(spoilers: the titles are in bold, read at your own risk, &c.)
the empire strikes back: i was eight the first time i saw star wars, all three in a row with my brother. he didn’t let on at all, and when darth vader tells luke, “no… i am your father”, i yelled WHAT and almost fell off the sofa. it’s perfectly executed: it’s sudden and shocking and you never see it coming but when it does it’s so narratively satisfying. nothing has changed, but everything is different.
i am legend: if you’ve only seen the film… i’m sorry, because it spoils the shallow fact of the novel’s ending, but not the deep and awful shock of it. in the novel, the last man realises that the vampires—yes, vampires—he’s been fighting aren’t mindless feral predators; they’re sentient, and they’re enraged because he’s been mercilessly hunting and murdering their kind. they have the beginnings of a society, they’re working out how to go out into the daylight. he isn’t a legend because he’s the last human alive—he’s a legend because the vampires dread him as a monster.
flannery o’connor, “a good man is hard to find”: i first read this story a long time ago, and there was a moment in the narrative when i thought the outcome might be good and gracious and easy, when i thought the man would bow his head and weep and the old woman would reach out her arms to him, and there’d be no more blood. then the three shots are fired, and the inevitability is awful but every time i read it, i get echoes of the horror i felt the first time (it doesn’t take long to learn that o’connor’s stories are merciless, unrelenting).
the usual suspects: verbal kint / keyser söze. fuck. “the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist. and like that, he’s gone.”
black mirror, "white bear": i recently rewatched this, easily the best sci-fi series of the last five years, and the third-act twist of this episode kicks me sharp in the chest. after the initial shock, which turns the whole narrative on its head, the episode keeps throwing up little awful twists, right to the end; one dystopia gives way to another, nearer to the status quo yet far darker. it’s grim, it’s so grim, but it’s clever, and disquietingly metafictional.