Spoiler Alert! I’m going to give away a big plot point for a B-movie (Crack-Up) and an A-Movie (Gaslight). It’s actually not that well-kept of a secret, but I feel better having issued a warning.
I DVR’d Crack-Up based on the description in the digital cable guide, which says an art forgery expert is made to think he’s losing his mind. In retrospect I don’t know why I found that intriguing. Maybe I was hoping for a low-rent, gender-reversed Gaslight.
In fiction people are always trying to make other people think they’re crazy. I don’t think it happens nearly that often in real life. It seems to me that in real life, the villains just go ahead and kill the victims or rob them or discredit them or whatever. The whole “make him think he’s crazy” idea seems awfully complicated to me. Then again, what do I know? I don’t go around victimizing people, not intentionally, at any rate.
The problem with the plot device in movies is that the audience knows it’s coming. We read it in the description or the review, or see it in the trailers (I could do a whole other blog post about how those three things usually give away too much). So only the characters in the movie are wondering, “Is he really crazy?” It would be much more suspenseful if the audience could wonder too.
I’ve seen it done in novels with greater success, perhaps because I avoid reading the backs or fly leafs of novels. Of course, having read a few novels and seen a few movies, I would automatically think when a character starts questioning her own sanity (it’s usually a girl) (insert gender-based stereotype of your choice), that somebody is making her feel that way.
In Crack-Up our hero never for one minute questions hes own sanity, even though pretty much everybody else does. He insists he’s not crazy and sets out to prove it. Complications ensue.
After I wrote the above but before typing it in, I consulted Leonard Maltin’s 2007 Movie Guide (Penguin Group, New York, 2006). Leonard says, “Art critic…remembers surviving a train wreck that never took place; it’s just the first incident in a growing web of intrigue and murder.”
What a great description! It barely gives anything away! Well, the train wreck that didn’t happen, but we find out about that fairly early on, so I say that’s OK. I say, Bravo! The digital cable guide should take a lesson.
As a side note, I went on to see what Leonard had to say about Gaslight. Alas, he is not nearly so circumspect. I suppose since that is such an old movie, based on an even older play, he figured that everybody pretty much knew.