Sunday, 3 February 2013

A word on spoilers

Do not read this post if spoilers terrify you.

In an article about spoilers at BBC's website Andrew Collins was quoted as saying: "I like The Sixth Sense very much, but once you know the twist, and have seen it for the second time, knowing the twist, the film's like a spent match: of no further use."

Once in a hostel in Perth, Western Australia, a few of us were watching Sliding Doors (1997) on TV. A guy entered the room and asked what we were watching. When he was told the title he said "OK, the one where she dies in the end". Another guy, who was among those watching it, got very upset and said "Well, there's no point in watching it now then! Thanks!" and left the room in anger.

What kind of madness is this? So acting, dialogue, emotions, cinematography, music, none of these things matter at all? It is only a plot twist at the end that gives the film any kind of value?

A.O. Scott's review of The Hobbit of last year had in its first paragraph three [spoiler alert]s, a way of making fun of this often bewildering anti-spoiler culture that is rapidly emerging. I sympathise with him. It is true that one pleasure that one can get from a film is being surprised by the story, of being unable to guess what will happen. Seeing Psycho (1960), The Planet of the Apes (1968) or Fight Club (1999) for the first time has a special thrill. But that is but one of many pleasures, and seeing either of these films a second and third time is just as rewarding, and sometimes more so. The films mentioned here also have twists and shocks on a scale that most films have not. In general films are not that surprising, at least not if you pay attention to them. So even if I do not randomly give away the ending to films I still feel that the anti-spoiler culture often takes extreme forms. I have read articles that have been so scared of spoilers that they were unable to exemplify or explain their points, or even failing to specifying what their point was. Surely there is a time and a place for everything and a critical discussion of a film should not be held back due to a fear of spoilers.

The article on BBC I linked to above was about the anger many felt toward the trailer for last year's Rust and Bone. Apparently people were upset because the trailer reveals that the female lead loses her legs in an accident. But that is not a spoiler. That happens fairly early on, and the way the plot progresses the knowledge thereof does not really change anything. In addition, that trailer was a beautiful piece of art in its own right, and compared to the majority of trailers (which give away all plot points in the film they are selling) it was very subtle.

It is actually weird that the wrath of the anti-spoiler crowd has not reached the publicity departments yet. You would expect heads to be rolling over there. But it is perhaps two trends going on simultaneously here, one anti-spoiler trend and one trend with trailers that reveal everything. One who is seizing the zeitgeist is Kevin Smith, who has a show called Spoilers With Kevin Smith on hulu. Not sure what the crowd thinks about that, but nobody watching it should be surprised if there are, well, spoilers.

To round off this digression, here is a spoiler-free interview with Jason Lee from an episode of Spoilers With Kevin Smith:

What, by the way, is a twist? Is it just when something unexpected happens? Or is it when something happens that makes us question all that we have seen up to that point? Is the killing of Marion Crane in Psycho a twist or just a surprise? (That Norman Bates is his own mother is definitely a twist.)

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