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"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."
"Where did you learn that poem?"
"I made it up."
Dr. Malick and Malcolm Rivers, respectively

Identity is a 2003 psychological thriller directed by James Mangold and starring John Cusack, Ray Liotta, and Alfred Molina.

Malcolm Rivers (Pruitt Taylor Vince) is a psychotic killer awaiting execution for the grisly murders that took place at a motel. His psychiatrist Dr. Malick (Molina) 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. Malick must persuade the Judge to spare Malcolm.

Meanwhile, ten strangers arrive by chance at a motel run by the manager Larry Washington (John Hawkes) in the middle of the Nevada desert, each with their own agendas. The ten strangers are limo driver Ed Dakota (Cusack), who's chauffeuring '80s TV star Caroline Suzanne (Rebecca De Mornay); Samuel Rhodes (Liotta), a cop transporting convict Robert Maine (Jake Busey); Las Vegas sex worker Paris Nevada (Amanda Peet); newlyweds Lou and Ginny Isiana (William Scott and Clea Duvall); and the York family, George (John C. McGinley), Alice (Leila Kenzle), and Timmy (Bret Loehr). 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:

  • 6 Is 9: It's revealed that the guests are being killed in the order of their room numbers. Shortly after Ginny and her boyfriend walk into room 6, the closing of the door causes their number to flip to 9, disrupting the sequence to observers.
  • Arc Words: "Who am I speaking to right now?"
  • Ax-Crazy: Robert Maine, Timmy York, and by extension, Malcolm Rivers.
  • Badass Longcoat: Ed Dakota sports a black trench coat.
  • Bait-and-Switch: Ginny feels cold at the arrival of the police car. Neither of the occupants is actually the serial killer.
  • Battle in the Center of the Mind: Ultimately the motel segment is one.
  • 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.
  • Batter Up!: Larry's weapon of choice is a baseball bat.
  • Bookends: The film opens with a recording of Dr. Malick's session with Malcolm Rivers, where he 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 Unnaturally Looping Location below).
  • Cold Reading: Rhodes is surprised when Paris identifies him as a cop only to realize that the car he arrived in had it written all over it.
  • 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.
  • Creator Cameo: The motel manager corpse that was hidden in the freezer by Larry is played by Stuart M. Besser, the executive producer and production manager for the movie.
  • Creepy Child: Timmy. After The Reveal anyway.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Robert 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 appear to end on a bittersweet note. 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.
  • Damsel out of Distress: When Larry takes Paris hostage with a knife, the latter frees herself by pushing him back into a wall.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: Ed Dakota is The Hero with dark eyes, dark hair, dark clothes and a Dark and Troubled Past to top it all off. In fact, he's the most heroic and moral of all Malcolm Rivers's alter egos.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Ed; he is a John Cusack character, after all.
  • Deuteragonist: Dr. Malick is essentially the hero of the second plot. Malick spends the movie working to save a damaged soul from the monster he has inside of him, and thus save him from the death sentence that monster earned for him. In a way, he's the hero of the whole film since, in essence, he's also trying to save all the characters in the central plot, who are all aspects of his patient's fractured psyche. He actually manages to positively influence the more moral identities against the homicidal one. Not that it does him much good.
  • 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.
  • Distress Ball: Ginny freaks out and leaves the group to return to her apartment because of some gut feeling which conveniently separates her and her trailing boyfriend from the group so a murder can take place hidden from everyone.
  • The Dog Was the Mastermind: Timmy is treated as an unimportant sweet child character until the end, where it's revealed that he is the most evil personality of Malcolm Rivers and the one responsible for the killings at the motel.
  • Downer Ending: All of the other personalities are dead, leaving only the killer personality to take over and force Malcolm to strangle the therapist.
  • Dramatic Thunder: Rolls whenever suspense is needed, e.g. in the scene where Maine tries to break Larry by talking when the latter is assigned to watch him. Or when the Mirror Reveal happens at the judge's office.
  • Dull Surprise: You'd expect a bigger reaction from John Cusack after seeing the decapitated head of Caroline in a washing machine.
  • Dwindling Party: The cast gets murdered one by one.
  • 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. And applying this to Rivers heavily implies that he was this at a young age.
  • 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.
  • Evil Is Deathly Cold: When the police car with the convict arrives at the motel, Ginny suddenly feels a coldness all over her.
  • External Combustion: Ginny dies when their escape car explodes. The same is assumed of Timmy, but he's Not Quite Dead...
  • Extremely Short Timespan: The movie is set on 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. In 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.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Paris notes that she and Ed have the same zodiac sign.
    • Robert flees the motel to a diner only to realize that he's right back to the building beside the motel.
    • Before Rhodes puts his shirt back on, we can see that there's a bloodstain around a hole on the back of it.
    • Paris notes that she and Larry are from the same area of Florida.
    • Larry hides photos of another man in the backroom of the motel.
    • Even though he's transporting a prisoner, Rhodes is awfully interested in hitting on Paris.
    • Rhodes rebukes Ed's offer to take shifts on the radio.
  • From Bad to Worse: The situation escalates from stormy weather and car accidents to grisly murders and vanishing corpses in just a few hours. It is no wonder the characters are all so on edge.
  • Gone Horribly Right: The psychoanalysts' plan to treat Malcolm Rivers' Split Personality condition actually succeeded... by killing off his every personality except the core murderous one.
  • 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 BSoD: Ed reaches this point when he discovers that he was never a real person but a split personality made up in the mind of a crazy person. And so are all the people he's met throughout the film.
  • 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 of times.
  • Hostile Weather: By the time everyone arrives at the motel it is dark and storming.
  • How We Got Here: At the start of the movie, we watch characters entering the Hell Hotel. Then there is a freeze frame and we return to an earlier point where we are shown what happened to them before they arrived.
  • Impersonating an Officer: It turns out that "Officer" Rhodes was a convict just like Robert Maine, and he assumed the identity of the real police officer who was transporting the two of them after murdering him during the ride.
  • Indian Burial Ground: Ginny informs the group that the hotel might be haunted because it was built on land where a group of displaced Indians died of thirst a hundred years ago. She turns out to be wrong.
  • Institutional Apparel: Maine in his stark yellow jumpsuit.
  • I Resemble That Remark!: When Ginny's boyfriend screams at her through the locked bathroom door he is calm.
  • Ironic Nursery Tune: "Antigonish" by Hughes Mearns, as shown in the page quote.
  • It Was a Dark and Stormy Night: The movie starts during a nocturnal rainstorm and it doesn't get better.
  • Just Keep Driving: Early on, when Paris loses half her suitcase's content on the road. The road was empty and she could have easily turned back to pick up the pieces but in service of the plot, she felt she had to keep driving. Justified, since she literally exists in service of the plot.
  • The Killer in Me: The ultimate goal is to eliminate Malcolm's killer personality.
  • Light Is Not Good: Timothy York wears all white and exudes Children Are Innocent. He's the monstrous killer everyone fears.
  • 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: Edward Dakota, Samuel Rhodes, Paris Nevada, Caroline Suzanne, Robert Maine, Lou Isiana, Virginia Isiana, Larry Washington, and George, Alice and Timothy York. A big clue to the reveal that they are all made up people.
    • Could possibly carry over into Meaningful Names as they represent Malcolm's various mental "states".
  • Look Both Ways: The mother gets hit by a car because she did not watch the road she was stepping onto. It didn't help that the onrushing limo acted as a Surprise Vehicle by not emitting any sound until it actually hit the woman.
  • Male Gaze: Paris is subjected to this a few times.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Timmy. When he's not straight-up murdering people with his own hands, he'll trick people into stepping in harm's way so that they get themselves killed.
  • Meaningful Name: Malcolm Rivers. "Rivers" like the divergent multiple personalities that exist in his head, separate and unique streams of life whose rushing currents eventually intersect until they all lead back to the same place.
  • Menacing Hand Shot: The final Once More, with Clarity flashback montage starts with a closeup on Timmy's hand with the knife as he follows the actress.
  • Mental Story: It's presented as being weird events happening in the real world until the reveal.
  • Mirror Reveal: Ed is understandably freaked when he is shown a mirror and sees his reflection as Malcolm Rivers, a convicted serial killer; The problem is, that is Ed's real face. He is one of Rivers's alternate personalities.
  • Monochrome Casting: Every character with a speaking part is white.
  • Multi-Gendered Split Personalities: The ending reveals that all of the eleven main characters, consisting of seven males and four women, are alternate personalities of Malcolm Rivers.
  • Mutual Kill: Ed and Rhodes kill each other this way in a gunfight, with Ed himself dying after talking to Paris.
  • Never Split the Party: After half the guests are dead, Rhodes orders everyone to stay in the room and wait it out. Naturally, it doesn't take long until people start splitting up again.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Ed gets hit with this hard when he tells Ginny and Timmy to flee the motel in a car, only for the car to explode when they get in.
  • No Body Left Behind: One of the major clues that something is off happening 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.
    • Larry goes deeper with this trope. When a frozen corpse is found and the only possibility is him killing that man, he responds that the man already died by the time he arrived at the motel 2 months before. He preserved the manager's body in the freezer and didn't call the police because he doesn't want to be accused of murder. Being broke and have nowhere to go to, he took over the position the manager to the people who arrived after him.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: Played straight when Ginny's boyfriend goes from frantically pounding on the door to sudden total silence.
  • Obviously Evil: Robert Maine. Too bad he's not the killer.
  • Off With Her Head: The first victim's head is found in one of the laundry dryers.
  • Once More, with Clarity: The ending. It reveals that all the murders were perpetrated by Timmy, showing his gleeful reaction after watching his mother die, sneaking up on and stabbing Caroline, baiting his father in front of Larry's truck and stepping out of the way in time for him to be struck, and finally walking away with a Psychotic Smirk as Ginny is killed in the explosion.
  • 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 flooded the roads and knocked out the power lines, ensuring that no one can leave or call for help.
  • Peek-a-Boo Corpse: The frozen body of the real motel manager falling out of the freezer and onto Paris who can't stop screaming.
  • Psychopathic Man Child: This is ultimately all that remains of Malcolm Rivers/Timmy York.
  • Punk in the Trunk: The body of the real police officer gets put in the trunk of his car by convicts.
  • Rabid Cop: Officer Samuel Rhodes. At first he's a bit of a reserved authority figure, but he becomes increasingly violent as people keep dying at the motel at the hands of a mysterious killer, eventually vowing to get through the night by gathering everyone in one room and threatening to shoot anyone who tries to leave. Although, it's later revealed that he's not really a cop but a criminal posing as one.
  • Red Herring: There are numerous examples due to the whodunnit aspect.
    • Robert Maine is the primary suspect in the beginning as the movie never discloses Rivers' first name until Robert dies, which potentially misdirects the viewers into believing that Robert and Rivers are the same person since both of them are dangerous criminals who are supposed to be transported to another location while under police security.
    • Larry Washington becomes a person of interest after convicted murderer Robert dies under his watch. It also doesn't help that he stole wallets off the victims' corpses, kept a dead body in the freezer, and accidentally killed George.
    • Samuel Rhodes is seemingly the real culprit behind the murders after Paris discovers that he is not a cop but a convict posing as a cop. This is downplayed in that while Rhodes is innocent of most of the murders at the motel, he still manages to kill Larry and Edward.
  • Rewatch Bonus: A second watch and seeing all the characters as aspects of Rivers lends to a new perspective as to what the real Rivers is or could be like. A lot of interpretation can be born from knowing that Timmy was the homicidal personality.
  • Screw the Money, I Have Rules!: Caroline (his employer) threatens to fire Ed and tells him he will be held responsible if he tries to help Mrs. York. Ed still helps Mrs. York and snatches Caroline Suzanne's cell phone from her.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here:
    • At a certain point, Ed decides that the safest bet would be for the surviving characters to just get in the car and try their luck in the storm since people keep dropping like flies at the motel and no one knows who to trust. This plan goes out the window as soon as someone gets in the car and it explodes.
    • Rhodes drops all pretenses and goes to murderous lengths to escape once he realizes the others know what kind of person he truly is and, naturally, peg him as the killer.
  • Self-Made Orphan: Timmy kills both his parents over the course of the story.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None (aka "Ten Little Indians") is mentioned in passing.
    • The poem recited at the beginning and the end of the movie is taken verbatim from "Antigonish" by William Hughes Mears.
    • Being and Nothingness by Jean-Paul Sartre is briefly seen in Ed's car.
  • Significant Birth Date: A group of seemingly unrelated people is 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 has the same birthday, which simply doesn't seem possible. This is because they're all imaginary identities of a man with multiple personality disorder. You didn't pay attention when Malcolm's own birthdate was casually revealed at the very beginning of the movie, did you?
  • Significant Name Overlap: The original and new proprietor of the motel are both named Larry.
  • Sinister Suffocation: 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.
  • Slasher Movie: A whodunit variation, that actually takes place in the mind of a convicted serial killer.
  • Slut-Shaming:
    • How Larry treats Paris from the moment they meet. We also see that he's scrawled misogynistic messages across his pornographic magazines.
    • Malcolm Rivers qualifies, as well, since he is Larry and Timmy. This aspect of him is derived from his mother, who abused him when he was a child and abandoned him in motel rooms while she was out working as a prostitute.
      Malcolm Rivers: I remember my mother... I remember my mother... I remember my mother was a whore...
  • So Crazy, It Must Be True: When Larry explains that the frozen body was the actual motel manager and that he only took over his identity after finding him dead, Paris notes that this story must be true because it's so unbelievable.
  • Split-Personality Takeover: After his treatment, all of Malcolm's alternate personalities are gone... except for the single psychotic one.
  • Spotting the Thread: Ginny tries this in the first third of the story but fails as they have different destinations and don't even share hometowns. The party is more successful the second time, as they accidentally discover all of them have the same birthday and, as Ed muttered, are named from U.S. States.
  • Talking Down the Suicidal: Discussed. 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.
  • Ten Little Murder Victims: The movie plays with the usual formula by revealing that there are two unrelated killers, not to mention that the murder spree takes place in a convict's mind.
  • 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.
  • Unnaturally Looping Location: The desert. Robert Maine escapes from his motel room, runs out into the desert, sees a group of buildings in the distance which he approaches - and ends up right back inside the motel. Justified since it's a Mental World.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Paris Nevada is guilty of this trope twice. First, when she opens her bag and her clothes spill onto the road, including a high heel that destroys one of the York's tires, and again when her car crashes into the telephone pole. Of course, this wouldn't have changed much if she hadn't, given the Everyone Is a Tomato story twist.
  • 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.
  • Wham Line:
    • "It's your birthday next week? My birthday's next week."
    • Also, "Where the fuck is my face?"
  • White Shirt of Death: Ed himself at the end.
  • Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: Malcolm Rivers. The horribly abusive childhood he endured and the subsequent trauma he lived with resulted in him developing multiple personalities. At least three of these personalities are coldblooded killers. Robert Maine is clearly a deranged maniac. Samuel Rhodes is a short-tempered, self-serving criminal who has no qualms with murder but is at least capable of behaving around others. But the worst by far is Timothy York, a Bitch in Sheep's Clothing Creepy Child Serial Killer and the personification of Malcolm's deep-seated rage. By the end, the violent, relentless and unforgiving presence of his mistreated inner child are all that's left of Malcolm Rivers.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: Ginny's suggestion that the hotel is haunted by undead Native Americans would make more sense in a supernatural horror movie.
  • Yank the Dog's Chain: After going through hell and surviving the night, it seems as if Paris is the only one left alive. She's able to finally leave and return to her hometown to start a new life for herself. Then she finds the last room key...


Video Example(s):


Mirror Reveal

Ed is freaked when he is shown a mirror and sees his reflection as Malcolm Rivers, a convicted serial killer.

How well does it match the trope?

4.8 (5 votes)

Example of:

Main / MirrorReveal

Media sources: