The number one element in the story is that beginning with the very first scene, the reader/viewer is going to make an assumption – a false assumption. The story builds on that assumption until very near the end when the audience realizes it has been had. I liken my story to The Sixth Sense in this respect. Bruce Willis’ character is shot with a gun at close range in the first scene. The story immediately fast forwards some number of months and we see him pursuing his career. We make the assumption that he recovered from the gunshot even though we are never told. That premise carries throughout the movie until the very end when we realize we’ve been seeing the entire story through the wrong pair of glasses. It’s brilliant.
Whether or not that movie had anything to do with what caused me to conceive of Ring Of Truth, I can’t say. It was within a year of seeing The Sixth Sense that I woke up one night at 4AM having just dreamt the basics of this story. I immediately got up and raced down to my computer to put it on paper before the dream, as all dreams do, faded from my mind.
Ring Of Truth is a psychological murder mystery. Like any such story, it lets the reader make certain assumptions that may or may not be correct. Although no information in the story is incorrect, there are often more explanations for the same event.
The most important thing to understand is that every single detail in Ring Of Truth was carefully considered and reconciled within the story. Each detail is there for a reason. The reader/viewer’s job is to figure out why the seeming inconsistencies exist assuming they even feel it is worthy to think about.
At the end of the story we discover that, instead of the murder (and ending) being revealed at the beginning of the story as we think, the actual murder takes place later and the “first murder” was simply a plan.
We assumed a man was innocent, but found guilty, when in actuality he was guilty, but found innocent.
These two elements of surprise can only work when put together. In order to come to a false conclusion about whether someone was found (past tense) innocent or guilty, we either have to have been told at the beginning or else we have to find out at the end. For the reader/viewer to come to two different conclusions – one incorrect at the beginning of the story and one correct at the end, it can only work if what he thought he knew at the beginning was a false assumption. And, that’s why what is revealed at the beginning of the story is not the end (shown by flashback) - though that’s what the audience thinks. Instead the movie is almost entirely chronological and the beginning was simply a man planning what will happen in the future as opposed to remembering what happened in the past.
Stories have used flashbacks and dream sequences millions of times. But, I don’t ever remember a story where the reader thought they were seeing a daydream of a past event when in actuality it was a daydream of a future event – a plan. I think that is unique and it is the key thing I dreamt about over a decade ago.
I also think it is unique to have a story where the reader believes the person is innocent, but found guilty when the exact opposite is true – that they are guilty, but found innocent. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen that in a story either.
These two unique variables are the soul of the story. I would like to think the rest of it would be of interest as well. The Sixth Sense is an excellent movie even without the twist at the end, but the twist is what makes it one of the most memorable movies of all time and that was my objective here.
First scene (close up): A man (Alan) is lying on a prison cot with the sun shining through his cell window. The shadows of the bars on the window are seen as they slowly march across his still body. His eyes are closed. He’s dreaming of something that happened (flashback) – probably wondering how he could have ended up this way. He looks troubled and we can see him playing it over and over in his mind – much like any bad dream.
A clanging sound wakes him up. It sounds a lot like tin cans on prison bars.
In most movies this is where you would see the words superimposed on the screen, something to the effect of “Two years before this.” That doesn’t happen in this movie because he was not flashing back. He was dreaming forward – planning his move. But, the audience will still think he was flashing back even without a reference to how much time had passed.
As we will see near the end of the story, he wasn’t in a prison at all. He was in his own basement. The bars were security bars and he was just lying on a cot where he did all his “thinking” without interruption. The cans on the bars that woke him up were not prisoners making a fuss, but simply a noise in the kitchen made by his wife. He wasn’t asleep, just thinking. When he heard the noise, he got up and went upstairs.
Nevertheless, it’s critical the audience believe he was in prison and reflecting back on what happened such that he ended up having been found guilty and later incarcerated. The first clue that this is not the case is that the audience isn’t told how long before that the story “begins”.
Of course, in actuality, the story begins with the first scene and it proceeds largely chronologically from there. Instead of waking up in a prison cot after dreaming of a murder that had already taken place, he was actually just daydreaming in his own basement in the middle of the day about a murder he was going to commit later that night!
We make the assumption that he was found guilty because we assumed he was in prison. But, of course, he wasn’t in prison because the trial had not happened yet. In fact, the murder had not happened yet.
Even if we think we are smart enough to figure out the twist in the movie, we are probably going to assume that he was found guilty when he really was guilty instead of guilty when he was innocent. Neither are correct as he isn’t found guilty at all.
We assume he is innocent because we see what we thought was a wedding ring on his finger while he lies in a prison bed. All we really saw was a glint of light as the sun reflected off of something on (or around) his finger. Maybe there was a ring there, maybe there wasn’t. Although they wouldn’t let a prisoner wear a wedding ring, we begin to identify with his obsession with it. In fact, his turning and twisting of it keeps us from actually being able to see whether there is a ring on the finger or not. Since this actually takes place prior to the murder, of course he still has the wedding ring on.
The ring is a critical symbol in the story and it is actually the very last thing we see in the movie – as the sun glistens off while it lies symbolically discarded in the water. During the story, the audience believes the ring represents loving memories of his dead wife, but it actually represents his own jail. He turns and twists the ring repeatedly throughout the story. In fact, at the apex of the story, he finally takes it off his finger. The point is that he is constantly twisting the ring – not out of fond memory – but because he subconsciously feels (present tense) imprisoned by it.
As the story proceeds, we get led further down the road to the belief that he is a good man – who is the victim of an intruder - a man who becomes a widower through no fault of his own. What we don’t realize is that Alan is indeed the murderer. The initial crime scene is what we saw in his imagination - his plan. But, of course, we don’t see the killer’s face. We assume it is someone else and that Alan was falsely accused and imprisoned.
By the time we see the actual murder, we think he is again recalling the murder. However, we notice a few inconsistencies – including the time of the murder. One might assume these inconsistencies were either his inability to recollect exact details. But, of course, the differences are that what he originally planned and what actually happened deviate slightly for various reasons as all plans do. And, that is also be a clue.
Of course, the result is the same. His wife ends up dead and he killed her.
The investigator of the murder is named Lt. Tidi D’Nala. He’s a significant character in the story and has an interesting personality. He’s no typical dry detective. His name is pronounced Tie Dye and he wears tie dye shirts because the story takes place in a tropical environment such as Miami - think Body Heat which is a brilliant example of a movie where the guilty person gets away with it, the discovery is made in prison and the last scene has the murderer lying on a beach – as does Ring Of Truth.
D’Nala is from Trinidad originally and has a Columbo-like obsession with getting to bottom of things. But, why the name Tidi D’Nala in the first place, you ask? Answer: Spell it backwards.
At one point in the movie, Alan needs his accomplice to remove something hidden in his house so that it can be planted elsewhere. He gives the alarm code to the individual as 7673. A rope is used in the murder and it is among the items he wants retrieved, though the audience assumes it is a gift he was hiding for his wife’s Valentine’s present. However, if you look up 7673 on a telephone keypad, you will see it could spell R-O-P-E.
One clue to what was happening was his retelling of the murder. In his original plan he says “Someone killed my wife!”. He practiced saying that many times and it was burned into his memory. However, when the actual murder takes place, he slips up in the panic of the moment and says “My wife has just been murdered!” No big deal except that later when he is back at the house remembering the murder, he says “Someone killed my… My wife has just been murdered.” - catching himself. Then, later in Dave’s office as he recounts the murder, he says “Someone killed my… My wife has just been murdered!” I tried to give the reader several reasons to ask themselves why he would be saying two different things. Anyway, that was a clue.
One more clue, of course, is that when he was planning the murder, he expected it to be about 7:10 p.m. But, when it finally happened, it was 7:55 p.m. due to his delay at the office. So, when he’s planning the murder the audience sees 7:10 p.m. on the digital clock, but when the murder is actually committed, it sees 7:55.
The gloves will never be found, of course, because they would not have the person Alan is framing’s fingerprints on them and how could that be explained?
During the trial, in cross examination, Diane (the prosecutor) uses the word "ingenius" to refer to Alan. That's the same word used by the women in the bar and, of course, it's the same word used by his lover on the beach.
...At the beach, Alan opened his eyes. A woman hands him a drink. He looks at the crinkled photograph of her. “This was my only picture of you. After she found it, she made it clear that I was going to pay for it and then she wadded it up and threw it in the trash.” “So, instead, you ingeniously made her pay” quipped the woman. “…Yes, I did, Diane. Yes, I did.”
If this were a film, the camera pans back to see both Alan and his accomplice… Diane, the prosecutor.
Alan skims a sand dollar across the shallow waves. As though savoring its decent, it rocks back and forth through the crystal clear water gently gliding to a stop on the white sand just below the surface. Finally, it nestles right next to something shiny, something sparkling in the summer sun, something gold.
If the story is told right, it isn’t until the final courtroom scene in which the reader starts to realize they've been had. That pivotal point is capped off when he takes his ring off and puts it in his pocket. And, of course, the symbolism of the ring and what it meant (opposite of what the reader thought it meant – that he couldn’t live without his wife) – was that he felt imprisoned by it. Finally, the audience gets it. The symbolism of the ring is taken to the very last paragraph, the last sentence, the last word - discarded “gold”.