Kevin Spacey's character Roger "Verbal" Kint is identified as Söze in a police sketch
|First appearance||The Usual Suspects|
|Created by||Christopher McQuarrie|
|Portrayed by||Kevin Spacey|
Scott B. Morgan (flashback)
|Alias||Roger "Verbal" Kint|
|Occupation||Crime lord, con artist|
Keyser Söze (/ / KY-zər SOH-zay) is a fictional character and the main antagonist in the 1995 film The Usual Suspects, written by Christopher McQuarrie and directed by Bryan Singer. According to petty con artist Roger "Verbal" Kint (Kevin Spacey), Söze is a crime lord whose ruthlessness and influence have acquired a legendary, even mythical, status among police and criminals alike. Further events in the story make these accounts unreliable; in a twist ending, a police sketch identifies Kint and Söze as one and the same. The character was inspired by real life murderer John List and the spy thriller No Way Out, which featured a shadowy KGB mole who may or may not actually exist.
The character has placed on numerous "best villain" lists over the years, including AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains. Spacey won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, turning him from a character actor into a star. Since the release of the film, the character has become synonymous with infamous criminals. Analysis of the character has focused on the ambiguity of his true identity and whether he even exists inside the story's reality. Though the filmmakers have preferred to leave the character's nature to viewer interpretation, Singer has said he believes Kint and Söze are the same person.
Concept and creation
Director Bryan Singer and writer Christopher McQuarrie originally conceived of The Usual Suspects as five felons meeting in a police line-up. Eventually, a powerful underworld figure responsible for their meeting was added to the plot. McQuarrie combined this plot with another idea of his based on the true story of John List, who murdered his family and started a new life.
The name was based on one of McQuarrie's supervisors, though the last name was changed. 'KS' are also the initials of Kevin Spacey, who played the character. McQuarrie settled on Söze after finding it in a Turkish-language dictionary; it comes from the idiom "söze boğmak", which means "to talk unnecessarily too much and cause confusion" (literally: to drown in words).
Keyser Söze's semi-mythical nature was inspired by Yuri, a rumored KGB mole whose existence nobody can confirm, from the spy thriller No Way Out. Kint was not originally written to be as obviously intelligent; in the script, he was, according to McQuarrie, "presented as a dummy". Spacey and Singer had previously met at a screening for Singer's film Public Access. Spacey requested a role in Singer's next film, and McQuarrie wrote the role of Kint specifically for him. McQuarrie said he wanted audiences to dismiss Kint as a minor character, as Spacey was not yet well-known. Spacey made it more obvious that the character is holding back information, though the depth of his involvement and nature of his secrets remain unrevealed. McQuarrie said that he approved of the changes, as it makes the character "more fascinating".
The Usual Suspects consists mostly of flashbacks narrated by Roger "Verbal" Kint (Kevin Spacey), a con artist with cerebral palsy. Kint was arrested after an apparent drug-related robbery gone wrong resulted in the destruction of a freighter ship and the deaths of nearly everyone onboard. He has been granted immunity from prosecution provided he assists investigators, including Customs Agent David Kujan (Chazz Palminteri), and reveals all details of his involvement with a group of career criminals who are assumed to be responsible for the bloodbath. While Kint is telling his story, Kujan learns the name Keyser Söze from FBI agent Jack Baer (Giancarlo Esposito) and demands Kint tell him what he knows.
According to Kint, Söze began his criminal career as a small-time drug dealer. His legendary persona is born when rival Hungarian gangsters invade his house while he is away, rape his wife, and hold his children hostage. When Söze arrives, the gangsters kill one of his children and demand he surrender his business. Instead, Söze kills his own family and all but one of the Hungarians, who he knows will tell his cohorts what has happened. Once his family is buried, Söze massacres the Hungarian Mafia, killing them, their families, their friends, and even people who owe them money. He then goes underground, never again doing business in person, operating instead through underlings who don't know who they are really working for.
Söze's ruthlessness is legendary; Kint describes him as having had enemies and disloyal henchmen brutally murdered, along with everyone they hold dear, for the slightest infractions. Over the years, his criminal empire flourishes, as does his legend; remarking on Söze's mythical nature, Kint says, "The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist", a line borrowed from Charles Baudelaire.
In Kint’s story, he and the other criminals meet after being jailed on a trumped-up hijacking charge, and go into business together as thieves for hire. After a botched robbery, they are blackmailed by Söze, through Söze's lawyer Kobayashi (Pete Postlethwaite), into destroying a large drug shipment belonging to Söze's Argentinian rivals and being transported by Hungarian mobsters. All but Kint and one of the Hungarians, Arkash Kovash (Morgan Hunter), are killed in the attack. Baer believes there were no drugs on the ship, and the true purpose of the attack was to eliminate a passenger who had made a deal with police that he would identify Söze in order to avoid prison. Kujan confronts Kint with the theory that Söze is one of the four other criminals with whom Verbal had worked: a former corrupt police officer and professional thief named Dean Keaton (Gabriel Byrne). Kujan's investigation of Keaton is what involved him in the case.
In the film’s final scene, it is revealed that the story that Kint had told Kujan is a fabrication, made up of strung-together details culled from a crowded bulletin board in a messy office. Kovash describes Söze to a sketch artist: the drawing faxed in to the police resembles none other than Verbal Kint. Kujan realizes the truth and pursues Kint, who has already been released, his limp gone. Kujan misses Kint by moments as the latter gets into a car, driven by "Kobayashi".
Reception and legacy
A. O. Scott of The New York Times called Keyser Söze the "perfect postmodern sociopath", and Quentin Curtis of The Independent described him as "the most compelling creation in recent American film". Jason Bailey of The Atlantic identified the role as turning Kevin Spacey from a character actor to a star. Kevin Spacey received the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance.
The character placed 48th in the American Film Institute's "AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains" in June 2003. Time placed him at #10 on their list of most memorably named film characters and #5 in best pop culture gangsters. Entertainment Weekly ranked the character #37 in their list of the 100 greatest characters of the past twenty years, #6 in "most vile villains", and #12 in the best heroes and villains. Ask Men ranked him #6 in their list of top ten film villains. Total Film ranked him #37 in their best villains  and #40 in best characters overall. MSN ranked him #4 in their list of the 13 most menacing villains. Empire ranked him #41 in their "100 Greatest Movie Characters" poll.
In an interview with Metro Silicon Valley, Pete Postlethwaite quoted Bryan Singer as saying that all the characters are Söze. When asked point blank whether his character is Söze, Postlethwaite said, "Who knows? Nobody knows. That's what's good about The Usual Suspects." Spacey has also been evasive about his character's true identity. In an interview with Total Film, he said, "That's for the audience to decide. My job is to show up and do a part – I don't own the audience's imagination." Singer said the film is ambiguous about most of the character's details, but the fax sent at the end of the film proves in his mind that Kint is Söze.
Bryan Enk, writing for UGO, states that the myth-making story of Söze's origins is a classic ghost story that would be right at home in horror fiction. Writing about psychopaths in film, academic Wayne Wilson explicitly compares Söze to Satan and assigns to him demonic motives. Wilson states that Söze allows himself to be caught just to prove his superiority over the police; this compromises his ultimate goal of anonymity, but Söze cannot resist the urge to show off and create mischief. In The Journal of Nietzsche Studies, Lewis Call states that Söze's mythological status draws the ire of the authoritarian government agents because he "represents a terrifying truth: that power is ephemeral, and has no basis in reality." According to Call, Söze's intermediaries – the "usual suspects" themselves – are more useful to the police, as they represent an easily controlled and intimidated criminal underworld, in direct contrast to Söze himself.
Hanna M. Roisman compares Kint to Odysseus, capable of adapting both his personality and his tales to his current audience. Throughout his tale, Kint adapts his confession to Kujan's revealed biases. Roisman draws direct parallels to Odysseus' tales to the Phaeacians: like Odysseus, Kint allows his audience to define him and his narrative. Appealing to Kujan's arrogance, Kint allows himself to be outwitted, humiliated, and broken by his interrogator; Kint further invents a mythical villain that he credulously believes in and gives Kujan the privileged perspective of the skeptic. Kint thus creates a neo-noir thriller inside of a neo-noir thriller and demonstrates the artificiality of storytelling. Benjamin Widiss identifies post-structural elements to the film, such as the lack of a clear protagonist throughout much of the film. This extends to ambiguity over Kint's role as author or reader, and whether he is Kint pretending to be Söze or the reverse.
Söze was also subject to detailed fan analysis and debate. Fans contacted Singer personally and quizzed him on explanations for the film's complicated plot. Fan theories about Söze's identity became a popular topic on Internet forums. After the film's festival premiere, the ambiguity of Söze's identity and how to pronounce his name were used in the film's marketing. Pronunciation had previously been an issue for distributor Gramercy Pictures, who used, "Who is Keyser Söze?" to demonstrate both proper pronunciation and stoke speculation. The ad campaign was later highlighted by Entertainment Weekly as "question of the year" for 1995.
In popular culture
Since the release of the film, the name "Keyser Söze" has become synonymous with a feared, elusive person nobody has met. In June 2001, Time referred to Osama bin Laden as "a geopolitical Keyser Söze, an omnipresent menace whose very name invokes perils far beyond his capability". In the episode "The Puppet Show" of the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a character asks, "Does anyone else feel like they've been Keyser Söze'd?", referring to a sense of having been definitively manipulated and outmaneuvered. In 1996, punk band Link 80 used the character as the basis of the opening song (titled "Verbal Kint") on their debut album 17 Reasons. In his 1999 review of Fight Club, which was generally negative, film critic Roger Ebert commented, "A lot of recent films seem unsatisfied unless they can add final scenes that redefine the reality of everything that has gone before; call it the Keyser Söze syndrome." During episode six of the first season of Billions, the character "Dollar" Bill Stearn invokes Keyser Söze's name when metaphorically "murdering" his own family. In the third season of the American comedy fantasy show The Good Place, main character Eleanor Shellstrop talks about her mother, saying “When the time comes, she will rip this guy off and disappear like Keyser Söze—right after he admitted to groping all those people,” making a veiled reference to the sexual misconduct allegations against Kevin Spacey.
- Mottram, James (2006). The Sundance Kids: How the Mavericks Took Back Hollywood (1st American paperback ed.). NY: Faber and Faber, Inc. pp. 115–116. ISBN 0865479674.
- Anastasia, George; MacNow, Glen (2011). "Chapter 9: The Usual Suspects". The Ultimate Book of Gangster Movies: Featuring the 100 Greatest Gangster Films of All Time. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Running Press. ISBN 9780762443703.
- Hoad, Phil (January 4, 2016). "How we made The Usual Suspects". The Guardian. London, England: Guardian Media Group. Retrieved February 27, 2016.
- Spirou, Penny (2014). ""I'm Not a Celebrity. That's Not a Profession. I'm an actor": Kevin Spacey from The Usual Suspects (1995) to Beyond the Sea (2004)". In Barlow, Arthur J. (ed.). Star Power: The Impact of Branded Celebrity. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO. p. 143. ISBN 9780313396182.
- Snider, Eric D. (August 16, 2015). "14 Unusual Facts About 'The Usual Suspects'". Mental Floss. New York City: Dennis Publishing. Retrieved March 28, 2016.
- Enk, Bryan (October 1, 2009). "The Usual Suspects: The Legend of Keyser Soze". UGO Networks. New York City: IGN Entertainment. Archived from the original on September 26, 2011. Retrieved July 10, 2013.
- Baudelaire, Le Joueur Généreux, where the Devil recounts to a gambler that he has even heard a preacher (plus subtil que ses confrères) cry: "Mes chers frères, n'oubliez jamais, quand vous entendrez vanter le progrès des lumières, que la plus belle des ruses du diable est de vous persuader qu'il n'existe pas!" French text on Wikisource Neither McQuarrie nor Singer realized this at the time and included it after hearing others paraphrase the quotation.
- Scott, A. O. (October 21, 2011). "Bad Times on Wall Street, Boom Times for Kevin Spacey". New York Times. New York City: New York Times Company. Retrieved July 10, 2013.
- Curtis, Quentin (August 27, 1995). "Confused? You Will Be". The Independent. London, England: Independent Print Ltd. Retrieved July 10, 2013.
- Bailey, Jason (October 17, 2012). "Keyser Söze's Big Break: The Roles That Made Character Actors Into Stars". The Atlantic. Washington DC: Emerson Collective. Retrieved July 10, 2013.
- Grimes, William (March 26, 1996). "Gibson Best Director for 'Braveheart,' Best Film". New York Times. New York City: New York Times Company. Retrieved July 17, 2013.
- "AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes and Villains". American Film Institute. Retrieved March 19, 2010.
- "Top 10 Memorable Movie-Character Names". Time. New York City: Meredith Corporation. January 22, 2012. Retrieved July 10, 2013.
- Webley, Kayla (September 17, 2010). "Top 10 Pop-Culture Gangsters". Time. New York City: Meredith Corporation. Retrieved December 10, 2019.
- Vary, Adam B. (June 1, 2010). "The 100 Greatest Characters of the Last 20 Years: Here's our full list!". Entertainment Weekly. New York City: Meredith Corporation. Retrieved July 10, 2013.
- Harris, Annika (July 19, 2012). "50 Most Vile Movie Villains: 6. Keyser Söze". Entertainment Weekly. New York City: Meredith Corporation. Retrieved July 10, 2013.
- "Good Guys vs. Bad Guys: Who Wins?". Entertainment Weekly. New York City: Meredith Corporation. June 7, 2010. Retrieved July 10, 2013.
- Simpson, Matthew. "Top 10: Movie Villains". Ask Men. Montreal, Canada: Ziff Davis Media. Retrieved July 10, 2013.
- BANG Showbiz (November 26, 2007). "Top Heroes and Villains Named in Movie List". News.com.au. Retrieved July 10, 2013.
- "The Total Film Top 100 Movie Characters Of All Time – 50 to 26". Total Film. September 28, 2007. Retrieved July 10, 2013.
- Hunter, Melissa (July 12, 2010). "Hollywood's 13 Most Menacing Villains". MSN. Archived from the original on July 16, 2010. Retrieved July 10, 2013.
- "The 100 Greatest Movie Characters". Empire. London, England: Bauer Media Group. Retrieved December 8, 2008.
- von Busack, Richard (May 29, 1997). "Unusual Suspect". Metro Silicon Valley. San Jose, California: Metro Newspapers. Retrieved July 10, 2013.
- "The Total Film Interview – Kevin Spacey". Total Film. Somerset, England: Future plc. December 1, 2004. Retrieved July 10, 2013.
- Staskiewicz, Keith (August 18, 2015). "Bryan Singer remembers The Usual Suspects on its 20th anniversary". Entertainment Weekly. New York City: Meredith Corporation. Retrieved February 26, 2016.
- Wilson, Wayne (1999). The Psychopath in Film. Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America. pp. 251–255. ISBN 0-7618-1317-9.
- Call, Lewis (Spring 2001). "Toward an Anarchy of Becoming: Postmodern Anarchism in Nietzschean Philosophy". The Journal of Nietzsche Studies. University Park, Pennsylvania: Penn State University Press (21): 52–53. JSTOR 20717753.
- Roisman, Hanna M. (2001). "Verbal Odysseus: Narrative Strategy in The Odyssey and The Usual Suspects". In Winkler, Martin M. (ed.). Classical Myth & Culture in the Cinema. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. pp. 51–54, 63–68. ISBN 9780195351569.
- Widiss, Benjamin (2011). "Seven and The Usual Suspects". Obscure invitations The Persistence of the Author in Twentieth-Century American Literature. Palo Alto, California: Stanford University Press. pp. 156–157. ISBN 0804773238.
- Gordinier, Jeff (September 29, 1995). "Behind the scenes: The Usual Suspects". Entertainment Weekly. New York City: Meredith Corporation. Retrieved February 26, 2016.
- Barrett, Annie (June 26, 2010). "1995: A Special Year?". Entertainment Weekly. New York City: Meredith Corporation. Retrieved February 26, 2016.
- Griggs, Brandon (August 17, 2015). "Why Keyser Söze still rules, 20 years later". CNN. Atlanta, Georgia: Turner Broadcasting Systems. Retrieved February 26, 2016.
- Karon, Tony (June 20, 2001). "Bin Laden Rides Again: Myth vs. Reality". Time. New York City: Meredith Corporation. Retrieved December 11, 2019.
- Adams, Michael (2003). Slayer Slang: A Buffy the Vampire Slayer Lexicon. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. p. 193. ISBN 0-19-517599-9.
- Punknews.org. "Link 80 - 17 Reasons". www.punknews.org. Retrieved May 11, 2017.
- "Link 80 – Verbal Kint". Retrieved May 11, 2017.
- Ebert, Roger (October 15, 1999). "Fight Club". Chicago Sun-Times. Chicago, Illinois: Sun-Times Media Group. Retrieved July 17, 2013 – via rogerebert.com.
- Tallerico, Brian (February 11, 2016). "Billions Recap: Scorched Earth". Vulture.com. New York City: New York Media. Retrieved June 11, 2017.
- Adams, Erik (January 11, 2018). "The Good Place, annotated: "A Fractured Inheritance"". AV/TV club. Retrieved December 13, 2018.
|Wikiquote has quotations related to: Keyser Söze|