I was raised on Phillip K Dick stories, which means that if a science fiction plot is totally straightforward with no twists at all, I can’t trust it. Surely the ending is really happening in the protagonist’s head, or they’re all in purgatory, or the government is conspiring to deceive its own people. One of my favorite twists is the wacky misunderstanding: the reveal late in the story, after staggering amounts of violence, that the villains weren’t really so villainous and the heroes really should have tried to negotiate before blowing the hell out of some gross aliens.
These are my favorite theories about stories that appear straightforward, but would be much better with a twist.
Starship Troopers: The bugs were framed.
This is a subtle one, but very much in keeping with Verhoven’s special brand of ambiguity. We’re introduced to the conflict between the Bugs and humanity with a series of upbeat PSAs on the war effort; the audience is reminded right off the bat that we’re not getting an objective perspective on the war.
What’s telling is what’s not in the movie. At the end of the first act, an asteroid destroys the protagonist’s home town; humanity retaliates by sending a fresh wave of soldiers to the front. It’s a major turning point in the movie, renewing the protagonist’s dedication to the cause just as he’s about to wash out of boot camp.
Here’s what’s missing: the bugs are never shown to have the capacity to redirect the path of an asteroid. They’ve got some kind of beetle-thing that can shoot plasma into the stratosphere, but there’s never any indication that they have the technology to target Earth. In fact, they barely have any technology at all; notably absent is any kind of capacity for getting all the way to Earth. Humanity could have avoided a war just by staying in its own system; instead, colonists are encroaching on Bug turf, and soldiers are sent in when the colonists are attacked.
Credibility: I’m pretty sure this was intentional, or at least intentionally vague.
Game of Thrones: The Others are trying to save the world.
I’ve been a fan of A Song of Ice and Fire for over a decade now, and I’m very attached to my favorite theories (Cleganebowl is totally going to happen, you guys). This theory about the Others is a recent one, but I love it because it fits one of the story’s central themes: there’s not much true good and evil in the world, just people doing the wrong things for the right reasons.
According to this theory, the Others and humans were once allies (or at least relatively peaceful neighbors). The Others had a greater enemy than humanity: fire, the force which doomed Valyria and created dragons. The Others helped erect a wall of ice to mark their territory and retreated behind it; for millennia, they had no reason to deal with humanity, and so they faded into myth. But now there’s been a resurgence of fire magic, with the rise of the Red God and a queen who rides dragons, and so the Others are rising to stop humanity from upsetting the delicate balance between ice and fire and bringing down destruction on the world.
The beauty of this theory is that it’s far-fetched on first glance, but the more you think about it, the more you realize that it might just be right. The Others are starting to show a sort of intelligence and sense of purpose. A species of mindless, evil monsters doesn’t fit into a world with so much moral ambiguity. And it’s a neat answer to some nagging questions: how did humanity build a giant enchanted ice wall and then immediately forget how to cast spells? Why is magic a closely-guarded secret? Why is Danerys farting around on the other side of the world, and how’s she going to wage an epic war with only two books to go? What’s so important about Bran that we’ve got to watch him being carried around all over the place just so he can sit in a magic chair?
Credibility: Oh man, I want this to be true so bad. I want it more than Cleganebowl (jk I love nothing on this planet more than Cleganebowl). Martin loves a wild card, so anything could happen between now and the final chapter.
Pacific Rim: It’s all the dinosaurs’ fault.
I’m a big fan of Pacific Rim. It’s one of the only Hollywood monster movies that really feels like it was made out of love for those glorious old B-movies; it’s silly and fun, it references loads of sci-fi cult classics, it wasn’t trying to be gritty or deep. Or… was it?
The hints that this just might not be a story about big dumb monsters start when Newt is introduced; he’s got a crackpot theory about the kaiju being cloned purposefully. This really gets going after his first drift with the kaiju hive-mind when he declares that the enemy first showed up on Earth “in the age of the dinosaurs.” The kaiju aren’t actually mentioned here; it’s just “they” who showed up, decided Earth was no good, and left again.
It was apparently oxygen levels that did our unnamed invaders in, but all they know about our world is that it’s full of giant monsters. So when the atmosphere is more to their liking, they return with their own even more giant monsters. And then, as Raleigh informs us at the very beginning of the movie, “To fight monsters, we created monsters.”
Until Newt’s first drift, the kaiju have no way of knowing that they’re fighting a sentient species. Earth is just full of big scary monsters, so they’re sending progressively bigger and scarier monsters to clear the way.
After the drift, when Newt’s running around Hong Kong, much is made about how the kaiju are now trying to find him. Otachi even runs away from a fight specifically to look for him. Why would she do that? And when she finds him in the shelter, she doesn’t even try to kill him. Did she just forget about her acid spit and tail-whip and the fact that she is a giant monster who could stomp on everyone in the shelter?
Maybe she wasn’t trying to kill Newt after all. Newt’s first drift doesn’t actually give away any of the kaiju’s vulnerabilities, and if they’d stayed away from him, he wouldn’t have had access to another brain. So why go through so much trouble for a human, unless that human was the first person to ever try to communicate with your species?
And then, of course, there’s the climactic scene in which Gypsy Danger falls through the Breach and into the aliens’ world. Suddenly, the roles are reversed, and this giant alien monster is looking down at curious, apparently intelligent humanoids.
Then Raleigh blows these possibly sentient beings up and everyone celebrates. Yay, the atomic bomb solves all of our problems! Hurray for killing civilians!
That’s a strange way of wrapping things up for a story that’s full of tributes to a character that symbolized the horrifying destructive power of the atomic bomb. I like this theory because it suggests that the conclusion was uncomfortable by design and not by mistake, and it opens the door for a sequel that could be about more than punching big dumb aliens in the face. It’s also more in keeping with Guillermo del Toro’s style; his last movie was all about monsters trying to catch a break.
Credibility: I have seen pretty much no discussion about this on tumblr, and I’ve seen epic breakdowns of the exact pinstripe pattern of Newt’s pants. That means I’m probably the only person crazy enough to want this to be intentional.
Apparently there was a scene that hit the “hey, maybe jumping straight to blowing an alien species up is a bad idea” theme pretty hard, but it was cut from the final movie. So maybe this did start out as intentional, but got dropped somewhere in production because it would make the “happy” ending way too uncomfortable.