If the title of this write-up sounds confusing, just think about the last time you literally stopped munching on the popcorn during a film, and not because you ran out of it. They say movies are our escape into a fantasy world; but isn't it sad when we see how most movies these days tread the safe path? Not all films do that though. Every once in a while there comes this one film that incites a meek "I didn't see that coming" or a louder "what did I just watch?!"
The Driving Force - So why is it that makes movie writers come up with scripts that incite us to step out of our comfort zone? What drives them? It could be the basic storytelling technique that was once followed by short story writers like O. Henry and Saki. The last paragraph or line revealed something that caused a total paradigm shift and you viewed the story entirely differently. Good screenwriters get high on knowing that they wield such power over the audience, neatly layering the story like a smooth magic act and then BOOM! - it hits you. The reaction of the audience, varied at times though it may be, generally revolves around the phonetic 'whoa!'
As the readers further proceed with this write-up, let them be warned that this could contain possible spoilers for some films.
The Two Kinds of Audiences - Movie makers, since whenever the art began, realized one core rule about how the industry works. There are mainly two kinds of audiences. The first kind loves films that simply take it away from the real world, no matter how simple or silly the strict is. They get enthralled by special effects and how much action is happening on screen. Think Michael Bay's Transformers series - they are box office blockbusters just because of their production value. There's nothing wrong with it; it's just that often the writing in movies such as this is found lacking. The second kind of audience watches movies to engage and challenge his mind. The production value, important though as it is, is somewhat of a secondary concern - the main thing is to watch a film that is written superbly.
Off the top of my mind, Christopher Nolan's Memento comes to mind. Now here's a script that not only treads a virgin path in terms of storytelling, it also beautifully exploits the audience's curiosity right till the end when you realize how [spoiler alert] the male lead (Guy Pearce) was totally exploited by the female lead (Carrie Ann Moss). Many people were amazed at the script and then there were some who needed multiple viewings; but the truth still is - the film was a benchmark in the Hollywood thriller genre. I would like to believe a lot of it has to do with the final two minutes in the story.
The Sudden Death Play - Few things shock people than the sudden death of a character around whom majority of the script is based. One might, however, say that death in Hollywood films is so common that it's almost naive to call it shocking any more. To them I ask this - how many of you were really expecting Leonardo Dicaprio's head getting blown off right when he stepped out of that elevator in Scorsese's The Departed? If you believe that guns are overrated and overused to end characters in edge-of-the-seat thrillers, then how about a romantic drama full of emotional upheavals that perhaps pulled off one of the most talked about death scenes in the last few years? Allen Coulter's coming of age romance drama Remember Me places the protagonist, played by Robert Pattinson, in the exact spot where the first aeroplane hit the World Trade Centre tower. Talk about suddenly changing the whole atmosphere in the theatre with just one scene. Although the movie bounced at the box office and there have been critics talking about how using 9/11 was somewhat offensive, that one scene was still up there in terms of shock value.
The Sci-Fi Mind Games - Without any doubt, when it comes to movies that take your mind on a roller coaster ride, nothing works for me like low budget sci-fi films. Sometimes, you don't even need to wait for the film to near its end to be blown by the twist. The Man from Earth, a script that Jerome Bixby completed on his deathbed, deals with a man who claims to be a Cro-Magnon that has lived a thirty-five year old man's life since 14,000 years. If that was not enough, the shocker comes to most people [spoiler alert] when he claims that he is the person who the world at one time called Jesus Christ. Even the actor's actor Kevin Spacey acted in a little indie gem called K-PAX. The audience initially is made to doubt his claim that he's an alien from a distant planet. The doubt continues right up until the end when he suddenly disappears.
The Traditional Thriller - Just because some indie films are really up there in terms of writing quality does not mean that there aren't any big budget films that have nailed it too. Scorsese's Shutter Island was a classic psychological thriller based in a mental asylum with all the right ingredients of a detective story. But as it were to happen, the story just had to enter that territory where the audience just realizes that it was the protagonist who was the patient at the asylum all this while. If you come to think of it, Kevin Spacey has been at the centre of two of the best shockers from the nineties - Se7en and The Usual Suspects. The former has one of the most gruesome endings of (literally Biblical proportions) while the latter has one of the most striking last lines on film - "The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he doesn't exist."
The thing is, there will always be blockbusters thrown at us every year, but what we need to remind ourselves is to catch the rare films that have the screenplay to hold us together even long after the blockbusters have been forgotten. But then again, there could be times when there might be a middle ground. Just remember - the top never stopped spinning at the end of Inception.