Film / Identity

"As I was walking up the stair
I met a man who wasn't there
He wasn't there again today
I wish I wish he'd go away"

Identity is a 2003 psychological thriller starring John Cusack, Amanda Peet and Ray Liotta.

Malcolm Rivers is a psychotic killer awaiting execution for the grisly murders that took place at a motel. His psychiatrist Dr. Mallick finds a new piece of evidence: a journal that may explain what actually happened that night and could exonerate Malcolm of the murders. With this evidence in hand, a new hearing takes place in which Dr. Mallick must persuade the Judge to spare Malcolm.

Meanwhile, 10 strangers arrive by chance at a motel run by the manager Larry Washington in the middle of the Nevada desert, each with their own agendas. The ten strangers are a limo driver (Ed Dakota) chauffeuring an 80s TV star (Caroline Suzanne), a cop (Officer Samuel Rhodes) transporting a convict (Robert Maine), a prostitute (Paris Nevada), a pair of newlyweds (Lou and Ginny Isiana), and a family (George, Alice and Timmy York). When bodies begin to pile up one by one with little explanation, the survivors must discover what connects them in order to save themselves from their fate.

This movie depends on a major Twist Ending. Proceed with caution.

This film provides examples of:

  • Alien Geometries: The desert.
  • Batman Gambit: The killer tricks one of the guests into getting hit by a truck by standing directly in its path. His mother is similarly manipulated earlier by luring her into the road with an affectionate hand gesture through the window glass.
  • Bookends: The film opens with a recording of Dr. Malick's session with Ed Dakota, where Ed tells the doctor the "man going up the stairs" poem. At the very end, Timmy, Malcolm Rivers' only remaining personality, forces Malcolm to murder Dr. Malick, and whispers the poem just before the screen fades to black.
  • Children Are Innocent: Timmy horrifically subverts this.
  • Closed Circle: Initially it's a conventional example, with the roads blocked by flooding and the phones and radios down because of the storm, but later becomes a little weirder (see Going in Circles below).
  • Contrived Coincidence: At first the birthday reveal seems this way. Adding to the fact that all the names come from U.S. states, it turns out There Are No Coincidences.
  • Creepy Child: Timmy.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Roger Maine took an entire baseball bat down his throat.
  • Cruel Twist Ending: It appears that Ed has managed to kill Malcolm's murderous identity while sacrificing his own life and leaving only one survivor, making the movie seems like a Bitter Sweet Ending. But then it turns out that Ed had killed the wrong person, his sacrifice was in vain, and the murderous identity was still alive to kill the Final Girl while causing Malcolm to kill one of the psychiatrists.
  • Cynicism Catalyst: The suicide of the Mexican girl that Ed fails to stop is what causes him to leave the LAPD.
  • Dirty Cop: Officer Rhodes shows signs of this, due to his brutality of Robert Maine and his interrogation with Larry. As it turns out, the real cop is found dead in the police car's trunk.
  • The Dog Was the Mastermind: The entire plot consists of a massive build up to who the murderer will be. Upon reaching the happy ending, it turns out it was the kid all along, and the viewer is treated to a hilarious montage that involves a grumpy looking kid walk away from an explosion and an obese maniac talking in a high voice.
  • Downer Ending: All of the other personalities are dead, leaving only the killer personality to take over and force Malcolm to strangle the therapist.
  • The Ending Changes Everything: None of the people at the motel are real. They are only the figments of Malcolm Rivers' imagination, each of them a separate personality of his mind.
  • Enemy Within: The entire treatment is set up to deal with this.
  • Enfante Terrible: Timmy committed all the murders.
  • Everyone Is a Suspect: Everyone, that is, except for the true killer.
  • Everyone is a Tomato: About two thirds into the film, it's revealed that every single character at the motel is a personality of Malcolm Rivers, and the whole movie was a plot to kill off his alternate identities, curing his Multiple Personality Disorder.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: The movie is set in one rainy night, and the next morning.
  • Fake Pregnancy: Ginny confesses to her new husband that she lied about being pregnant immediately before he is murdered.
  • Faking the Dead: The killer manages to elude the remaining guests this way, until the very end.
  • Final Girl: Subverted. At the end it seems like Paris is the only one who made it... but then Timmy shows up to violently kill her with a rake.
  • Flat "What.": Ed's reaction when Dr. Malick tells him that he is one of the split personalities of Malcolm. As it turns out, he wasn't kidding.
  • Going in Circles: What happens when one character tries to escape the hotel on foot.
  • Hell Hotel: All the characters are stranded at a motel in the middle of nowhere that no one can leave. Then people start dying...
  • The Hero Dies: Both Ed and Paris, being the main heroic characters themselves, were killed in the end.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Ed pulls a Taking You with Me against Rhodes to save Paris. Too bad Timmy's the real murderer.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Paris Nevada.
  • Hope Spot: They think they have things solved and under control a couple times.
  • Hostile Weather: By the time everyone arrives at the motel it is dark and storming.
  • Interrupted Suicide: Ed Dakota describes how he failed to stop a suicide, and it caused him to crack up and leave the LAPD. As he describes it, the girl planning to kill herself gave Dakota the perfect opportunity to save her: She asked him for something worth living for. Dakota froze for just a moment, unable to think of anything, and the girl jumped.
  • Ironic Nursery Tune: "Antigonish" by Hughes Mearns, as shown in the page quote.
  • Kill 'em All: By the end of the film, every split personality in Malcolm, except Timmy, is dead.
  • The Killer in Me: The ultimate goal is to eliminate Malcolm's killer personality.
  • Little "No": Paris' last word, spoken when Timmy appears wielding a rake and telling her (the only time he speaks in the movie) "Whores don't deserve a second chance."
  • Location Theme Naming: All characters are named after U.S. states.
  • Mental Story: It's presented as being weird events happening in the real world until the reveal.
  • Mutual Kill: Ed and Rhodes kills each other this way in a gunfight, with Ed himself dying after talking to Paris.
  • No Body Left Behind: One of the major clues that something is off happens when the bodies of the victims up to that point completely vanish. This is because none of the people at the motel are real.
  • Not Helping Your Case: When Rhodes accuses Larry of being the killer, he responds by holding Paris at knifepoint while babbling that he did not kill anyone.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: Played straight when Ginny's boyfriend goes from frantically pounding on the door to sudden total silence.
  • Oedipus Complex: Rivers's mother was a prostitute, and one of his personalities is as well - and most of the male characters find her very appealing.
  • Off With Her Head: The first victim's head is found in one of the laundry dryers.
  • One Steve Limit: Averted with Larry who shares the same first name as the actual motel owner.
  • Ontological Mystery: All the guests are trapped in the motel during a bad rainstorm that knocked out the power lines, ensuring that no one can call for help.
  • Psychological Thriller
  • Rabid Cop: Officer Samuel Rhodes.
  • Red Herring: Numerous examples.
    • The B-Plot is set up as being related to Roger Maine, until Malcolm Rivers shows up and the proceedings begin.
    • The hotel is supposedly on an ancient Indian Burial Ground.
    • Nearly every character is set up to be the killer except for the actual killer.
  • Self-Made Orphan: Timmy kills both his parents over the course of the story.
  • Significant Birth Date: A group of seemingly unrelated people are slowly being killed off while trapped at a remote motel during a storm. At one point it's revealed that every single one of them have the same birthday, which simply doesn't seem possible. This is because they're all imaginary identities of a man with multiple personality disorder.
  • Split Personality Takeover: After his treatment all of Malcolm's alternate personalities are gone... except for the single psychotic one.
  • Ten Little Murder Victims: The usual formula is played with in that there are two unrelated killers.
  • Tomato in the Mirror: With an actual mirror. The Reveal was done using a pretty slick editing technique. Ed Dakota picks up a mirror, sees Malcolm Rivers in the reflection, and drops it in shock only for the camera to pan back and reveal Malcolm.
  • Unflinching Walk: The killer pulls one off when the vehicle that Ginny and Timmy run to explodes.
  • The Voiceless: Timmy. He makes sniffs of sadness when Larry and Rhodes were arguing with each other, was shocked to find his mom dead in her deathbed, and spoke to Paris before killing her.
  • Vorpal Pillow: How the killer finishes off Alice York. Played slightly more realistically since he uses hands instead of a porous pillow, and Alice was already seriously injured in a car accident.
  • White Shirt of Death: Ed himself at the end.
  • Your Princess Is in Another Castle: At the end, when it looks like Paris made it out alive as the final survivor, Timmy came out of nowhere to kill her.