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Film / Impostor

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Impostor is a 2001 science-fiction film, starring Gary Sinise, Vincent D'Onofrio, Madeleine Stowe, and Mekhi Phifer. The film was based on a 1953 short story by Philip K. Dick, and was intended to be the first of a science-fiction anthology with the Isaac Asimov story The Last Question and the Donald Wolleim story Mimic to follow after.

In the middle of the 21st century, humanity was attacked by an alien civilization from the Alpha Centauri system. The Centauri have bombed Earth continually for over 45 years, reducing large parts of the Earth to wasteland and destroying effective government in others. A global totalitarian government takes control and the major cities are fitted with defensive shields to protect the last vestiges of civilization. The Centauri subsequently start to resort to more covert means to destroy humanity, using biorobots armed with atomic bombs to infiltrate the cities and kill key political figures.

Dr. Spencer Olham (Gary Sinise) is a renowned scientist working on government weapons projects. One day he is unexpectedly arrested and accused by Major Hathaway (Vincent D'Onofrio) of the Earth Security Administration of being a robot sent to assassinate the Chancellor during an upcoming meeting. Olham goes on the run and heads to the outer regions to prove his innocence.

This film provides examples of:

  • Adaptation Expansion: Originally planned as a short for a film anthology which never made it. Expanded into a main film, and many complain this did the story no good. You can see the original short version on DVD and compare.
  • Accidental Public Confession: Type 3. Hathaway uses film of Spencer’s Brandishment Bluff to convince Maya that her husband actually is an imposter.
  • Aliens Are Bastards: The Alpha Centauri aliens attacked humanity and try to destroy Earth civilization for no apparent reason, as their motives aren't revealed in the film.
  • Artificial Human: The Centauri can create manufactured humans with an atom bomb built into them which will explode if they're exposed to an appropriate trigger.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The hero and his wife are dead and one of their roboclones explodes. Hundreds of acres of forest are destroyed, killing thousands of people and Major Hathaway, who had been trying to prevent exactly that from happening the entire film. However, the assassination of the Chancellor has been prevented and Cale is able to get his sister the medicines that Spencer provided him with.
  • Black Eyes of Evil: Spencer Olham, or rather the suicide-bomb replicant we have been following the whole film develops a pair of these a split second before going boom.
  • Borrowed Biometric Bypass: Of a sort. Unknowingly, Hathaway gets Spencer’s biometric pass, sending him on a wild goose chase.
  • Brandishment Bluff: Spencer unsuccessfully tries to convince the ESA that he will explode to get out of being cut open. Unknowingly to Olham himself, it might not have been just a bluff...
  • Clear My Name: Spencer is trying to prove he isn't an android bomb.
  • Death by Adaptation: In a type B example, Nelson survived up to the end of the end of the story and was the one to prove that Olham was in fact a bio-bomb, then died along with everyone else in the explosion. In the film, he's accidentally killed by Olham halfway through.
  • Diabolus ex Machina: The film revolves around a man trying to prove that he's not an alien-created replicant of himself with a bomb in his chest. At the climax of the movie, the man and his wife find the alien crash site where he was allegedly killed, and discovers his wife's body inside the spaceship, proving that his wife was the replicant instead. Then suddenly, in the last few minutes, the authorities that were chasing him through the whole movie discover the man's body as well, proving that he was also a replicant, and the man promptly explodes and kills everyone in the area.
  • Discovering Your Own Dead Body: A variation on the trope where Dr. Olham becomes a fugitive after he's accused of being a bio-robot infiltration unit sent by a hostile alien race and set to explode when he comes in contact with the Earth's chanceller. His wife is then revealed to be the real impostor, but then it turns out that both he and his wife had been replicated when he discovers the real Olham's body.
  • Domed Hometown: The cities are covered by defensive shields to protect them from Alpha Centauri attacks.
  • The Extremist Was Right: Major Hathaway is entirely correct in his suspicion that Spencer was impersonated by a Centauri bio-weapon and deactivating it would require cutting him open. Where he messed up is assuming that the aliens would only send one of them; he eventually switches his suspicions to Spencer's wife, which is also correct—both of them were Not Even Human.
  • Fanservice: The somewhat long interrogation scene in which Gary Sinise is shirtless the whole time.
  • Foreshadowing: The forest fire in the countryside is mentioned a couple of times before its relevancy comes about.
  • Idiot Ball:
    • Spencer is accused of being a living bomb sent to assassinate a chancellor making a visit to his city. While escaping the city so he wasn’t dissected makes sense, sneaking back into the city to clear his name while the chancellor was still there while Hathaway and company were still on high alert was poor thinking.
    • Hathaway was so dead set on Spencer being a bomb that he didn’t consider that Maya might have been a bomb, too. Even after he figures out the truth about Maya, it doesn't occur to him that the Centauri might have replaced both Olhams.
  • Inspector Javert: Major Hathaway is chasing Dr. Spencer Olham because he's convinced that Olham is an alien biorobot who killed the original and took on his personality in order to detonate a bomb and kill the Chancellor. He plans to prove that by vivisecting Olham and disarming the explosive, but Olham escapes and spends the whole film trying to prove he's human. Hathaway turns out to be right, but missed that Olham's wife was also replaced and then fails to consider that both Olhams could have been impersonated, ending in Hathaway's death when the bomb explodes.
  • Kill and Replace: Dr. Spencer Olham is accused of being an alien biorobot who has killed and replaced the scientist. They plan to prove themselves right by cutting him open to look for a biological bomb. He escapes and spends the rest of the movie trying to prove them wrong. They're right. Both he and his wife have been killed and replaced with the dopplegangers taking on the originals' memories. When he finds out the truth, the bomb in his chest explodes.
  • Not His Sled: Played with. In the original story, only Olham is a fake. In the film, his wife turns out to be the fake instead, thus proving that Olham is human. Then it turns out the real Olham really was killed and he is a living bomb.
  • Post Cyber Punk: A Crapsack World exists outside the domes, but inside the city, things are pretty nice.
  • Replicant Snatching: The premise is that look-alike copies of key people can be sent after targets, exploding violently once contact is made. The hero is accused of being one such impostor.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: It ends this way in literally the last few minutes of the movie, with the main character spending the movie on the run and trying to prove that he's not an alien-created replicant bomb. Except that it turns out he is, at which point he promptly explodes and takes every surviving character in the movie with him, save two characters who weren't anywhere near the explosion.
  • Transferable Memory: The Centauri can completely duplicate a person’s memories and personality into their replicas.
  • The Reveal: Two in succession. Dr. Olham’s innocence is proven when Hathaway reveals that his wife has been replaced with the real biorobot sent to assassinate the chancellor. Shortly afterwards they discover the real Olham’s body, as it turns out that both the Olhams were killed and replaced with copies.
  • Tomato in the Mirror: Dr. Olham is, in fact, the robo-bomb he's been trying to prove he isn't for the entire movie. His wife is one, too.
  • 20 Minutes into the Future: Set in 2079, when humanity is at war with Alpha Centauri.
  • Utopia Justifies the Means: Hathaway believes this. So much that he dissected several people before he was able to prove that an android bomb even existed. He also doesn’t mind collateral damage when trying to gun down a target.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Hathaway may be willing to cut potentially innocent people open and gun anyone down in the way, but he is doing it to stop a nuclear size blast from destroying a city.
  • Why Am I Ticking?: This is the basis for the plot of the movie. The main character of the story is suddenly arrested and told that he's not the man he believes himself to be: he's really an Artificial Human that is designed to be indistinguishable from the original except that, when he encounters the proper "trigger", he will explode. He doesn't believe it, escapes from his would-be executioners, and tries to find evidence to prove that he isn't an impostor. At the end of the movie, he discovers that he really is an impostor, and then promptly explodes.
  • Wild Goose Chase: Spencer Olham plays silly buggers with his pursuers by removing his tracking device and slipping it into the pocket of the guy leading the hunt, leading to a lot of reports to the effect of "he just passed your position" before he figures it out.

Alternative Title(s): Imposter