My name is Dalton Russell. Pay strict attention to what I say because I choose my words carefully, and I never repeat myself. I’ve told you my name. That’s the “who.” The “where” can most readily be described as a prison cell, but there’s a vast difference between being stuck in a tiny cell and being in prison. The “what” is easy. Recently I planned and set in motion events to execute the perfect bank robbery. That’s also the “when.” As for the “why,” beyond the obvious financial motivation, is exceedingly simple. Because I can. Which leaves us with the “how.” And therein, as the Bard would tell us, lies the rub.
I love the opening monologue by Clive Owen in Inside Man (watch it here) in part because he is, I think, a proxy for the film itself. It’s not something you’re likely to catch on first viewing, but it makes the second that much richer (itself a great thing, because a lot of movies like this don’t give you any reason to watch a second time). Addressing the audience directly, he’s telling you everything you need to know to figure out the mystery. Sure enough, as the film unspools, it presents all its secrets right out in the open. You just have to pay attention. (The opening voiceover in The Prestige does something similar.) And then, oh boy, those last two lines: why we’re drawn to mysteries and thrillers and especially crime stories in the first place. It’s not the who or the where or the what or the when, and sometimes not even the why. The ending isn’t even the most interesting part of the story. What we want to know, why we watch, is the how.