The smaller reveals of Third Person are frustratingly vague: Anna’s other lover is her father, apparently, though no further explanation is given than a mournful, literally phoned-in “Goodbye, daddy.” Monika has been scamming Sean all along and doesn’t have a child, which explains her willingness to fall into bed with him, in a Perfect Stranger too-little-far-too-late kind of way; her calculation makes their relationship more comprehensible, but not much less revolting.
But the big reveal, which strongly suggests the New York and Rome plots are all just stories Neeson is writing, incorporating parts of his own life, is profoundly clumsy. Haggis seems to mean to leave some things to the audience’s imagination, such as whether these two stories are part of one novel he was writing, or they represent different books that he abandoned in order to tell Anna’s story (without her permission, and to her utter horror) instead. But he leaves the film with an incomprehensible clutter of contradictory, irreconcilable moments and images, all revolving around a central question: If his trusted agent thinks the work he’s been doing recently is unsupportable, embarrassing hackwork, why are audiences supposed to care about seeing these stories onscreen? The idea that Sean and Monika’s story, and Julia and Rick’s, are both fictional explains some of the ways they feel artificially narratively stacked and designed against the characters, and why they go in such broad directions. But seeing them as discarded works from a man who’s all but lost his creative edge doesn’t strengthen the movie, it just fatally undermines it.