This post is somewhat prompted by an interesting discussion over at MCarter’s review of The Usual Suspects, concerning the ending. Some people remarked that while they were impressed with the ambiguity of the film, they thought that the ending was just a little bit too clear cut. I have no problem with a definite ending to a film, but I’m not so sure that The Usual Suspects is as open and shut as it might seem. But wait! you protest, as someone who has seen the film, That ending was fairly clear. Maybe it was. But maybe it wasn’t.
Note: Seeing as how this is a discussion on the ending of The Usual Suspects, it will obviously contain spoilers on the film. Don’t read this if you haven’t seen the movie. Really. Go, rent or borrow or buy the movie, watch it and come back – and give us your thoughts. The Usual Suspects is a movie you owe it to yourself not to ruin.
Right, to state my position clearly for the record, I believe that Kevin Spacey’s character is Keyzer Soze. In fact, the Word of God is that Kint is Soze – but we won’t let the word of the director or writer sway us, in fact I think they’d be happy that it was still generating so much debate and controversy. It’s the best fit, given the ending and all the factors that line up:
- the artist’s depiction of Soze from the burn victim
- the fact that ‘Verbal’ (Kint’s nickname) is a derivative of ‘to speak’ (the English translation of Soze)
- the fact that Kint collects Soze’s lighter from evidence at the end of the film
- the fact that Kint’s backstory seems to be completely made up
- Kint faked a limp
That’s a lot of evidence, but any lawyer worth their salt knows that a huge amount of that is circumstantial. First of all, the only thing those last two points go to demonstrate are that Kint misrepresents himself throughout the film. If I put on a Southern accent that doesn’t immediately mean I’m a crime lord trying to hide my identity, it just means I’m trying to hide my identity. What we do know about Kint is that he actually exists. He has a police record. The man sitting in the chair has a mugshot that corresponds to a petty confidence man who already has a criminal record. It’s relatively easy to construct a complex narrative while sitting in a police station, but faking police records is a different kettle of fish – even if he is protected from ‘up on high by the prince of darkness’.
Assuming that we trust the police officers (at least more than we trust Kint), he has been arrested before. So a ruthless Turkish criminal mastermind (and we have to assume that part of Kint’s story is true since it takes a non-national to recognise him) is arrested as a petty con man in America? He’s that careless and stupid? And he’s running these scams himself when he has a whole criminal empire running underneath him? I’m skeptical.
Oh, but what about the ID? Well, keep in mind the only person who definitively knew what Soze looked like was killed in his own cabin. The burn victim in the hospital bed is only basing his identification off events he witnessed on the boat. It’s more than likely that Kint did go on a killing spree on the boat (or at least was involved), and if somebody caused that much damage while I was ferrying a man who was wanted by Soze, I’d jump to the conclusion that the guy shooting up the place was Soze as well. The whole point of the movie is that we shouldn’t trust what we see – why should we trust what a burnt mobster doped up the gills on morphine saw? We know Kint was there, so it’s little surprise the guy saw him.
We know that Kint was involved – that much is obvious from the ending. Even if he isn’t Soze himself, he’s very trusted – that’s not really a job you give to just a minor lieutenant. That would explain the lighter – maybe a gift, maybe a symbol of rank. The nickname could be simple misdirection – it’s really unlikely he gave himself the nickname of ‘Verbal’, because… well, when was the last time you successfully gave yourself a nickname? His involvement beyond lying to the police and being involved in the massacre on the boat is all purely circumstantial. There’s no way it would hold up in a court room. There’s certainly room to believe that Roger ‘Verbal’ Kint isn’t Keyser Soze. So, if he isn’t, who is?
We know that Soze must exist – as there was a man who could identify him. We know that he’s Turkish and we also know that he likes to handle things at a distance, through minions that you don’t know are minions and may not even know themselves that they are minions. Given that the only part of the story we know happened is the ending (as Kint is an unreliable narrator), we must put our emphasis there. The appearance of the man known as Kobayashi as Kint’s driver in the final moments stands out. Those paying attention during the reveal will know that Kobayashi isn’t the character’s real name – it’s taken from the bottom of a coffee cup. However, whatever his name, he does appear in Kint’s narrative, which makes it interesting – why not use his real name if you want to mask the lies with truth?
Kobayashi speaks with a foreign accent of some sort (though his English – being delivered by Pete Postlethwaite – is clear and educated). He’s a professional, working in law. He obviously feels comfortable enough in Soze’s organisation to make threats on his master’s behalf. His no-nonsense demeaner and calm and rational response to be threatened (threatening to kill the families of his attackers) call to mind Kint’s story about Soze in Turkey. Neither is afraid of death. Both operate at a distance from events that would allow them to gain the reputation of a spook or a ghost – an ethereal force driecting and controlling actions that even those involved in the actions aren’t completely aware of. Kobayashi makes a legitimate suspect if one rules out Kint.
There’s also the more obvious possibility (signposted by the film itself) that Keaton is Soze. It would suit his purpose for Kint to get caught – and really, why was he still there when the police arrived other than to be caught? – and to lie about Keaton’s death. That’s about all that stands in favour of Keaton as Soze. We see him shot at the start in what we must assume is an example of what actually happened (a dangerous assumption, I concede). There’s also the fact that – like Kint – he has an independently verified past. He was a cop in the NYPD. He went to prison. Sure, this is hardly definitive, but it would seem to rule him out as an international criminal mastermind.
I have one more ‘possible’ down on my list and it’s a longshot that I haven’t heard mentioned in discussions on the film. Soze wanted Kint to get caught. He wanted him brought in. If it wasn’t to create the myth of Keaton’s death, why else would it be? To further exaggerate the Soze legend? Perhaps. It’s still a hell of a risk to take for misdirection. It relies on complete faith in Kint while he’s in police custody (and trust is a rare commodity in these gangland circles) and also depends on the police not figuring out Kint is a big fish until he’s been released. Those are two huge gambits for so careful and discrete a figurehead to make purely for the purposes of muddying the water, right? Maybe not.
The entire film hinges on the initial police lineup involving at least McManus (as the man with the job), Keaton (as the fall guy) and Kint (as the inside man) – the film even draws attention to this. Who could engineer a police line-up? Who recorded Kint’s ‘confession’, even though it was inadmissible? Who ‘discovered’ Kint was Soze? Yep, it was US Customs Agent Dave Kujan. He interviewed Kint, but made sure it was recorded – and made sure that Rabin was listening. He rounded up Keaton for the line-up – he could have set up the others as well. He was the one who prompted Kint to name Keaton as Soze, which was at best a stopgap measure. Assuming Keaton’s body would be pulled from the water eventually, that theory would only be plausible for so long and only served to give the closure necessary to let Kint go. On the other hand, Kint as Soze? That could last forever. Now people know what Soze supposedly looks like, they’ll stop searching. If Soze did have unfinished business with other gangsters, or even if he likes to keep himself lowkey, Kint makes the perfect red herring.
The film keeps corruption as its core theme – even corruption in law enforcement. New York’s Finest Taxi Service is a bunch of corrupt police officers (and Keaton is an ex-corrupt cop), why not a corrupt customs official? It is Kujan who paints Kint as a nobody, a smalltime hustler despite his involvement in the massacre. Kujon is also one of the few characters to appear in both the present and in Kint’s narrative – taking Keaton in. The only other two – Kobayashi and Kint – are tied to Soze, why not Kujon? Theorists ascribe a lot of weight to Verbal being linked to the translation of Soze, but Kujon is slang for “evil person” in Indian. Of course, if we discount Keaton as a member of the NYPD, we should discount Kujon as a member of US Customs. It’s highly unlikely he’s from Turkey. Still, he’s never gone to prison, which makes it more likely he’s a criminal mastermind than Keaton and he’s a far-too-willing partner for Verbal’s dance.
I still lean with Verbal Kint. Perhaps I am too fond of Occam’s Razor, or perhaps I like the notion of Kevin Spacey as a mastermind, I don’t know. Still, I accept that the film is brilliantly ambiguous in its execution and more than a little ambiguous in its ending. We’ll never really know who Soze was, but we all have our suspects.
Filed under: Movies | Tagged: ambiguous, discussion, ending, films, gabriel byrne, keyser soze, kobayashi, Movies, noir, Opinion, Pete Postlethwaite, surprise, suspects, The usual suspects. kevin spacey, twist ending, verbal kint, who is keyser soze |