Follow TV Tropes


Film / Identity

Go To

"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?"

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 prostitute 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:

  • Alien Geometries: The desert.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Beware the Quiet Ones: Timmy only has two lines in the whole movie. Timmy is the killer, and his brief bit of dialogue confirms this.
  • 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.
  • Advertisement:
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Timmy was treated as an unimportant sweet child character until the end where it was revealed that he was the most evil personality of Malcolm Rivers and was the one who responsible of the killings in Motel
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The Dog Was the Mastermind: Double Subverted. 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.
  • Dull Surprise: You'd expect a bigger reaction from John Cusack after seeing the decapitated head of Caroline in a washing machine.
    • It makes sense later, though, when his Dark and Troubled Past is elaborated on and you find out he's very used to seeing horrific things.
    • Makes even more sense given how he's not a real person
  • Dwindling Party
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Going in Circles: What happens when one character tries to escape the hotel on foot.
  • 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.
  • He-Man Woman Hater: This seems to fit Larry, at first, given the way he treats Paris from the moment they meet. It definitely fits with Timmy at the end.
    • Malcolm Rivers qualifies, as well, since he is Larry and Timmy. This aspect of him is derived from his mother, who would abuse him when he was a child and abandon 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...
  • 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 times.
  • Hostile Weather: By the time everyone arrives at the motel it is dark and storming.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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."
  • Loads and Loads of Characters: Subverted! All the people at the hotel are only the figments of Malcolm's imagination.
  • 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
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 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.
    • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Psychological Thriller
  • Psychopathic Man Child: This is ultimately all that remains of Malcolm Rivers/Timmy York.
  • 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: 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.
  • 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 telling him he will be held responsible if he tries to help Mrs. York. Ed still helps Mrs. York and snatch 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.
  • 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.
  • Slasher Movie: A whodunit variation, that actually takes place in the mind of a convicted serial killer.
  • Spotting the Thread: Ginny tries this at first third of story but fails as they have different destinations and don't even share hometown. The party is more successful second time, as they accidentally discovers all of them has same birthday and, as Ed muttered, named from U.S. States.
  • 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.
  • 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 Isa 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 is all that's left of Malcolm Rivers.
  • 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 returns to her hometown to start a new life for herself. Then she finds the last room key...
  • 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.


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: