Calista’s Cinema Conversations: Unreliable narrator films

I rewatched the film “The Gift” yesterday after I found out it was put on Netflix. Since this was my second time viewing the film, I was able to notice more about the movie itself than just guessing what was going to happen next. I realized the film has parallels the idea of an unreliable narrator since, as an audience member, you do not know which character is telling the truth until the middle/end of the film.

This theme is something that continues to intrigue audiences and critics alike. An unreliable narrator convention occurs when audiences can go a whole film being told the wrong information or feeling a certain way about a character, only to find out that they no longer feel that way.

Though there are many genres that these protagonists fall under, usually the heart and soul of the unreliable narrator trope lies in the mystery or thriller genre. The unreliable narrator is the perfect way to set these movies up because of the uneasy and unpredictable atmosphere it creates. This is most prominent in films like “The Usual Suspects,” “Fight Club” or “Shutter Island.”

There are other films with unreliable narrators audiences don’t expect, such as “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” where the protagonist hides parts of his traumatic past from the audience. What makes this film different from others is that the main character seems to be hiding these memories from himself, as well, denying his past.

“Atonement” is a film about trying to undo the pain and suffering caused in the past, and that is exactly what the narrator attempts to do with her skewed view of events after falsely accusing the love of her sister’s life. The protagonist shows the audience what could have been as if it were reality, because she wants to believe it was.

On a different note, the popular book-to-movie adaptations of “Gone Girl” and “Girl on a Train” are perfect examples of murder mysteries that make the audience struggle to figure out which character to trust. These two films stand out, as the protagonist is unreliable from the start of the film, but that knowledge never takes away from the mystery surrounding any of the events.

The magical film “Big Fish” skillfully uses an unreliable narrator to add to the whimsical tone of the film. Since the plot is about a son who attempts to figure out if his dying father’s crazy stories about his life are true, the unreliable narrator is a given. This method is a perfect way to set the fun and outlandish mood.

The unreliable narrator has gone from a popular literary device to a movie phenomenon. There are many films with traces of unreliability sprinkled throughout; finding these elements is the fun part.


Calista Giroux is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at calista.giroux@gmail.com.