Thursday, February 10, 2011

MTOTM (Movie Term of The Month): The Unreliable Narrator

Last night, I watched "The Machinist." May I just briefly say that it is one of the most haunting psychological thrillers in film history. I mean, wow. Christian Bale is one crazy mother-effer, he dedicates his entire being into his movies (except maybe "Terminator: Salvation," that was awful). Thanks to the genius of my cohort, The Rapid Reviewer, a revelation has struck!

1. the unreliable narrator, Pronoun:
(a) Any character in a film whose narration of current or transpired events cannot be completely accepted as truth by the audience. (b) Any main character in a film who exhibits behaviors commonly associated with schizophrenia, paranoia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, pseudologia fantastica, and/or multiple personality disorder. Examples include:

Donald Darko

Occupation: High school student

Why He's Unreliable: Donnie is a sleepwalker. He believes that a man in a bunny suit named Frank tells him what to do. The events of Donnie's young life include parallel time lines and paranoid delusions of death.

The Narrator/Tyler Durden

Occupation: Claims Investigator/Soap Maker/Anarchist

Why He's Unreliable: Exhibits signs of paranoia, delusion, and split personality disorder. He is crazy enough to kick his own ass.

Occupation: Unemployed

Why He's Unreliable: Leonard is unable to make new memories. He must rely on his Polaroids and tattoos to solve the murder of his wife. He has no frame of reference or sense of time.

Trevor Reznick

Occupation: Machinist

Why He's Unreliable
Trevor hasn't slept in over a year. His perception of time and space is riddled with cloudy memories of a hit-and-run incident.

Teddy Daniels
Occupation: Federal marshal

Why He's Unreliable: 'Teddy Daniels' is a persona created by mental patient Andrew Laeddis. Andrew uses Teddy to deal with the loss of his family.

Can you think of another "unreliable narrator?" Share your findings!


  1. Considering the fact that I know and love all of the characters you've mentioned in this list EXCEPT for Trevor, something tells me I much watch the Machinist. Pronto. Unreliable narrators are really the best, and I think you've got all the good ones. I can only think of one that's not on this list, but I don't know if you could call Harry Lockhart from Kiss Kiss Bang Bang so much an unreliable narrator as "a narrator who loses his train of thought constantly."

  2. I totally agree with the above mention of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Great choice. A great example of the unreliable narrator theme being horribly abused: A Perfect Getaway with Steve Zahn and Milla Jovovich.

  3. I can think of a few:
    All the narrators in Rashomon,
    Willian Holden's character in Sunset Boulevard,
    Kevin Spacey's character in the Usual Suspects,
    The narrator in The Cabinet Of Dr Caligari.

    I agree with all your choices as well, but sadly I haven't seen The Machinist yet...
    Great post, very interesting subject.

    Actually now that I think about it, the narrator in "Bronson" is extremely unreliable as well, you can read my review here:

  4. @ M Hufstader: Yes yes! You must watch "The Machinist!"

    @ The Rapid Reviewer: Why haven't you told me about "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang?!" Let's queue it up!

    @ Jack L: You're right about Spacey and "Bronson..." gosh that movie was a real head-trip. Love Tom Hardy, can't wait to see him the TDKR!!!

  5. Great post! Christian Bale looks ghastly and sickly in this but his point of shedding 63 pounds to play the role was well made.


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