Let’s Talk About Serenity’s Monumentally Stupid Twist Ending
How Not To Do A Twist Ending
Serenity is not an easy film to review. It isn’t an easy film to review not because it’s good - it’s most certainly terrible - but because it’s inextricably entwined with an absurdly awful twist ending. Director Steven Knight (Locke) crafts a delightfully trashy noir throwback that is both fun and immensely watchable, but demolishes it with a bafflingly stupid plot twist that has to be seen to be believed. Let’s take a deeper look at 2019’s most batshit movie so far, and see if you agree with me. Major spoilers ahead for Serenity…
Serenity follows the ludicrously named Baker Dill (Matthew McConaughey), a gigolo-slash-fisherman (yes, you read that correctly) on the fictional island paradise of Plymouth. Styled like a tropical Robert Mitchum of 1940s noir, Dill leads a sleepy life with his loyal first mate (Djimon Hounsou), surrounded by colorful but opaque characters and obsessed with a fabled tuna named Justice. Some of Plymouth’s most prominent players include a wealthy local woman (Diane Lane) that doubles as one of his gigolo clients, and a strange traveling salesman named Reid Miller (Jeremy Strong) that pops in and out of the story. In typical noir fashion, Dill’s life is upended with the arrival of his sultry ex-wife Karen (Anne Hathaway, in full femme fatale mode), offering him $10 million to murder her abusive billionaire husband Frank (Jason Clarke). Complicating matters is Patrick (Rafael Sayegh), Dill and Karen’s son, that may or may not share a strange telepathic link with his biological father. A pre-teen computer genius glued to his video games, we occasionally visit Patrick in flashback, hiding from Frank’s violent outbursts.
“…a bafflingly stupid plot twist that has to be seen to be believed.”
Serenity, up until this point, is a perfectly honed pastiche of classic noir. An everyman in over his head, a femme fatale with a murder plot, mysterious characters with shady motivations - director Steven Knight mashes up these staple genre elements into a perfectly palatable guilty pleasure, playing its thriller cards straight and delivering its hard-boiled cliché dialogue without shame or apology. Perhaps the way the film hews so closely to its noir roots and straight-faced camp is indicative of the direction the narrative eventually takes, because two-thirds of the way through Serenity, the jig is up on one of the most ridiculous plot twists in modern cinema history. If you haven’t seen the film and don’t want to know any more, stop right here, because this article is about to spoil the entire movie…
Dill isn’t a real person. In fact, not a single character we’ve seen on Plymouth so far is, either. As Dill continues to struggle with the idea of murdering Frank out in the open sea, off-kilter salesman Reid finally catches up to him, revealing the true nature of their idyllic island existence: the real Baker Dill died in the Iraq War, and the Baker Dill we’ve been following this entire time is a video game character in one of his son’s computer games. A non-violent fishing game, Patrick has been hacking the code to turn it into a murder fantasy simulator to cope with the abusive Frank. Dill’s telepathic conversations with his son are just manifestations of new code being input into the game, and the flashbacks we’ve seen of Patrick aren’t flashbacks at all, but the only real-world thing we’ve witnessed all movie long. In the end, Baker and Karen finally off Frank in their video game world, which empowers young Patrick to pick up a knife and kill his stepfather in the real world.
This plot twist is insane, and not in a good way. What could have been a fun deconstruction of a noir thriller instead turns into an absurd farce. Logic-defying and narratively unsatisfying, Serenity is the perfect example of how not to do a twist ending. It’s baffling that something like this would even be approved by the studio, since it makes the film basically unmarketable. Who is this film for? What is its target demographic? It’s impossible to tell. I’ve personally seen Serenity’s trailer, which is actually quite good, placed in front of plenty of films that tend to skew older in audience, such as Can You Ever Forgive Me? and First Man. Will that audience identify or connect with this twist ending? Unlikely. Will it fare better with a younger crowd? Also unlikely, with the number of “that’s not how video games work” moments and plot holes in the film. Tech savvy viewers will know that you can’t just turn a fishing game into a murder simulator, and is Patrick actually coding his dead father’s gigolo sex adventures into the game? Why is his mother a sexy gold digger? It’s a monumentally stupid twist with a ton of weird (and gross) implications that also falls apart at the slightest amount of scrutiny. It’s only January, but it looks like we already have a contender for the weirdest, dumbest, cinematic failure of 2019.