You’re about to see double, and not just because we’re talking about a movie with twins. The Parent Trap (1998), in addition to being one of my favorite films, is an example of Cinematic Chiasmus. That means that the first half of the film mirrors the second half perfectly. It’s so beautiful once you see it. And that is what we’re going to do. So prepare to get the 411 on how The Parent Trap is a doubly symmetrical film.
This is a summary of the chiasmus in the movie’s story structure:
A. Nick Parker and Elizabeth James get married aboard the Queen Elizabeth II
B. Hallie Parker arrives at camp in Maine, but she doesn’t notice when Annie James also shows up
C. Annie and Hallie decline the offer of strawberries and don’t meet at the mess hall
D. Emerging victorious in a fencing match, Annie meets Hallie for the first time
E. Annie jumps into a lake after laying her cards on the table and coming up short
F. Annie and Hallie prank each other, climaxing in a nighttime raid on Annie’s cabin
G. Annie and Hallie march to an isolation cabin
H. Annie and Hallie put the torn halves of a picture together to discover the truth about their shared parentage
I. Annie and Hallie spend weeks preparing to switch places
J. Hallie meets her mother for the first time since she was a baby
K. Elizabeth brings Hallie to work, and they talk about Hallie’s father
L. Annie meets her father for the first time since she was a baby
M. Chessy meets Annie, thinking she’s Hallie
N. Annie meets Meredith Blake
O. Annie inquires about Meredith’s and Nick’s ages
P. Meredith lies about Nick, and Annie tries to break up their relationship
Q. Annie calls Hallie, and Hallie refuses to tell her mother the truth
R. Chessy’s suspicions grow after a strange breakfast with Annie
S. Nick talks to Annie about her mother and Meredith
T. Nick tries to tell Annie he’s engaged to Meredith, but she runs away
U. Annie gets surprised by Chessy when she appears unexpectedly
U. Annie shocks Chessy by revealing who she really is
T. Nick tells Annie he’s engaged to Meredith, and she runs away
S. Meredith threatens Annie once she becomes her stepmother
R. Hallie’s grandfather suspects she’s not Annie after a wine tasting
Q. Hallie calls Annie and promises to tell her mother the truth
P. Meredith deceives Nick, while Annie and Hallie try to get their parents back together
O. Nick asks Annie for assurance that he doesn’t look too old
N. Hallie meets Meredith
M. Elizabeth meets Meredith, not realizing she’s Nick’s fiancé
L. Nick realizes he’s been with Annie since she arrived in California
K. Annie and Hallie bring their parents to a harbor to be together
J. Nick and Elizabeth reunite on a boat for the first time since their wedding
I. Nick and Elizabeth are unable to distinguish Annie and Hallie
H. Elizabeth tricks Meredith into going on a hike by telling her the girls will be half hers soon
G. Annie, Hallie, Nick, and Meredith hike to a secluded lake
F. Annie and Hallie prank Meredith, climaxing in a nighttime raid on Meredith in her tent
E. Meredith falls into a lake and then lays her cards on the table and loses
D. Emerging victorious, Annie and Hallie return home with Nick sans Meredith
C. Nick and Elizabeth fail to drink a special wine, and then Elizabeth leaves with Annie
B. Annie and Elizabeth arrive in London and are shocked to find Nick and Hallie there
A. Nick and Elizabeth remarry aboard the Queen Elizabeth II
Are you seeing double? That’s okay. We’ll doublecheck that this all works exactly how I outlined by closely examining each of these points below.
A. Royal Wedding
As the opening credits roll, we see a montage of shots aboard the Queen Elizabeth II cruise ship in 1986. Nick Parker meets Elizabeth James, and they get married. It ends with a picture of the two smiling at each other.
As the end credits roll, we see a recreation of that picture aboard the Queen Elizabeth II in 1998. Then we see other pictures of their wedding celebration. Elizabeth’s butler proposes to Nick’s nanny, and she accepts.
As numerous girls excitedly arrive at Camp Walden in Maine, Hallie Parker suddenly pops up and meets new friends. Little does she realize that her twin Annie James is also arriving in a limousine. Her butler Martin gives Annie a tearful farewell hug before being driven back to the airport.
As Elizabeth and Annie somberly arrive home in London, Hallie suddenly shows up in her beloved grandfather’s study. Elizabeth is even more stunned when she realizes Nick is with her. She sheds many tears as Nick approaches her and embraces her, symbolizing the return of their love.
C. No Sweet Treat
Annie and Hallie are just about to meet in their camp’s mess hall, but the camp director comes between them. She offers them strawberries, but they both decline because they’re allergic. They leave without seeing each other.
Nick and Elizabeth are just about to kiss in his wine cellar, but his nanny Chessy arrives and interrupts them. He had offered Elizabeth a special wine from their wedding, which he would only drink with her. They leave without drinking it.
After losing a fencing match, Hallie pulls Annie down into a water trough. They climb out. Annie is declared the winner, and she turns and is shocked to see her long-lost twin sister for the first time. The two butt heads almost immediately.
After losing to the twins, Meredith Blake throws her engagement ring at Nick. He drives his daughters home. Nick grounds them, though he secretly softens as he tells Elizabeth he’ll need to thank them one day. He then reconnects with his ex-wife.
E. A Losing Hand
Annie and Hallie play a high-stakes game of poker in the middle of the night, and Hallie suggests the loser jump into a lake butt naked. Annie is forced to take the plunge. She literally lays her cards on the table and comes up short against Hallie’s superior hand.
Meredith wakes up in the middle of a lake after Annie and Hallie played a prank on her the previous night. She falls into the lake. Then she figuratively lays her cards on the table to Nick and loses because he chooses his daughters over her.
F. Nighttime Prank
Hallie is exhausted after a long morning of camp activities. She doesn’t realize what Annie has done to prevent her from resting. All the beds are on the roof of her cabin, and so is her beloved stuffed animal Cuppy, which she can’t stand to be without. That night, Hallie and her friends retaliate by sneaking into Annie’s cabin and setting up numerous traps. Eventually, the traps backfire when the camp directors get doused in chocolate and feathers.
Meredith is exhausted in the midst of a long hike. She doesn’t realize that Annie has been putting heavy rocks in her backpack to tire her out. Annie places a lizard on her water bottle, giving her a good scare, especially when she can’t seem to get away from it. That night, the twins continue to play pranks on Meredith, culminating in their sneaking into her tent and pulling her mattress out. She almost wakes up and ruins their surprise, but she falls back asleep and they manage to get her out to the lake.
G. Take a Hike
Accompanied by all their campmates, Annie and Hallie are forced to march to an isolation cabin. It’s a punishment, and the two girls are dreading staying together.
Accompanied by Nick and Meredith, Annie and Hallie happily hike to a secluded lake. It’s a Parker family tradition, and Meredith is the only one dreading the experience.
H. Two Halves
Annie and Hallie are distraught to be spending time together in the isolation cabin. They can’t seem to get along at all until Annie joins Hallie in shutting a window against a sudden breeze. Annie and Hallie are shocked when they learn that they have the same birthday, and they’re even more shocked when they realize Annie only has a mother and Hallie only has a father. They each pull out a picture of their other parent, who they’ve never met, and put the two halves together revealing the picture of their parents on the night they got married in 1986.
Meredith is distraught at the thought of her fiancé spending time alone with his ex-wife at a lake. She admits that to Elizabeth, who agrees and encourages her to join them on the hike. Annie and Hallie are shocked to learn that Meredith is coming with them, and they’re even more shocked when their mother declines to join them on their hike. Meredith tries to pull out, too, but Elizabeth tells her she needs to get to know the twins better because they’ll be half hers once she marries Nick next week.
I. Let’s Switch Places
Late at night, Annie and Hallie lie down next to each other in bed and talk about the fact that their parents never remarried. Hallie suggests they switch places to get to know their estranged parents better. They’ll trick their parents into getting back together when they reveal that they’re not who their parents thought they were. So they spend weeks changing their appearance and mannerisms to be impossible to tell apart.
Early in the morning, Nick and Elizabeth check out of their hotel and talk about how they’ll share their daughters. Annie and Hallie approach them dressed in a way that makes them hard to distinguish. They demand to go on a hike together, and then they’ll reveal which twin is which. Nick spends a few moments examining each girl closely, but they have so effectively disguised themselves that it’s impossible to tell them apart.
J. Hallie’s Homecoming
Martin meets Hallie after she gets off the airplane, and he takes her home to meet her mother. Hallie first meets her grandfather when she arrives home. She embraces her mother. Elizabeth notices all of the changes to her daughter’s appearance after their long separation. Hallie looks around her mother’s room, admiring all of the beautiful things in it. Elizabeth asks her daughter if it’s okay if they change plans and go to her shop to solve a pressing problem.
Hallie introduces Nick and Elizabeth to the ship where they’re going to have dinner together. Annie admits that their grandfather mostly paid for it. Martin and Chessy greet them as their servers. Annie and Hallie excuse themselves to let their parents have some time alone. Nick looks around and realizes the girls have recreated the Queen Elizabeth II. The parents spend time commiserating about the past and trying to figure out a plan to address the present problem.
K. Going to Work
Before entering Elizabeth’s shop, Hallie admires one of her wedding dresses and says that she would look perfect in it. A photographer and model are clueless about what to do about a veil. Elizabeth asks for Hallie’s help picking a hat to use in the photoshoot. Afterwards, Hallie presses her mother for information and learns that she met Nick aboard the Queen Elizabeth II.
While waiting outside their hotel, Nick is stunned to see Elizabeth wearing a dress Martin had told her she’d look perfect in. Nick and Elizabeth are clueless about where their daughters plan to take them. Nick asks Hallie if they’re having dinner on a dock. She tells him that they’re going aboard a ship to eat, and it turns out the girls decorated it to look like the Queen Elizabeth II.
L. Annie and Her Father Meet
Nick happily watches as his daughter appears from inside an airplane in Napa, California. Annie is filled with emotion, and Nick welcomes her home as she hurries over to him. She embraces him for the first time, but he doesn’t realize she is Annie. As they walk together, Nick asks her if he cut himself shaving. Driving home, Annie hints at meeting her twin, and she gets ecstatic when she sees Nick’s home.
Nick excitedly watches as his ex-wife appears at the pool of the Stafford Hotel in San Francisco. He falls into a pool in his hurry to walk over to her. He sees both of his daughters and first embraces Annie, realizing he hasn’t had Hallie this whole time. As the girls walk away together, Elizabeth helps Nick with a cut above his eye. Driving the shock home, Meredith gets surprised when she sees both twins at the same time.
M. Like Mother Like Daughter
Chessy happily greets Annie at Nick’s home, unaware of the fact that she isn’t Hallie. In addition, Annie doesn’t realize that a mysterious woman Nick wants to introduce her to is actually his fiancé.
Elizabeth accidentally meets Meredith at a bar, unaware of the fact that she’s Nick’s fiancé. In addition, Meredith doesn’t realize that Elizabeth (who is making her wedding dress) is Nick’s ex-wife.
N. The Twins Meet Meredith
Annie looks through her bedroom window to catch brief glimpses of Nick flirting with a mysterious woman she’s never seen before. She walks downstairs and outside Nick’s home where she is introduced to Meredith Blake.
Nick goes down to the lobby, and right after he exits the elevator he’s greeted by Hallie, who hasn’t seen him in several months. She goes back to the elevator where Meredith walks out, and Hallie meets her for the first time.
O. Young and Old
Annie asks Meredith how old she is, and she says she’s 26. Then Annie asks her dad how old he is, and Nick nervously changes the subject before leaving in a hurry.
Nick asks Annie to keep an eye on Meredith for him, which she agrees to do. Then he asks her to reassure him that he doesn’t look to old, and she says he looks young and fab as he leaves in a hurry.
P. Plotting About Nick
Meredith lies on the phone to a reverend about Nick being out of the country. Annie jumps into a pool, making Meredith cry out as she gets drenched from the splash. Then Annie tries to sabotage Meredith’s budding romantic relationship with Nick because she wants him to get back together with Elizabeth.
Meredith tells her parents about her devious plans for Nick as he arrives at their hotel. Hallie’s dog Sammy jumps through a luggage carrier, making Martin gasp in surprise. Then Annie and Hallie tell their mom about their plan to rekindle her relationship with Nick to stop him from marrying Meredith.
Q. Twin Phone Calls
In response to a phone call from Annie, Hallie sneaks into a nearby closet to talk and avoid having anyone hear her conversation. Annie begs Hallie to tell the truth to their mother and bring her to California immediately. But Hallie refuses to do that and hangs up. When she leaves the closet, Martin, Elizabeth, and her grandfather are waiting. She lies and doesn’t tell them anything. So they all stay in London.
In response to a fax from Annie, Hallie runs to a faraway phonebooth to call Annie and avoid having anyone hear her conversation. Annie once again begs Hallie to come to California immediately. This time, Hallie agrees to do that and hangs up. When she leaves the phonebooth, she bumps into her grandfather. She tells him the truth, and then she tells her mother, too. So Elizabeth and Annie prepare to leave London with Martin.
R. Relative Suspicions
Chessy is surprised when Annie doesn’t appear to enjoy any of Hallie’s favorite foods. Chessy tells her that her father wants to see her in his office, so she takes a bite of breakfast and rushes away. But she raises even more suspicion when she tries to open the door the wrong way.
Elizabeth and Grandfather are surprised when Hallie shows an expert knowledge of wine tasting, which Annie never has before. Hallie sees a fax demanding she call Annie, causing her to take a nasty fall. She raises even more suspicion when she uses the wrong words as she rushes away.
S. Meredith Talk
Nick tries to have a heart-to-heart with Annie about Meredith, but Annie trips him up by wanting to talk about her mother. Nick strongly implies that Meredith is going to be her mother. Then Meredith secretly admits she’s going to ship Annie to boarding school once she marries Nick.
Meredith tries to have a heart-to-heart with Annie about marrying Nick, but Annie trips her up by showing that she sees through her lies. Annie strongly implies that she thinks Meredith just wants Nick’s money. Then Meredith openly declares she’s going to make Annie’s life miserable once she marries Nick.
T. Nick’s News
After riding their horses a long way, Nick stops to ask Annie what she thinks of Meredith. She responds noncommittally and asks why it matters. Before he can tell her why it matters, she explodes away on her horse, leaving him frustrated and in the dust.
After finding Annie back at his house, Nick sits her down to ask her what she thinks of making Meredith a part of their family. She responds enthusiastically, saying she’s always wanted a big sister. When he tells her that he’s actually going to marry Meredith, Annie explodes in anger before leaving him with a migraine.
U. Turning Point
The turning point comes when Annie runs to Nick’s house. She cries out her woes and is shocked when Chessy appears from behind a chair. Chessy lays out all the ways she’s been acting strangely, and Annie denies everything. But then Chessy starts to walk away before stating the one name she doesn’t want to say. She is stopped dead when Annie says, “It’s almost as if I were Annie?”
Chessy turns around and asks how she knows that name, and Annie responds, “I am Annie.” Nick walks in, stopping Annie dead, and asks why Chessy is looking at her so strangely, and Chessy denies doing anything out of the ordinary. But then she walks right up to Annie and joyfully hugs her, realizing who she really is. She cries as she asks what food to make for Annie to cheer her up, and then she walks out to the kitchen.
I can’t take full credit for this Cinematic Chiasmus article once again. Not because Jordan inspired it, even though he did suggest the last four ones: Tron, Escape from New York, Dreamscape, and Akira.
No, this idea came from my 12-year-old son. He recognized that The Parent Trap begins and ends aboard the Queen Elizabeth II cruise ship, and he asked me to take a closer look at it. I did, and the results are absolutely stunning. I had a lot of fun reading him my rough outline of this chiasmus. Seeing each connection click in his mind was so gratifying.
So this article has been a family affair. A labor of love, even. I hope it makes you love The Parent Trap even more because I certainly do.
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
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Want to Support the Deja Reviewer?
If you’d like to support the Deja Reviewer, please consider donating a few dollars to keep this site going strong. I’ll even send you an original joke if you do! Try it, and prepare to enjoy a good chuckle.