Never try to manipulate a manipulator, because guess what? You just end up getting manipulated.
That's what happens to David Kujan—he thinks he's pressuring Verbal Kint into telling him the truth about what a vicious criminal mastermind Dean Keaton is. But, in reality, something very different is going on.
We discover that certain tactics of manipulation are more useful than others. Kujan comes on very heavy-handed, yelling threats…and that doesn't fly. Verbal, on the other hand, takes a subtle approach—he wants to make Kujan think that he (Kujan) is the manipulator, when he's really the manipulated.
So, if you ever want to manipulate someone, try to be more like Verbal. (Although we don't think that's the #1 lesson you should draw from The Usual Suspects.)
Questions About Manipulation
- How does Kujan try to manipulate Verbal? Why does he fail?
- In the story Verbal tells, do the different criminals attempt to manipulate each other? Explain your answer.
- What's the best way to manipulate someone? Does anyone in the movie use this method?
- Can you manipulate someone in ways that don't involve using words? Does anyone in the movie use any non-verbal forms of manipulation? (Examples from inside the story Verbal tells also count—involving Keaton and the others.)
Chew on This
The Usual Suspects demonstrates that the best way to manipulate someone is to get them to give you their confidence. Kujan doesn't believe Verbal's telling the truth, but he believes Verbal is weak and less intelligent than him—and Verbal allows and encourages him to believe that.
The movie also argues that the threat of brute force is never a good manipulation technique. You have to be subtle—and that's the big difference between Verbal and Kujan.