(Pictured above: Will Shortz, Puzzle Master)
(Seriously. Lots of spoilers.)
We've all seen at least one movie that leaves you thinking, "Wait... What?"
Or maybe a film that throws a good old Keyser Soze curve ball at the end.
In honor of National Puzzle & Game Week, I've decided put my puzzle cap on,
and pay tribute to a few of the greatest puzzle films ever made.
First, let's consider the basis of a story: the plot.
Traditionally, the story of a film is broken down into
a 3-act structure: Exposition, Rising Action, and Resolution.
To break it down into simpler terms, most every story
has a beginning, middle, and end.
1) Beginning/Exposition- The story, characters, and story world are setup.
2) Middle/Rising Action- The issue of the story becomes more complicated.
3) End/Resolution- Closure, answers, everyone falls in love.
So maybe now you're thinking, "Oh I get it, the open-ended
movies are puzzle films!" Not quite. Just because we don't know
if the couple ends up together does not make it a puzzle film.
That would just be a European ending.
What we're looking for here is a story that finds its complexity in
time, story structure, or even distorted reality. More often than
not, you can blame the puzzle part of the movie on the
narrator or protagonist for their distorted perspectives.
A prime example of time-twisting complexity would be Shane Carruth's
2004 premier film, Primer. If you haven't seen it yet,
I suggest you wait til you're in a particularly existential mood
to watch it. This film takes a simple plot of a few friends
and their time machine, and turns our brains to mushed peas,
weaving throughout timelines and parallel universes.
Just grab a can of Silly String, spray generously
in no particular way, and you have yourself a
visual representation of Primer's timeline.
(See above image).
That there is a fine example of a
non-linear puzzle film, I tell you h'what.
Similarly, Christopher Nolan's 2014 hit, Interstellar,
throws the audience for a loop(hole) playing around with
quantum physics, black holes, and space-time continuums.
We tightly grip our soda-crusted armrests as we anxiously
watch Cooper solve his own puzzles with each passing
tick tock of the clock, (or watch, as it were!).
The puzzle aspect of this film occurs with the various
time-loops, be it the astronauts' struggle with
black-hole time warping, or Cooper's
travels through the trippy and tenebrous Tesseract.
When we analyze these moments in the movie,
they are puzzles for the fact that they play with
time-loops and jumps in the storyline.
But over-all, this film does have a well-defined
traditional plot structure, unlike Primer.
Cooper's perspective and position in the timeline is what
throws the audience off and adds to the puzzle.
Of course, there are the less aneurysm-inducing
puzzle films that simply hit you with a left hook
and leave you rubbing your eyes in disbelief.
"How'd I miss that?!" he says.
Take for example M. Night Shyamalan's
1999 thriller, The Sixth Sense.
Don't tell me you saw it coming.
No one saw it coming.
(Okay, maybe YOU saw it coming.)
This film is like that cold-open from the U.S..
version of The Office, when Kevin Malone's
voice-over reveals his pride for this meticulous
chili recipe, passed down through generations
in his family. As he explains the process in
careful detail, the video is a juxtaposed
heart (and gut) wrenching moment in which
all of his hard work is lost in a matter of moments,
as the office carpet and his work clothes begin to
resemble a CSI crime scene. (The C stands for Chili).
Like John Green says in The Fault in Our Stars,
"I [figured out The Sixth Sense] the way you fall
asleep: slowly, and then all at once."
And just like that, it hits you:
He's been dead all along.
That's right- it's all Bruce Willis' fault
for creating the puzzle in this movie.
Had the story been told from his wife's
perspective, we would have known from
the start the he was dead, she was in mourning,
and that this freaky deaky kid could still see him.
Alright, tie your philosophical cap on extra tight!
It's Fragmented Spatio-Temporal Reality time!
Let's bring Christopher Nolan into the mix
once again. One of my favorite puzzle films
of all would have to be his 2010 film, Inception.
This film dives back-first into the already
upside-down world of dreams. To make things
even more confusing, it's not just a movie about
a specific character dreaming... (or is it?)
We follow a team of experts taking turns
leading the others in someone else's dream.
Each dream world is designed and built by another
person, and can be altered on the fly.
But each dream world is a dream within a dream.
And then each dream within a dream has a different
rate of time, slower than the dream level above it.
And to get out of a lower dream level, the dreamer has to
dream that they're waking up from the dream on the
dream level above. (Say whaaaat?)
And just when you think you've got it all mapped out,
Nolan drops the totem bomb-
Are you sure you aren't still dreaming?
That top sure doesn't look like it's stopping
spinning anytime soon. But really, how is it that
you can make a building flip upside-down in
your dream, but you can fool yourself by making
a spinning top tip over with your dream-manipulating
powers? Wait... Does that mean EVERYTHING is
just Leo DiCaprio's dream?
And there you have it.
The perplexingly popular puzzle films,
and an explanation to boot!
Now I challenge you, friend of GRTV-
Check out one of our XA-20's,
go shoot a short film,
play around with spacial, temporal,
or non-linear story telling ideas,
and air your very own puzzle film on our channel!
Need some ideas? Stop by the GRTV help desk,
or give us a call. We're always here to help!
(616) 459-4788 x 117