Unreliable Narrator: Film
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Films — Animated
- The Incredibles. Syndrome's flashback to the moment when he lost faith in Mr. Incredible ("Go home, Buddy. I work alone.") is significantly different from the actual moment the audience saw, in order to demonstrate Syndrome's unreliable and skewed perspective on events.
- Played for laughs in Rango. The Greek Chorus of mariachi owls says the tale of the titular character ends with him dying. He lives. When this is pointed out, they simply say he will eventually die...probably in a household accident.
- A truly bizarre example in The Emperor's New Groove. The story itself is objective, but the narration accompanying it is biased towards Emperor Kuzco, since he is the narrator. At one point, while complaining about how everyone else is the problem, his on-screen self interrupts to remind him the audience saw what happened and knows that isn't true. He's literally arguing with himself over the reliability. Narrator-Kuzco falls silent and is never heard from again.
- Hoodwinked. When Red describes meeting the Wolf in the forest, she leaves out the part where she kicked his butt using karate before running away. We can safely assume Wolf's telling the truth about this, since there's a picture of her with a black belt on Granny's wall.
- A few fans believe this trope is the reason for the inconsistencies of The Lion King 1½ compared to the first two films.
- During the Bowler Hat Guy's flashback in Meet the Robinsons, we see how badly he (aka Goob) gave up on life after his baseball incident. At one point, we see him in school and despite his claims that "they all hated me," people were trying to be friends with him. Justified, as it also shows how twisted and antisocial he became since the incident.
- A 1969 cartoon by the National Film Board of Canada, titled "The National Film Board of Mars Presents: What On Earth?" is a pseudo-documentary in which the Martian filmmakers mistakenly believe automobiles are the dominant species of life on earth, and proceeds to describe their life span (they die in scrapyards), breeding habits (made in factories), feeding habits (gas stations) and minor parasites that infest them (people).
Films — Live-Action
- Nymphomaniac can be said to have three main characters: Joe-the-protagonist, Joe-the-narrator, and Seligman-the-audience. While Joe and Joe are the same person, Joe-the-narrator hates Joe-the-protagonist with a passion. Seligman sometimes calls out Joe on her bullshit, but perhaps not often enough. Her story gives an accurate portrayal of her state of mind, but perhaps less so of her life.
- The Kid Stays In the Picture. Robert Evans acknowledges that the documentary is colored by his point of view of the events in the film, with a title card stating:
"There are three sides to every story: my side, your side and the truth. And no one is lying. Memories shared serve each one differently."
- The movie Sucker Punch embodies this trope, since almost all of the movie takes place just as the protagonist is having a lobotomy. Made all the more weird because we're not quite sure who the narrator is.
- Detour. It's implied that the main character Al Roberts is coloring events to make himself look sympathetic, and to make Vera seem more like a vicious Femme Fatale. He probably did commit the crimes in the film purposefully, but the story is altered by Never My Fault.
- American Psycho. Patrick Bateman even lampshades: "Here is an idea of a Patrick Bateman, some kind of abstraction, but there's no real me, only an entity, something illusory."
- Mad Detective. Bun claims that he can visualize people's inner personalities but it's never clear whether it's an example of his madness or a legit supernatural power.
- Snake Eyes features several flashbacks narrated by several characters in an attempt to reconstruct a crime, and every flashback replays through a continuous, first-person point of view shot. One such flashback is completely untrue, as it is narrated by the (unbeknownst) criminal.
- Implied in Bunny and the Bull. Stephen, the main character, is retelling the story of a road trip from his perspective- vital pieces of information are left out or glossed over, not to mention the fact that he sees hallucinations in his house but doesn't realise they are not real until the end of the movie, so by consequence, neither does the audience.
- The Usual Suspects. Agent Kujan spends the course of the movie listening to Verbal tell his story, then rejects portions of it as lies. The problem, of course, is that he rejects the WRONG portions.
- The premise of Rashomon is that the story is told from four different points of view, all of which disagree, and all of which are unreliable, due to each character having a reputation to protect. The ending at least gives us the truth about what happened to the dagger, but with a very different motive than what the viewer might have assumed.
- The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari reveals in the end that the man who has been telling the story is in fact an inmate of an insane asylum, and the entire movie never happened; he just made it up based on the people around him.
- Fight Club has the unnamed narrator who turns out to have a Split Personality disorder and is also Tyler Durden.
- Nearly every joke in Mating Habits of the Earthbound Human relies on the alien narrator misinterpreting human behavior.
- In Blade of Vengeance, the narrator is the female love interest. Her narratives are usually really weird. At the end of the movie, she's seen smoking opium, which explaining a lot.
- An early example of this occurred in Alfred Hitchcock's Stage Fright, which opens with a flashback narrated by one of the characters who is lying to another character to obtain their help.
- The plot of Hero consists of the same story being retold three times with major differences: Nameless' BS story he told so that he could get an audience with the Emperor and have a shot at assassinating him, the Emperor finally calling Nameless on his BS and telling what he thinks really happened, and Nameless finally admitting what REALLY happened just before he tries to kill the Emperor.
- In the Korean horror/suspense film A Tale of Two Sisters, this trope only becomes apparent at the end. It starts out fairly normal, with two sisters returning home to their father and stepmother. It starts to get confusing, with the unexplained appearance of some wraith-like girl under the sink, various objects and people disappearing and reappearing without explanation, and all sorts of contradictory information. Eventually the stepmother murders one of the girls, only it's revealed immediately after that it never happened. It turns out one of the girls was pretending to be both herself, her stepmother, and her sister. The sister who was supposedly murdered had died a long time ago in an accident, and the stepmother was simply the nurse taking care of the two when said accident happened, which the girl blames for her sister's death. Are you confused yet?
- Big Fish has an unusual take on the unreliable narrator, in that the flashback stories are assumed to be pure fiction for most of the movie and the twist is that the father may actually be more reliable than was thought. The appearance of the twins, Giant, and Ringmaster at the father's funeral clearly leaves the son reeling as he reassesses his father's stories for where exactly they diverged from the truth. The reality is only slightly skewed from his stories, i.e., the Siamese twins are actually just regular twins from Siam, the giant is a 7'6" man, and so on.
- Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters: After the opening movie theater parody, the story supposedly begins millions of years ago, in 1492, at 3pm, in Egypt. Then a modern airplane flies by. It turns out this is a story Master Shake is telling Meatwad, and to make it worse, Meatwad is in the story. In fact, pretty much every character in this film is an Unreliable Narrator.
- The Fall plays some fun games with this trope. It is a film of two levels, stories within stories - a girl in a hospital listens to stories told by a bedridden man, and we see her visualisations of the stories he tells. Trouble is, they don't share identical internal dictionaries. One great example is that he talks about an Indian and his squaw, but the girl, who was friends with a Sikh, imagines a bearded subcontinental man in a turban. The Fall also features a classic example of In-Universe Creator Breakdown.
- Memento. Lenny may be trying to report accurately, but his grasp on the real past is, to put it mildly, highly questionable.
- Played straight, for laughs, and for drama in Forrest Gump. The naive Forrest incorrectly describes events he witnesses through his life. Notable examples: He believes that Charlie was someone specific that the Army was looking for, as opposed to the code name for the Vietcong, and Apple computers was a fruit company, even though he made a fortune by investing in them on Lieutenant Dan's advice.
- The film Secret Window, (based on Stephen King's novella Secret Window, Secret Garden), which is narrated in third person) the narrator is stalked by a psychopath who accuses him of plagiarizing his book, and who attempts to frame him for several heinous crimes. In the climax, it is revealed that the narrator has been driven to madness over his guilt for plagiarizing a classmate in college, and is unconsciously committing the acts for which he thinks he's being framed. The stalker does not exist outside his own mind (although the novella hedges a bit on this point).
- Monster A-Go Go has the ultimate unreliable narrator. Whaddaya mean there was no monster, beauzeau?
- Bubba Ho Tep. The stories Elvis and JFK share about themselves and how they ended up in a Texas nursing home are VERY speculative and unreliable.
- Jack Crabb (Dustin Hoffman), in Little Big Man, is quite likely one of these. In the original novel by Thomas Berger, the historian who transcribes Crabb's narrative expresses the opinion that most of his supposed exploits are pure malarkey. There are hints, however, that the historian may himself be something of an unreliable narrator.
- While it didn't have an unreliable narrator itself, the 2007 Beowulf implies that the original poem is a false account of the events as told by Beowulf himself. His account of why he lost a swimming race is stated to be at the very least exaggerated, when his friend mutters that last time he heard the story, there were fewer sea monsters in it.
- The events of The New Guy seem to strain the limits of Willing Suspension of Disbelief. At various points throughout the movie (eg: immediately after the scene with Danielle trying on swimsuits), however, the audience is reminded that we're seeing the story through the eyes of an arguably-insane convict.
- David Leigh (David Beard) in The Last Broadcast. Even his narraton being a documentary doesn't help.
- In High Tension (originally Haute Tension), a French psychological thriller, Marie, a resourceful young woman is trying to save her best friend, Alexia, from an insane serial killer who murdered Alexia's family before kidnapping her. The twist: Marie is the serial killer. The Killer is an alternate personality that Marie created in order to live out a disturbing fantasy: Alexia will fall in love with her savior and stay with Marie FOREVER.
- Matthew McConaughey in Frailty.
- The main story of Road Trip is told through the eyes of Barry, a campus tour guide who's not playing with a full deck. As such, the story has some highly improbable elements. Lampshaded when he is telling the part involving the girls' locker room.
- In Swimming Pool the novelist protagonist spends most of the movie dealing with her publisher's daughter's bad habits including murder but, at the end, we learn that the publisher's daughter is a completely different girl, leaving us wondering who the girl was, and if she existed at all.
- In the musical film, Grease, Danny and Sandy sing about how they met each other during the summer holidays to their friends, unaware that they are both going to the same school. Sandy sings about how Danny was such a sweet guy and describes their romantic evening, whereas Danny shows off about making out with Sandy and saying that she was "good, if you know what I mean."
- Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: Joel. A great portion of the film is told through Joel's memories of events he experienced with Clementine, but the unreliability of those memories is shown on at least two occasions. When Joel first arrives home the night of the erasure, his neighbor chats with him about Valentine's Day. This is then the first substantial memory about Clementine that gets erased. But while this event took place just a short while (maybe an hour at most) before the erasure, it is shown that Joel is already incorrectly remembering what his neighbor said to him. Other less obvious hints abound (e.g., Joel remembering childhood events while being adult in appearance). Taking the imperfection of human memory alongside whether Joel considered a given memory as enjoyable or upsetting, the audience ought to wonder if what they're viewing is what actually happened, or if Joel's memories are distorted, exaggerated, or embellished because of the passing of time and because of his emotional state at the time of the event.
- In the song "I Remember It Well" from Gigi, Maurice Chevalier's character claimed to remember a past meeting with Gigi's grandmother perfectly, only to be contradicted by her in every detail.
- Flourish stars Jennifer Morrison as Gabrielle Winters, a tutor who is brought in for questioning in the death of her sixteen-year-old student, Lucy. She tells the entire story to the police officer questioning her, and when she finishes, the police officer asks her how she could have spoken about events she wasn't present for. It's then revealed that Gabrielle is actually in a mental hospital, and the police officer is a psychiatrist. Prior to the story, Gabrielle was in a car accident that caused her brain trauma; as a result, she has frequent memory lapses and unconsciously fills them in with fictional details (sharp viewers will notice that one of the suspects in Gabrielle's story is played by the same actor as the man questioning her). Gabrielle overhears the psychiatrist talking with someone else and comes to the realization that she has made up nearly everything she said. However, the psychiatrist also notes that Gabrielle did correctly guess a lot of the details, leaving it up in the air how much of her story was actually true.
- North seems to know that other parents use him as a reference as how their kids should act to be a perfect child. It also doesn't help that most of the movie about his exploits is all a dream. And despite stating he is intelligent, everyone aside from the middle class white American family are a bunch of jerks and racial stereotypes.
- Fear Island is told through flashbacks during a police interview with the sole survivor of a teenage slaughter. It's not until the survivor's parents show up that : the police realize the narrator was lying about which person she is and that she was actually the murderer all along .
- The plot of He Loves Me... He Loves Me Not.
- The main issue in Eve's Bayou hinges on the fact that two characters have very different memories of an event and another character reacts to the probably false version with fatal consequences. Cisely admits near the end of the movie that she isn't sure what happened, long after she tells Eve that their father molested her. Eve then tries to kill her father, only finding out much later that he may not have done what he was accused of.
- Jack Harper from Oblivion (2013) has no memory from before he began his current job - his Opening Narration is entirely based on what Sally tells him (and Sally herself is an Unreliable Expositor). Even better, for the whole first act of the movie, Jack, Vicka and Sally are the only characters with lines.
- Suki, the protagonist of The Scribbler, is giving a statement to a Good Cop/Bad Cop detective team regarding a series of suspicious suicides in her apartment complex. Because she's a former psychiatric patient recovering from Split Personality syndrome, the bad cop automatically thinks she's lying.
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