Adrian Graham

Monos film poster, militant in jungle


One of my favourite words at the moment is ‘bonkers’ and Monos (2019) definitely comes within this category with its weird electronic music (that’s totally incongruous for the wilds of South America but perfectly expresses the dysfunctionally surreal situation of teenage soldiers waging a guerrilla war in ‘the middle of nowhere’). This could have been an unbelievably cruel and dark film (there is violence and darkness) but its empathy for the characters, its non-judgemental tone, the weird music, the beautiful setting, and the youthful joyousness of the teenage soldiers makes it incredibly human and life affirming.


Christopher Booker’s, Groupthink (2020) is based on pre-existing psychological theories of collective delusion and moral superiority, ideas developed by Irving Janis. Janis applied his theory to the Bay of Pigs fiasco and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, among others – bad decisions, produced by groupthink, ideas based on a flawed premise, decisions that led to disaster. Booker points to the Suez Crisis as a defining moment between old and new England and how groupthink had pervaded the political class with its fantasy of Britain being a world power.

The shock ending

While Shakespeare wasn’t averse to suddenly killing off a bunch of characters at the end of a play, the shock ending is something altogether different. It deliberately foregoes the denouement at the end of the story (which provides a breathing space for the audience to recuperate) leaving them with an unresolved trauma, an inexplicable, or disturbing scene or image.

The shock ending has its roots in the cliffhangers of serial fiction, pulp fiction, and the early Twentieth Century film serials. Episodes ended with a character in danger: Zorro about to be captured and unmasked, a damsel in distress about to be run over by an approaching steam train, Flash Gordon’s rocket ship about to explode. Reader’s or viewers had to buy the next episode to find out what happened next.

The 1960s Counter Culture produced films like Rosemary’s Baby, which inverted the assumption in traditional storytelling that good triumphs over evil. The shock ending in Rosemary’s Baby relies on a simple visual trick, which turns the familiar and ordinary into something terrifying.

Planet of the Apes has a famous shock ending when Taylor sees a statue, and realises that he is not on a random planet in space, but somewhere more recognisable. And in Seven a package delivery has never been so disturbing.

Shock endings are often visual, because they need to work instantly. There are exceptions, in Demon Seed it’s achieved through a character’s voice. It can also be achieved through a reveal or reversal, such as the camera pulling away to provide a bigger picture or showing something unexpected, such as the ending in The Village, or a scene which provides unexpected context, like the ending of the Polish science fiction film Sex Mission. Shocking reveals are often linked to unreliable narrators: Atonement, Secret Window, and Shutter Island. (Although these can be plot points that occur during the story rather than absolute shock endings).

Don’t Look Now (1973) has a sudden shock ending that undermines the audience’s expectation of what they think they are going to see. Also from 1973, The Wicker Man has one of the best and probably most famous shock endings. Once again, it subverts audience expectations that logic, reason, and good will triumph over evil and injustice. Conversely, in The Departed we are set up to believe that ‘justice’ will not be served – and then the unexpected happens.


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