A work of fiction that intrigues the reader with the trappings of a detective or a supernatural mystery, and then suddenly subverts his expectations; the mystery is revealed to be nonexistent, unsolvable, or unimportant to the plot, and the storyline takes on an entirely different direction, often launching into complicated philosophy, surrealism, or psychological drama. This trope is actually one of postmodernist authors' inventions: one of postmodernism's pillars is to mix the "high" and the "low" genres, basically creating philosophical tractates with pulp fiction covers.
Such stories typically feature The Unreveal
, The Unsolved Mystery
and Riddle for the Ages
. Often overlaps with Deconstruction
, and may be considered the mystery version of the "Shaggy Dog" Story
A Sister Trope
related to action/adventure/superheroics plots is Faux Adventure Story
; they may also overlap.
- David Lynch is quite fond of this; he's actually known as "the first popular surrealist" because his movies are Mind Screw in trendy neo-noir wrappers.
- Mulholland Dr. starts as a quintessential mystery movie involving an amnesiac Femme Fatale Rita in Los Angeles, a young enthusiastic actress Betty trying to help her, a mafia syndicate, a hitman after a mysterious black book, etc. However, Betty and Rita's investigation doesn't really clarify anything, and the story gets a really surreal turn from a certain point... According to a popular interpretation, the whole complicated mystery plot was a dream of failed actress Diane Selwyn who reimagines the events of her life in a more favorable light (Betty is her alter ego).
- The film was originally a TV pilot, and the mysteries were going to be explored more in the future episodes; however, Lynch also stated that "it would be a series of mysteries that spun out of each other and would never have a conclusion, unlike 'Twin Peaks'. He was very upset that Laura's killer had to be named and said he would not let that happen again", and "promised that when Rita's identity was finally revealed it would only open up other mysteries".
- Inland Empire is quite incoherent from the very beginning, and yet it has mystery elements (like an old, allegedly cursed movie whose leads were murdered). Since it's a David Lynch movie, things get only weirder from there.
- Michelangelo Antonioni was another king of this trope: a number of his movies can be described by "there's a mystery out there, but nobody would really care". Basically, the mystery plots are just backgrounds for psychological drama.
- In Blowup, a young photographer accidentally uncovers a murder. He attempts to investigate it, but he doesn't seem very enthusiastic in spite of actually finding the victim's body, his investigation ends in vain and the ending implies that he doesn't or shouldn't really care.
- L'Avventura centers around the disappearance of a young woman. The disappearance is never resolved, and the real focus of the plot is the relationship between two other characters.
- The Passenger imitates the stylistics of a thriller road movie (a stolen identity, political intrigues, car chases, a young mysterious girl, etc.), but is actually a story of a depressed journalist trying to start a new life.
- Indie film Zen Noir begins with a Private Detective trying to investigate the mysterious death of a Buddhist monk at a temple in California, while taking every opportunity to affectionately lampoon the classic hardboiled private eye genre. Before long the mystery elements get dropped and the film becomes a sometimes surreal examination of Buddhist philosophy, and the attempts of the detective and the remaining monks at the temple to come to grips with the various tragedies that have plagued their lives.
- The Love Witch is an homage to pulps and the technicolor thrillers of the 1960s, and the protagonist Elaine whose charms cause the death of her lovers is largely inspired by the noir femme fatale characters. However, the thriller plot is merely a framing device for a feminist drama.
- Nocturnal Animals has a detective subplot (the plot of the detective novel written by Edward), and a few surreal scenes blurring the edges between the two storylines (one of the hoodlums from the novel actually pops out at Susan in a cell phone video, causing her to drop the phone), but it's all just a framing device for the story of Susan's relationship with Edward.
Live Action TV
- Cities of The Red Night by William S. Burroughs features a story of a private eye called Clem Snide on the trail of a missing teenage boy who gets involved in a story featuring dark cults, government conspiracies and ancient civilizations, obviously mirroring and parodying the pulp fiction cliches of the time. However, the storyline becomes increasingly surreal and incoherent, and the detective's story remains unresolved (one of the sequences even suggests that it could have been a fever-induced dream of yet another teenage boy).
- In The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon, the conspirological plot about a secret organization called Trystero is never resolved, and it is heavily implied to be a metaphor for the philosophical questions faced by mankind.
- What's more, in the end the protagonist is explicitly reluctant to pursue her investigation too far.
- Basically the gist of Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events. The protagonists are attempting to uncover a number of mysteries related to their parents' death and a mysterious organization V. F. D. which they were members of; the reader is expecting that the ending books will provide the answers. However, the final book called The End has an entirely different focus; eventually, the whole series turn out to be more of a coming-of-age story than mystery fiction, and one of the author's points is that the world is full of unanswered questions.
- In general, Snicket's novels have very much in common with Pynchon's, and the sixth book in the series ("The Erzatz Elevator") explicitly references "The Crying of Lot 49".
- The novel Special Topics In Calamity Physics is about a young woman describing the events that led up to her finding her teacher dead in an apparent suicide. Throughout the story, several hints that the death was in fact murder and that a conspiracy may be involved are dropped, and the narrator forms a theory, but she can't prove anything and the novel turns out to be more of a psychological drama and a coming-of-age story. It is really indicative that the book has references to the aforementioned movie L'Avventura, which is a classic of this trope.
- Word of God says that there is a definite solution but the author won't say which one it is.
- Patricia Highsmith's sole book which approaches an orthodox detective story, A Game For the Living, is a deconstruction as its title suggests. The two lovers of a murdered woman who initially suspect each other but then decide to investigate her death together finally recognise that it's just a displacement activity for their grief, and the murder eventually turns out not to have been personally motivated at all but just a chance killing by an interrupted burglar.
- The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Nighttime starts with the protagonist's discovery of a dog speared with a garden fork. The novel appears to take the direction of an amateur sleuth trying to unravel the mystery, but soon devolves into said sleuth talking about his own life, eventually leading to a revelation that spurs him to leave the city in search of his mother. We get the solution of the mystery subplot though.
- Filth is formally a story of a detective investigating a murder mystery, but in fact it's a surreal, darkly humorous psychological/existential drama. Not to mention the protagonist is the murderer himself.
- Lost has shades of this. Much of the show's mythology is eventually explained, but some mysteries are intentionally left unsolved, such as Hurley's cursed numbers. In-universe, characters and organisations who devote themselves to unravelling the Island's mysteries always meet a bad end, and Word of God says their focus throughout the whole series was the characters and their relationships, which is Lampshaded by the series' finale.
- This is the whole point of Mike Tyson Mysteries, which are parodies of Hanna-Barbera mystery cartoons. In each episode, the mystery is just a framing device; they are often unsolved or revealed to be nonexistent at all, and many cliffhangers are unresolved.
- The Sylvester and Tweety Mysteries: The mysteries were always more of a framing device for the usual "cat-versus-bird-versus-dog" antics of the original Looney Tunes shorts, and many of them turned out to be non-existent or unimportant to the plot.