films (and if memory serves, The Sixth Sense is no exception), the syuzhet is deliberately constructed so as to encourage the viewer to ask the wrong questions and thus arrive at the wrong fabula. Then, near the end, the “twist” occurs, which exposes the mis-construction of the fabula. 

This strategy is what is at work in “Walkabout.” The syuzhet and style both conspire to mislead the viewer into believing that Locke can walk, and his illness lies elsewhere. Then the “twist” occurs, at which point the syuzhet reveals key fabula information: Locke was in a wheelchair before the plane accident. This causes a re-ordering of the fabula by the viewer to accommodate this new information. Using other Bordwell terminology, the viewer made assumptions about Locke’s mobility, inferred something was wrong with him and hypothesized he was sick before the trip. But each of these operations is rendered wrong by the twist (in other Bordwell terms, the new prototype schemata).

Lavik cites the example of The Crying Game in his article. I find this an interesting comparison to the rest of the twist cycle. When The Sixth Sense came out, critics went nuts over the twist. While I don’t remember any explicit articles “ruining” the movie, there was plenty of talk about the syuzhet and how deliberately constructed it was. In contrast, when my mom gave me The Crying Game for some holiday or other a while back, she explained that at the time of it’s release, nobody would talk about the film at all. Granted, the content of the twist is a lot more controversial. Not only is torture, murder and revolution commonplace in the fabula, the girlfriend turns out to be a transvestite. Bit of a nasty surprise for the protagonist, and it does require a fabulous rethinking of the entire film.

There seems to be a common theme in all these films. Like “Walkabout” the twist in The Crying Game works only because the viewer pre-consciously, or perhaps even unconsciously, makes an assumption that unless explicitly visually stated, all characters are what they look like, that is, functioning, gendered, human beings. Thus we assume that the girlfriend is, in fact, a girl, and that Locke can walk. This same assumption seems to be at work in The Sixth Sense. 

I hope some of this made some sense … I apologize if it didn’t. I am currently suffering the Middlebury mega-virus of the month …


-Leslie Stonebraker
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