The Spoiler’s Creed

In the context of my essay on Batman Begins, my wife has asked me to deal with the issue of spoilers. Here then, is my Spoiler’s Creed, my final words on the subject:

I believe that it’s difficult to discuss movies fully and intelligently without dealing with crucial plot points.

I believe that plot is but one element of each movie, and that, almost always, foreknowledge of the full story detracts little from the overall experience of watching the film.

I believe the art is mostly in the telling, not in the content.

I believe that although I have sometimes wished that I hadn’t known the “big secret” going in, those instances have been rare.

I believe that good movies survive reviewers’ revelations of key plot points.

I believe that great movies get even better once you know their secrets.

I believe that some filmmakers use plot twists as sucker punches — calculated, manipulative, and cynical &mdash to mask the core deficiencies of their work.

I believe those filmmakers operate knowing that such surprises gag critics and neuter their reviews, making them vague, inscrutable, and feckless.

I believe that plot surprises often force people to watch a movie multiple times to evaluate whether the twist is consistent with the rest of the film and properly set-up.

I believe shit should only be watched once, if at all.

I believe that viewers should have the opportunity to meaningfully judge and evaluate a film in a single viewing.

Therefore, all writing on Culture Snob might deliberately — and without notice or apology — give away plot details and twists in the interest of straightforwardly assessing movies.

“I believe that plot is but one element of each movie, and that, almost always, foreknowledge of the full story detracts little from the overall experience of watching the film.”

This is bullshit. The experience of watching a movie completely “pure” (without any knowledge about anything in it, including the plot) is generally more powerful than watching it after reading a couple of reviews and seeing the trailer. And I don’t mean just narrative twists and surprises; any foreknowledge (including what the film looks like, it’s structure, the way it articulares it’s theme, revelations about the characters, etc) can detract from the experience.

You could say, “Well, then most good movies should suck on second viewing, since we already know everything that happens.” But frequently, the memory of your first experience watching the movie informs subsequent viewings. That’s why you can rewatch suspense films and still find most of them effective (I read about this idea somewhere in David Bordwell’s site). And that’s why a twist or reveal or reversal can still retain power, many viewings later. So a spoiled first viewing could actually diminish your enjoyment of further viewings as well.

Plus, there’s the factor of basic narrative appreciation. The story is but one element of each movie, but it is frequently an important one. Critics with an “arthouse bent” tend to look at narrative as something of lesser value, a cheap kind of pleasure, but I obviously disagree, and so do a lot of arthouse movies that go to the trouble of creating great stories.

“I believe the art is mostly in the telling, not in the content.”

Well, the telling can be spoiled just as much as the content. And the spoiling of the content can affect your appreciation of the telling.

“I believe that good movies survive reviewers� revelations of key plot points.”

They do, but frequently with a diminished effect.

“I believe that great movies get even better once you know their secrets.”

Yes, when you find out their secrets by *actually* watching the movie, not by hearing it from some random asshole.

“I believe that some filmmakers use plot twists as sucker punches � calculated, manipulative, and cynical � to mask the core deficiencies of their work.”

You say “calculated, manipulative and cynical” like those are bad things. I love plenty of movies that can be described as calculated (like, say, a lot of Kubrick’s work), and I go to the movies to pretty much *be* manipulated. That’s the whole point. Great movies manipulate me into having powerful experiences. If they choose to do this with a plot twist (and specially if the twist makes thematic and psychological sense), that’s fine.

“I believe shit should only be watched once, if at all.”

This is stupid. I believe shit should be watched how ever many times people want to watch it.

Spoon: I certainly don’t dispute that a completely blind movie experience can be a lot of fun.

This was written in reaction to the excessive SPOILER ALERTS! that populate reviews these days. I was beginning to feel that anything I wrote should have spoiler alert on it because of the extreme sensitivity of some readers.

My point was (and is) that you can’t talk meaningfully about a movie without talking about the movie, and that means everything in the movie. So if you try to write meaningfully about a movie, it’s a given that things are going to be given away � whether it’s the “big twist” or some throwaway moment in the first five minutes. So here we can agree: If you want a genuinely fresh experience with a movie, read nothing about it until after you’ve seen it.

Yes, I am the random asshole who tells you key plot points in a discussion of what worked for me and what didn’t. I’m also (in most cases) the considerate random asshole who tells you that I’m going to do it, allowing your virginity to be preserved.

Oh, I’m in complete agreement that a critic should talk about whatever he wants to talk, and that people should read criticism only after seeing the movie. My problem was with your sugestion that it’s ok to be spoiled, which really isn’t.

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