Identity Movie Explained: What Really Happened?

Identity is a 2003 neo-noir psychological thriller with an immersive story, stellar cast, and incredible rewatchability value. The cult-classic mystery is loosely based on Agatha Christy’s And Then There Were None. However, it has taken so much creative freedom that not a lot of people will make this connection. It’s full of unique characters and two well-written story arcs and has since amassed a cult following. Here’s the plot and ending of the movie Identity explained; spoilers ahead.

buy me a coffee button This Is Barry

Hollywordle – Check out my new Hollywood Wordle game!

Where To Watch?

To find where to stream any movie or series based on your country, use This Is Barry’s Where To Watch.

Oh, and if this article doesn’t answer all of your questions, drop me a comment or an FB chat message, and I’ll get you the answerYou can find other film explanations using the search option on top of the site.


Here are links to the key aspects of the movie:

Identity Movie: Plot Explained In Short

Identity movie plot

On the eve of the execution of Malcolm Rivers, a vicious mass murderer, his psychiatrist is trying to convince a committee of his insanity. Simultaneously, ten people are trapped in a remote motel during a rainstorm.

Things quickly get out of hand as the guests at the motel are picked off one by one. In descending order, they’re eliminated, seeing as each dead body has a room key planted on them. They’re isolated from the world, and it doesn’t take long until they start turning on each other.

Identity Movie Spoiler

In a massive plot twist, it’s revealed that these ten strangers are different personalities of Malcolm Rivers and that it all takes place in his head. Namely, an experimental method is taking place to reduce Malcolm’s number of personalities to a minimal level, and isolate and terminate his murderous personality.

Identity Movie: Personalities (in the order of death)

  1. Caroline Suzanne – a Hollywood actress, chauffeured by Ed
  2. Lou Isiana – a newlywed
  3. Robert Maine – a convicted murderer
  4. George York – Alice’s husband and Timmy’s stepfather
  5. Alice York – George’s wife and Timmy’s mother
  6. Ginny – Lou’s wife
  7. Larry Washington – the motel manager
  8. Ed – a limousine driver and former LA police officer
  9. Samuel Rhodes – a criminal, pretending to be an officer transporting Maine
  10. Paris Nevada – a street walker, looking to start a new life
  11. Timmy – Alice’s son and George’s stepson

This murder rampage at a hotel is, as it appears, nothing more than a visual representation of this psychiatric treatment method. This is also a unique approach to experimental simulation reality, as it takes place in one’s mind and not in a controlled physical environment like in Dark City. Also, both movies are noir, which makes the comparison even more logical.

Identity Movie Ending Explained: Who is the killer?

Identity movie ending explained

The ending of the movie Identity reveals that the child’s personality, typically attributed to innocence, is the murderous one, making Malcolm a being of pure evil who tricks and kills Dr Mallick.

Ultimately, it seems as if Paris (Amanda Peet) is the only one left, and the committee overturns Malcolm’s death penalty. However, in the very last scene, it’s revealed that it’s all a ploy and that the most violent of personalities survived instead. So, as befitting this wild ride of a movie, it ends up with another plot twist and a cliffhanger. Timmy, the kid, ends up being the killer and the only one surviving.

Identity Movie: Narrative Techniques

Double Plot

The narrative in this movie is incredibly well done. First of all, we get two simultaneous stories without any explanation. It’s not until the last one-quarter of the film Identity that we realize the main plot (from the storytelling perspective) is not real. It’s more than clear that this is a well-incorporated plot twist.

The movie has a cult following, and the setting is so unique that, next to the Peaky Blinders party, this is also a common party theme. At the very least, you start with a unique party game.

Strong Character Arcs

The characters are incredibly well-fleshed-out. Everyone is uniquely distinct. The primary protagonist, Edward “Ed” Dakota, is a former cop who quit after his nihilism got in the way of saving a young girl’s life. The things he had seen on the force had made him numb that when the girl in question asked for a single reason to live, he couldn’t come up with anything. She jumped to her death, and he quit the force, feeling responsible ever since. Finally, he gives Paris a reason to live, thus saving her life. That’s how you write a good character arc!

Ray Liotta plays Samuel Rhodes, a shady correctional officer hiding something. John Hawkes is Larry Washington, a motel manager with a twisted origin story (of how he came into possession of the motel). Truth be told, every single character’s story would be good enough for an individual movie (or at least one TV show episode). It would be fair to say that this is the movie’s strongest selling point.

Weak Character Arcs

That said, the real people, Dr Malick and Malcolm Rivers, are barely characters. Sadly, this is not the only example in which the real-world arc lags behind the fantasy (treatment) world arc. Speaking of which…

Identity Movie’s Drawback: Difficult to swallow make-believe

My biggest problem with Identity lies in the fact that the made-up world of Malcolm Rivers somehow makes more sense and has more internal consistency than the outside world. In his fantasy, the characters are killed one by one and by the least suspected person. Their deaths are enumerated, and a protagonist has a redemption ark.

Multiple Personality On Steroids

In the outside world, however… well, this is where things start getting too messy, and the concept of make-believe doesn’t even begin to cut it. Most of the time, you feel that the story was written by someone with unlimited imagination and no clue whatsoever about split personality disorder. Still, to be fair, this is not endemic to this movie.

What about the law?

Moreover, you get the idea that the scriptwriter has no idea how the justice system works. You see, Malcolm Rivers is simultaneously officially insane and awaiting execution. In the real world, this would be completely impossible.

Second, for dramatic purposes, the committee convenes on the night of his death penalty. Furthermore, if they aren’t persuaded… catch this… not of his innocence, but that the only personality left is benign, they’re to summarily execute him. Not only is this as far from any existing legal procedure as it gets, but it also makes zero sense from a logical standpoint. Nobody asks what proof exists to confirm that all other personalities are dead and the last surviving one is indeed benign. And guess what, the experiment backfires; exactly why the law wouldn’t allow it.

The Flawed Experiment

The worst of it all is the medical treatment. The doctor has persuaded his personalities to start killing each other, so by the time they finish, there’s only one (hopefully benign) character. So, the committee sits around Malcolm and waits until the personalities fight it out, and in the end, they will take Malcolm’s word for it. Since the only one left was Amanda Peet’s character, the death penalty was clearly off the table.

Identity Movie: Concluding Thoughts

It’s an incredibly captivating story that makes absolutely no sense. In other words, how much you enjoy this film mostly depends on your make-believe abilities. You’ll love the movie Identity if you can ignore all the logical inconsistencies and focus on the whodunit and mystery. If, on the other hand, you tend to nitpick, it’s probably for the best to just skip this one. Moreover, the movie has an incredible cast, the dialogs are good, and it tends to be quite immersive. In other words, regardless of its flaws, it’s a cult classic for a reason.

What were your thoughts on the dual-plot and ending of the movie Identity? Do comment below.