It’s been nearly 20 years since Identity, written by Michael Cooney and directed by James Mangold, graced our screens. The John Cusack, Ray Liotta, Amanda Peet vehicle was full of talent and featured more twists than a southern Missouri highway. A group of seemingly unrelated strangers find themselves stuck at a remote motel during a storm is a good one that continues to create new fans and discussions. Loosely adapted from Agatha Christie’s, And Then There Were None is an enduring entry in the tense thriller category.
Cut between the stories of the stranded motel guests are glimpses of another story. In a desperate attempt to converge his many multiple personalities, Dr. Malick, a consistently reliable Alfred Molina, is interviewing death row inmate Malcolm Rivers, a scene-stealing Pruitt Taylor Vince. By collapsing the personalities, he hopes to leave Rivers with one single peaceful personality that would be allowed to live out his life in a psychiatric facility instead of being executed. How the two stories converge is nothing short of brilliant and remains a classic example of the final act shockers. Here’s everything you need to know about that final twist and why it was always inevitable.
The ending of Identity
We watch as characters die throughout the film, usually in brutal fashion. We don’t realize until the middle of the movie that what we are watching is the eradication of Rivers’ personalities. Dr. Malick was talking him through the process when John Cusack’s Ed, who has been our protagonist all along, woke up in the room with Dr. Malick, and we realized he is nothing more than another one of Rivers’ personalities. The especially painful part is that retired cop Ed has been actively protecting all of the vulnerable “people” and working to solve a crime that isn’t real. Everything we saw play out in the motel was Rivers’ many personas fighting for their existence. The motel and all eleven of the strangers do not exist in real life.
It’s a gut punch but nothing compared to the final scene when Peet’s Paris, who we think is all that is left of River’s personas, is lost in a pleasant mind palace. She is living in an orange grove when she digs up one final key, and Little Timmy York sneaks up behind her and kills her. This leaves only homicidal Timmy, who has been the real killer all along, as the last person standing. He kills the policeman transporting Rivers to the psychiatric facility and disappears into the desert.
The many personalities and clues in Identity
Each of the 11 people who find themselves at the motel has names and birthdates that are clues to what is happening. They all have the same birthday as Rivers, and each of them has names that correspond to places in Rivers’ life. Ed Dakota(Cusack) is the stabilizing force for the group. He is likely the public persona that Rivers portrayed to the public. He is the closest to reality and might be who Rivers could have been had he been dealt a different set of cards.
Peet’s Paris Nevada is another wich fulfillment character. She is a prostitute who is trying to start new. She represents everything Rivers wished for his mother. Ironically, the kid who wanted her to change her ways thwarted her escape. More on this later. Larry Washington is the man who presented as the motel clerk, but in reality, he found the owner dead and shoved his body into a freezer. He is an opportunist and a coward. Considering how Rivers was found as a child, he could represent the adaptability of his foster child days.
Caroline Suzanne(Rebecca De Mornay) is a spoiled, insecure, faded star who Ed is driving. She is the narcissistic side of Rivers’ mother and possibly other foster mothers he lived with. The Yorks arrive at the hotel with Alice severely injured and Timmy nonverbal. Only John C. McGinley’s George speaks from this group. He explained a past trauma left Timmy mute and appears to genuinely care for Timmy, although this could be an act. I am curious about what previous trauma led to Timmy being speechless in his backstory. Is it possible George represents a kindly seeming John or foster father who was actually an abuser? Rivers’ childhood reflects Timmy as he refused to talk after he was found with his mother’s dead body.
Robert Maine(Busey) and Samuel Rhodes(Liotta) are both escaped criminals. Likely they are additional facets of Rivers’ violent tendencies. Rhodes is cunning and should have been a sign that not everything was as presented.
Timmy revealed himself to be the dominant killing personality as he picked off the others one by one off-screen. He manipulated situations to endanger some while pitting others against one another to let them do the dirty work. As Timmy is the same age as Malcolm Rivers, one has to wonder if his mother was murdered by a John in that motel years ago or if Rivers did it himself. Rivers shows contempt for his mother and women in particular. He could have grown tired of his mother’s activities and killed her in her sleep or while intoxicated. No one would suspect him as a child, just like no one suspects Timmy. All of the other personalities could have been born from necessity after her death.
Each body found throughout Identity has a numbered room key next to them. Although we never saw Timmy die or found his body or corresponding key, we assumed he died earlier in the film. He did not and was, in fact, the mastermind behind the entire murder existential spree. When the final key was found in the dirt, Timmy struck. He has always been the dominant personality and used others to achieve specific goals.
When Ed chooses to sacrifice himself in the confrontation with Liotta’s Rhodes for Paris, everyone, including Dr. Malick, thinks Rivers is now safe. He, like us, believes Paris is a peaceful person, and as the last one left, Rivers will now be docile.
That crime is what landed him on death row. As a child, Malcolm Rivers’ mother, a prostitute, was murdered, and he was found days later. He bounced around the foster system until becoming an adult. We are led to believe the trauma of his mother’s death and any subsequent abuse he suffered in foster homes led to his mental condition. He then killed six people in an apartment complex.
Dr. Malick’s faulty logic assumed he could root out the one murderer among the eleven personalities and destroy it, thus rendering Rivers safe for treatment. However, the problem with this is that there were several murderers in the group. We know at least Rhodes and Jake Busey’s Maine are killers in addition to Timmy. There is also the possibility that Larry and William Lee Scott’s Lou also are murderous. At the very least, they are violent and opportunistic.
While Identity clearly isn’t a factual look at Dissociative Identity Disorder, there has been at least one documented case of DID in a criminal. Serial rapist and confessed murderer Billy Milligan was acquitted after claiming he had 24 distinct personalities that lived in him. He claimed one of the other personalities raped the young women, and he was unaware of the crime. He was found criminally insane and did not stand trial. Questions still swirl regarding the validity of the verdict. Milligan spoke and wrote in foreign languages he should not know in some stories, although there is little proof of that. One of his personalities also claimed to be from WWII, well before his birth in 1955. Ultimately the truth is unknown.
You can stream Identity on Netflix, Prime Video, and anywhere you get movies VOD.
As the Managing Editor for Signal Horizon, I love watching and writing about genre entertainment. I grew up with old-school slashers, but my real passion is television and all things weird and ambiguous. My work can be found here and Travel Weird, where I am the Editor in Chief.