If you haven’t seen the masterful film or aren’t sure if you want to, or if you’re a little Soze-curious, you should stop reading. Seriously. Just stop reading now: I’m gonna ruin it. Keyser Soze is the unseen antagonist in The Usual Suspects—a film that pulls together Bryan Singer, Kevin Spacey and a tier-two Baldwin brother in a pretty good piece of cinema. The film revolves around a group of criminals—everything from crooked cops to killers to con men—who are blackmailed into attacking a drug ship for a legendary figure called Keyser Soze. We never see Soze: he acts through his lawyer instead. The movie opens with all of our protagonists dying except one, Verbal Kint (Spacey) who weaves an incredible tale of intrigue to a police detective.
We learn all kinds of stuff about how awesome Keyser Soze is; about how he’s gonna replace Scarface as the new Level of Rawness in hip hop circles; about how, when men invade his home, rape his wife and kill one child, he kills the rest of his family rather than give in to their demands. We learn that Keyser Soze doesn’t like to be trifled with, doesn’t like to lose, and, despite his reach and influence in global crime, is happy letting the world believe he’s a myth. Through Verbal Kint, we learn that Soze manipulated these guys, blackmailed them, had them killed. And just when the story is over and Verbal is free to go, we learn that Verbal Kint is Keyser Soze. And we learn that the whole story is a lie.
The whole story is a lie.
In four minutes of mind-blowing realization, we are shown that everything that Kint has told us about the people, the plot, motivations, rationale—all of it—is an off-the-cuff story driven to throw off law enforcement, made up of details from an over-populated corkboard that sits behind the police officer. He made it all up. Right there, in the cop’s office, dead to his face. Made it all up.
So what makes him awesome? It is not that Keyser Soze took on another identity, adopted a frenetic speaking style and fake cerebral palsy. It is not that he concocted a plot, recruited an eclectic group of criminals to do his dirty work, actually joined said gang in said fake identity, only to have them all killed and be the sole survivor so he can get arrested and talk his way out of it (did you catch all that?). It’s even that, once arrested—which was intentional—he tricked the police into letting him go free only to disappear for good. That’s not what makes him awesome. It’s that he lied to us.
In every movie, even if the main characters don’t know what happened, we generally do. We’re usually privy to the machinations of heroes and villains, able to watch the story unfold from all angles and points of view. In The Usual Suspects, we don’t ever get to know what actually happened. We’re hanging onto the same story to police are listening to. Verbal Kint’s tale is the movie and Verbal Kint’s tale is a lie. The entire movie is a lie and Keyser Soze pulled the wool over our eyes. He pulled a fast one on all of us, let us figure it out the same time the cops do, got up, walked out, dropped the limp, got in the car and disappeared. Then credits. End of movie.
I don’t know about you; I’ve never had a villain mess with me personally. Not while the movie is actually running. This was a fantastic example of drawing the audience in and we fell for it. Hook, line and sinker. And if that wasn’t an amazing trick, I don’t know what is.
If you only knew the power of the dark side—that’s right, bring your lightsabers and inhalers: Darth Vader will be casting his shadow on the Celebration.