Twister
Photo: Partial of the movie poster

Jan de Bont’s ‘Twister’ Wreaks Havoc for 25 Years

In the 25 years since Jan de Bont released Twister, it has not stopped tearing through my life. This is my devastating love story.

Twister
Jan de Bont
Warner Bros. | Universal Pictures | United International Pictures
10 May 1996 (US)

The Eye of F5

de Bont got to practice directing action flicks in 1994’s Speed, but his actual test run for Twister was as the director of photography on the Bruce Willis classic, Die Hard (1988), where de Bont mastered drawing attention to the guileless action of a man against the odds, but also showcased that wise-cracking, Bruce Willis attitude. You can imagine the close-up on Twister‘s Bill, the last great cowboy meteorological field scientist, as the final tornado swallows up his truck and Dorothy says, “yippie kay yay, mother ******” to the F5. Sadly, this does not happen. Bill does, however, get to make a meta-textual comment on people who talk about characters in films by simply using the names of the actors playing them: Bill Paxton = Bill Harding.

Hunt gets to do exciting work as Jo (Joanne) Greene, if we are to believe Lois Smith’s Aunt Meg is her paternal aunt. Jo’s whole name is never said in the film, but her presumably well-earned title, Dr., makes Twister a rather progressive film in its portrayal of women in STEM-field positions. She’s smart, she intimidates men with her passion for her work, she takes control of the situation.

Reading down the call sheet the stars keep coming. Twister features Alan Ruck as Robert ‘Rabbit’ Nurick. He’s far less nervous here than his take on Cameron in John Hughes‘ 1986 film about vehicle safety, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. The aformentioned Cary Elwes plays a villain! Who wears a beige dad-hat! Does corporate kiss-butt! Phillip freakin’ Seymour freakin’ Hoffman drives a van called the BARN BURNER! and blasts Deep Purple’s “Child in Time” while driving toward a tornado.

You also get Gary Busey’s son Jake, who plays the “Mobile Lab Technician” and brings his father’s signature intensity to the role; pre-Spy Kids fame (Roberto Rodriguez, 2001) Alexa Vega as Young Jo and; Anthony Rapp – while playing Mark during RENT’s original Broadway run – as another technician in Jonas Miller’s crew.

Members of the cast seem to share my (and other obsessed fans’) love for Twister. There’s the Twister Movie Museum in Wakita, Oklahoma, which features memorabilia, props, autographed goods, and a whole lot of other stuff a Twister fan might want to peruse. To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the film, at the Twister Movie Museum actors Sean Whalen (who played Allan Sanders) and Wendle Josepher (who played Haynes) joined fans for photo-ops and signings. The fans joined them in a heart-melting sing-along version of “Oklahoma!” from the Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical of the same name, an homage to the second-best scene of the film, where Haynes and other members of Jo’s crew sings the song into the CB radio.

At its heart, Twister is an action-horror-disaster-romantic-drama picture that’s about friendship. The first chase of the film, which patiently takes 20 minutes to arrive, has already set up the band of misfits. They jovially follow Jo’s passion and Bill’s charisma into a storm. This scene best encapsulates how Twister can capture the mind of its viewers. There’s something infectious about that chaotic sing along as a roaring adventure speeds toward them.

This reminds me of a long road trip through the heartland I took a few years ago. (Michigan to Kansas, and back, one weekend, woooof). As a survival tool while driving and some post-lucid entertainment for my four companions, we played Twister from my iPhone, which I save 1.5 gigabytes of space to have the movie with me anywhere, anytime, through the aux port. It was late February, and also the middle of the night, and during each scene featuring a tornado I’d roll the windows down and turn the volume up. Poor Mark, who had fallen asleep, literally thought we were caught in a twister. Supposedly it wasn’t funny or cool that I could (and did) say the dialogue for the whole movie half a beat before the characters did, but I could tell my passengers were impressed.

I’m sure I’m not the only person who feels that a film was made specifically for them. I’m sure I’m not even the only person that feels that way about Twister. But is my favorite, and because of this, its qualities have only become more obvious to me over these last 25 years. The faithful have no trouble being evangelists about their faith.

Granted, Twister was nominated for Academy Awards in Sound and Visual Effects and lost to Anthony Minghella‘s The English Patient and Independence Day, respectively. Twister did win a BAFTA for Best Special Visual Effects, which makes sense, because even 25 years later those tornadoes look real as hell. Mancina also won a BMI Film Music award for his score, and the scene where Bill and Joe careen through various farm equipment being thrown at them by the F5 won a Best Action Sequence MTV Movie Award.

Sadly, The Sinkers Bad Movie Awards awarded Jami Gertz their coveted prize for Worst Supporting Actress and the film for Worst Screenplay Grossing Over $100M Worldwide. It isn’t like Twister is some great secret for the enlightened.

More important than the awards Twister has been rightly lauded (other than Gertz’s Stinker – her performance was simply too nuanced for that institution to recognize, no wonder they folded in 2007) is what Twister can provide its individual viewers, and that, friends, is faith.


I’ve held off discussing the final moments of the film until these final paragraphs because it’s a tough scene for people to take in. The strongest kind of tornado–-an F5, which is earlier referred to as the “finger of god”–is bearing down on Bill and Jo during their moment of triumph. They run through a maze of death until the find a well-house with a pump in it, and Bill, ever the cowboy, grabs two leather belts which he affixes to himself and Jo in a loop around some plumbing.

“These pipes go down twenty feet, if we anchor to it we might have a chance.”

Then, this tornado, which earlier was described as being a mile wide, crosses directly over them. It shreds the wooden walls of the well-house like wet paper. Earlier, it had eaten a semi-truck, their former colleague Jonas, Bill’s new pickup truck, and miles of cornfields. None of the debris strikes our heroes. Dust nor wood nor wind eviscerates their faces. They do not suffocate. They are not torn out of their flesh. Their clothes are not ripped to pieces.

Instead, Bill’s guile and Jo’s passion protect them. The tornado recognizes their worth and dissipates while they are gently rocked in the eye of the storm. Where their bodies had been lifted from the ground they are now returned to earth and sprinkled with water from the still-firm pipe they are afixed to and the sun shines from a freshly cleared sky. Our heroes fall into an old routine: they argue, they regard their friends around them, and they kiss.

Is it so hard to believe they wouldn’t get torn to shreds by the tornado? Maybe. But isn’t it hard to believe in anything? A cynic might let that one moment of scientific incredulity ruin the whole story, butTwister isn’t about physics or natural science. It is about friendship, and obsession, and most of all, love.

In the ending of Twister, we are shown that faith in yourself, passion for your work, and the power of love can save us from any hardship, including a shopping mall sized w.all of debris and wind. If that isn’t something worth obsessing over, please don’t let me know, because it has been a rewarding 25 years.


Additional recommended reading: Kindred spirit Sarah Gailey gives an excellent feminst reading of Twister in “The Futures Tornadoes Want” (Tor.com, 18 July 2018). She compares Hunt with her romantic rival (although no contenst in Bill’s eyes) Jamie Gertz’s Dr. Melissa Reeves.

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