Model: Psychological Thriller
This week we compare three models built on a similar framework, which I’ll call “Is he crazy?” Each of these movies features a male character whose sanity is in question. In each, the question is answered in a different way. So, for this rebuild, we compare the treatment of each and apply the other two approaches to see if there is a better ending in there. Let’s dig in!
The Lazarus Project stars Paul Walker (RIP) as Ben Harvey, a death row survivor working as a janitor at a rundown psychiatric hospital. He is haunted by the memories of his past life, but questions whether his visions of a wife and daughter are real or just the fevered imaginations of a troubled mind. In the end, Ben pushes past all the signs of insanity to reclaim the life he once had. Is he crazy? No.
Shutter Island stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Teddy Daniels, a US Marshal on assignment to investigate the disappearance of a psychiatric patient, Rachel Solando. Plagued by dark visions of drowning children, burning buildings, and Nazi death camps, Daniels comes to realize that he’s not Daniels, he’s Andrew Laeddis, the killer who killed his own wife after she drowned their 3 kids. Laeddis decides to give up on sanity under the crushing guilt and get a lobotomy. Is he crazy? Yes.
10 Cloverfield Lane stars John Goodman as Howard, a bunker builder with plenty of provisions as the world allegedly collapses after an extraterrestrial invasion. Howard rules his bunker with an iron fist leaving his bunker mates to wonder if there is any invasion. Events unfold that prove Howard right, and prove him to be a psychotic killer and kidnapper. Is he crazy? Yes, but he’s also right.
This is a layered rebuild. We’re going to splice the endings of the other 2 movies to each movie, creating a total of 6 new movies.
First, Lazarus Island. Ben Garvey is a mild mannered housekeeper. But he can’t shake the haunting feeling that he might have had another life. Night after night, he is haunted by memories of a life he never had, a wife and daughter that never existed. In the daylight, he sees sinister conspiracies around every corner, specifically, the hospital is creating undead monsters to do their bidding, and Ben is Patient Zero. Poor Ben’s psychosis gets the better of him and he is drugged into a vegetable coma by the doctors. In a rare moment of lucidity, he uses his know-how to make a fertilizer bomb and take out the hospital. Is he crazy? Yes.
10 Lazarus Lane. Poor psycho Ben tells Nurse Julie every day that the hospital is a front for a government program turning death row inmates into mindless soldiers. Ben talks about the wife he used to have, and how he has to protect her from this horrible world. Nurse Julie pities poor Ben until she starts to see the signs of conspiracy herself. Eventually, she realizes that Ben was right about everything. She discovers Ben has already set the explosives underneath the hospital, and she manages to escape just as the hospital goes up in flames. Nurse Julie takes a photo of Ben to his widow and daughter, providing them some peace of mind in their grief. Is he crazy? Yes, but he’s also right.
Next, Shutter Project, Teddy Daniels is investigating the disappearance of Rachel Solando. The doctors at the psychiatric hospital lead Daniels all over the hospital following a trail of bread crumbs to red herrings in a monumental mind freak meant to convince Daniels that he killed Rachel. After a drug-induced hallucination, Daniels breaks free of the hospital orderlies, slipping on the rocks at the edge of the island to the waves below. Among the rocks, Daniels finds a cave, and inside finds the weakened figure of a woman, Rachel Solando. “You’re Rachel?” The woman sits up and nods. Daniels remembers liberating the Jews from Dachau as Rachel, frail and fragile, struggles to her feet and takes Daniels’ hand. Is he crazy? No.
10 Shutter Lane. Daniels is investigating the disappearance of Rachel Solando at an island psychiatric hospital. He is accompanied by rookie US Marshal, Chuck Aule, who strangely knows the ins and outs of the hospital. He leads Daniels from patient to patient, spoon feeding him all the information. Daniels starts to have flashes of visions of Rachel, a girl who looks like someone Daniels used to know. As the investigation continues, the hospital staff starts to unravel the truth, that Daniels is a patient, Chuck is a doctor, and there is no Rachel Solando. But, just before Daniels is taken to get lobotomized, he finally puts the pieces together: Chuck kidnapped Rachel and abused her, and came up with this role play “treatment” to convince the staff that she was a figment of his imagination. He screams out Rachel’s location to the staff as he Chuck sedates him for the operation. As Daniels is lobotomized, a nurse wanders down to the island shore where she discovers a cave. Inside the cave, a woman named Rachel Solando. Is he crazy? Yes, but he is also right.
In The Cloverfield Project, Michelle, a young woman, awakens to find herself chained up in a bunker. Her captor doesn’t show his face. He just brings her meals, day after day. After a few weeks, Michelle coaxes her captor into sight. His name is Howard. Howard is convinced that doomsday has come in the form of an alien invasion. Michelle scoffs at the idea. Howard insists. Michelle suspects that Howard is insane. She devises an escape. Howard prevents her by destroying the ladder to the outer hatch, serving to convince Michelle of his madness. Howard restricts Michelle to her room so as to prevent her from escaping, but in her isolation she derives a new route to the outside. She manages to escape, leaving the bunker open. As Howard had warned, the outside world was overrun with alien monsters. Michelle watches as Howard lures the monsters into the bunker and sets it ablaze with the aliens inside, thus allowing Michelle to escape with her life. She honors Howard’s sacrifice by joining a nearby force fighting the aliens. Is he crazy? No.
Finally, Cloverfield Island. Michelle awakes in the bunker to find her leg injured. A kindly man, Howard, emerges and tells Michelle that they need to stay in the bunker because aliens. Howard shows Michelle lots of evidence of the alien invasion. Eventually, she relents that the invasion is real and decides that the bunker is the only safe place. She starts to make herself at home. However, after a month, Howard locks Michelle in a room in the bunker for a few hours without explanation. After a few hours, he returns with a surprise: a gourmet meal. Michelle is relieved to see such a lavish spread. “It’s my birthday,” Howard confesses. Michelle sings, and the two of them dance. It’s a lovely time. Michelle heads to bed. When she is alone, she unclenches he little fist to reveal the key to the outer door. In her mind, she puts together that Howard did not have the ingredients for the meal, so he must have left the bunker. She makes a plan to escape, but first she has to get through Howard. Howard ends up accidentally starting a fire in the bunker, killing himself in the process. Michelle emerges to the world with a new sense of power, having discovered and beaten her captor. Is he crazy? Yes.
Through this rebuild, we see that changing the ending of the movie can change the entire movie. Using the 10 Cloverfield Lane ending makes for the most complex and satisfying result. The weirdness is paid off in the confirmation that the character is crazy, but there is something rewarding that even in madness, there is a way to find truth. In my view, you get the most bang for your buck by making the protagonist crazy, but also making him right.