Not so long ago, I wrote an editorial for this site more or less advocating no spoilers, even for those films that we assume everyone has seen (Psycho, The Empire Strikes Back, The Crying Game, etc.). And I stand by that. But I want to protest, dear reader! I want to make a qualifying statement! I want to (kind of) change my mind.
I’ve noticed in recent months – and maybe this is just me being sensitive and grouchy – that more and more folks in the blogosphere/twitterworld/internetz complain about the presence of spoilers in film reviews. This was particularly prolific around the release of The Avengers and now of Prometheus. Everybody seems a wee bit worried that someone, somewhere, will spoil their experience of these films.
Now, it’s fair enough if you don’t want to know what happens in a particular film. That’s cool. I avoided reading most reviews of The Avengers because I wanted to go into it fresh and feeling like I was seeing something new. And, aside from a few references to shawarma (which I did not understand anyways), there was very little running around my twitter and facebook feeds to ruin my day. But here’s the thing: you could not have spoiled The Avengers for me. There were no big twists, no major surprises, no ‘aha!’ moments. It was a quality action flick with great actors and a pretty straightforward script. What could anyone have possibly told me to ruin it? That Tony Stark makes clever quips? That the Avengers don’t get along at first? That Loki is a bad guy? Seriously: WHAT? Even the weapon thingie wasn’t much of a twist; pretty much par for the course in the superhero world. The film was talked about ad infinitum but, without someone actually telling the entire script, word for word, there’s very little that could have ruined it for me.
It seems that people are getting a wee bit up in arms over reviewers telling salient plot points, as though Roger Ebert recounting the first scene in Prometheus is going to make or break the movie for those who have not seen it. Reviewers are paid (some of them) to watch a movie and pass a critical, more or less objective, judgement on it. It is impossible to write a review that doesn’t reveal some sort of plot point. While I agree that blurting out the ending of a mystery, or the fate of a character, or the crux of the plot is not a nice thing to do, in a review something will be spoiled. You will know at least a portion of the plot before it’s over. Otherwise the reviewer is not doing their job.
All spoilers are not created equal. I find it much more unforgivable if you tell me how a mystery or a thriller ends – i.e. whodunnit – than if you inform me that there’s an alien in Alien that pops out of John Hurt’s stomach. Explaining the ending of Psycho (my pet movie, FYI) is far more spoilerific than explaining the ending of Gone with the Wind, because Psycho turns on its ending. Gone with the Wind does not. Knowing the end of Psycho affects how you view the rest of the film. Same goes for most of Hitchcock: Frenzy, for instance, turns about halfway through in a particularly horrifying manner. Unfortunately most basic plot descriptions tell you the turn, so it’s not nearly as shocking the first time you watch it. But in the end it does not matter, because Frenzy is a brilliant film.
Truly great films are basically spoiler-proof. For instance, I recently saw Kurosawa’s The Bad Sleep Well, which is unfortunately spoilt by the jacket description on both Netflix and the Criterion cover. But it did not matter. The Bad Sleep Well is one of Kurosawa’s best non-samurai works. It was a harrowing experience not because I knew the plot, but because I got to watch how he got there, which in a good film is more pleasurable than just knowing the outcome.
Point being, I guess: chill. If you really, really don’t want to know the plot of a movie, don’t read the reviews before seeing it. While we should be careful how we talk about new releases on twitter or facebook or websites, we need to realize that it’s almost impossible to talk about a movie in any depth without spoiling it for those who have not seen it. And no one’s going to stop talking about movies. We need to be chill, and to realize that most of these films, if they’re worth anything, cannot be spoiled. If the spoiler ruins it for you … maybe it wasn’t all that great to begin with. Oh, and most of them end with a birth, marriage or death. Or shawarma. Just to let you know.