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Spoilers, the web and writing movies
June 17, 2011 2:48 PM   Subscribe

"What I'm asking is this: Are screenwriters now affected by "spoiler culture" before they even begin the writing process? If you know a twist will be unavoidably revealed before the majority of people see the work itself, and if you concede that selling and marketing a film with a major secret will be more complicated for everyone involved … would you even try? Would you essentially stop yourself from trying to write a movie that's structured like The Sixth Sense?" Are Spoilers Flipping the Script?
posted by Brandon Blatcher (128 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
Do we go to the theater to be surprised?
posted by TwelveTwo at 2:50 PM on June 17, 2011 [5 favorites]


As far as I can tell, the biggest spoiler of most movie plot points are the trailers themselves.
posted by Rhaomi at 2:51 PM on June 17, 2011 [44 favorites]


I'm surprised Blair Witch Project didn't get a mention, which is interesting because the audience went in knowing the ending, but because of the production values (or deliberate lack of) people suspended their disbelief about it being fake. It was a quirky example of a "pre-spoilt" film that people enjoyed anyway.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:53 PM on June 17, 2011


Sixth Sense is kind of a bad example, because, generally speaking, we're not talking about twist endings (which kind of insult the intelligence of the audience)... We're talking about revealing major plot points.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:55 PM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm a bit confused by some of the writing, and the notions presented:
[Sixth Sense] was eventually nominated for six Academy Awards, losing Best Picture to American Beauty but generally sustaining a better critical reputation over time. In the decade that followed, Sixth Sense architect M. Night Shyamalan has directed six other movies, four of which have similarly relied on a (now formulaic) twist; none have been successful, and a couple have been ridiculous.
First, is Sixth Sense really considered a better movie than American Beauty because of what would later become a cliche for the director? It seems like a trick than a proper plot device.

As Blazecock Pileon pointed out, BWP engaged audiences who knew how it would end. This illustrates how movies can sustain spoilers: by being good movies. If a quick description of what will happen will really ruin the experience, it was never that deep an experience to begin with.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:06 PM on June 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


Darth is Luke's father.
posted by mark242 at 3:08 PM on June 17, 2011


Oh dear god, I hope this is true. I fucking hate twist endings. They rob the movie of emotional payoff and leave me with the cinematic blueballs. Fuck that shit.
posted by Afroblanco at 3:12 PM on June 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


Rhaomi: "As far as I can tell, the biggest spoiler of most movie plot points are the trailers themselves."

In this way, The Sixth Sense is actually a victim too. Imagine watching the first 30 minutes of that movie without having seen the trailer and known that the kid sees dead people. It would have been a completely different experience.

Often, my favorite moviegoing experiences are when I literally know nothing about a movie, aside from maybe there being a writer or director that I like.
posted by roll truck roll at 3:12 PM on June 17, 2011 [4 favorites]


I hear they filmed multiple endings for "Clue".

Seriously though, no, I don't think this is happening any mor ethan it ever has. I guess the only thing that's changed is the extra-intense movie marketing and the marketing often gives away far too much, either on purpose or by accident. But this is unlikely to change.
posted by GuyZero at 3:13 PM on June 17, 2011


That's a lot of words that don't mention Fight Club.

Which I guess is appropriate.
posted by lantius at 3:13 PM on June 17, 2011 [5 favorites]


TV studies scholar Jason Mittell's response to Klosterman.
posted by synecdoche at 3:13 PM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


SPOILER WARNING WARNING:








Since this is about the idea of spoilers in general, rather than a specific movie or TV show or game, it might be a cool idea to not drop gratuitous unmarked spoilers for random stuff in the thread, lest it become an unfun or hostile environment for all the Mefites who might be avoiding spoilers for recent TV shows/movies/games. Thanks.
posted by Rhaomi at 3:14 PM on June 17, 2011 [12 favorites]


I am not convinced that being surprising has ever been a goal of movies in general. It's more of a gimmick than anything else, or if you want to be more charitable, a sub-genre. Some of the most successful movies of all time were known stories, either because they were based on very popular books or because they followed historical events. Titanic, Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter between them cover more than half of the top ten grossing films, and all have known stories. I think what is new, if anything here is new, is not "spoiler culture" but rather the idea of spoilers for stories at all. The strange assumption that stories are like sports games, with a single final score, the revelation of which is essentially the only reason for watching.
posted by Nothing at 3:15 PM on June 17, 2011 [8 favorites]


i think i've already read the spoilers for how tetchy this thread is going to get
posted by radiosilents at 3:16 PM on June 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


(Obviously this would apply to more recent stuff like movies still in theaters, last week's TV twists, and the newest story-driven games than, say, King Kong or "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge." But still, please be considerate!)
posted by Rhaomi at 3:16 PM on June 17, 2011


I went to see "The Full Monty" having no idea what it was about. I think it's more fun if you think you're watching a gritty lot of sadsacks fight joblessness and a shit economy, but then THAT ALL HAPPENS. It's still a fun movie either way, but ever since that experience, I actively stop people from telling me anything more about movies than director, star, writer, and perhaps a general setting or time period.

It's amazing how many people can't understand that, somehow, I still don't want them to tell them the entire plot anyway.
posted by scrowdid at 3:19 PM on June 17, 2011 [5 favorites]


....tell me the entire plot anyway
posted by scrowdid at 3:20 PM on June 17, 2011


The strange assumption that stories are like sports games, with a single final score, the revelation of which is essentially the only reason for watching.

Mysteries have kind of always been a massive thing. How many gimmick detective shows are on right now? How many Miss Marples, Hercule Poirots, Sherlock Holmeses, Jessica Fletchers, Adrian Monks, etc have been all over popular culture?

Getting there is important, but what's at the end is pretty damn important too.
posted by kafziel at 3:20 PM on June 17, 2011 [6 favorites]


GuyZero: I hear they filmed multiple endings for "Clue".

Oh, it does, and they're good. Well, the whole movie is good. Flames, flames on the sides of my face...
posted by filthy light thief at 3:21 PM on June 17, 2011 [6 favorites]


Since this is about the idea of spoilers in general, rather than a specific movie or TV show or game, it might be a cool idea to not drop gratuitous unmarked spoilers for random stuff in the thread, lest it become an unfun or hostile environment for all the Mefites who might be avoiding spoilers for recent TV shows/movies/games. Thanks.
How about dropping gratuitous unmarked spoilers for extremely non-recent things?

JOCASTA WAS HIS MOTHER
posted by Flunkie at 3:22 PM on June 17, 2011 [15 favorites]


Do we go to the theater to be surprised?

Not always, but sometimes. Black Swan, which I thought was one of last year's best movies (I know, this sentiment is not universally shared) wasn't a "twist" movie, but I'm pretty sure most people came in not knowing how it would end; that and other little surprises/delights (I don't think the identity of the aging diva was as big a deal as critics made it out to be, but was still a minor pleasure) added to the experience of watching it the first time. The important thing--I guess?--is that, like Klosterman says, I'd still be willing to see it again knowing all that now.
posted by psoas at 3:22 PM on June 17, 2011


JOCASTA WAS HIS MOTHER

How could he see that coming?
posted by psoas at 3:24 PM on June 17, 2011 [12 favorites]


Rosebud.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 3:25 PM on June 17, 2011


Darth is Luke's father.

How dare you spoil The Dukes Of Hazzard for me?!
posted by penduluum at 3:25 PM on June 17, 2011 [9 favorites]


Getting there is important, but what's at the end is pretty damn important too.

The butler did it.

In the drawing room. With the lead pipe.

What kills me is people who don't want movies spoiled when they're based on books that have been out for ages. With due respect to people who have different opinions on the matter.
posted by GuyZero at 3:25 PM on June 17, 2011


Metatalk post about "Can we have a moratorium on posts from Grantland? Everyone already reads it!" in 5, 4, 3....
posted by Kwine at 3:26 PM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Two good movies that would have been great without their twisty finales - "Primer" and "Shutter Island".
posted by davebush at 3:27 PM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think everyone learned the wrong lesson from the sixth sense. What made that movie wasn't the twist but the emotional connection with the characters. I cried like hell during the last scene with the kid and the mom in the car.

Twists are not enough, as m night found out with his increasingly shitty, boring movies.
posted by empath at 3:29 PM on June 17, 2011 [8 favorites]


An yeah, rosebud was the sled. Who cares? It meant nothing.
posted by empath at 3:29 PM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


First, is Sixth Sense really considered a better movie than American Beauty because of what would later become a cliche for the director?

No one in their right mind who wasn't thirteen years old in 1999 ever thought that The Sixth Sense was a better movie than American Beauty, and I can't imagine there is a single person in the world who would admit to holding this opinion now. This article is either a subtle work of alternate history science fiction or it's just kinda bullshit.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 3:33 PM on June 17, 2011 [4 favorites]


Well executed twists are some of my favorite entertainment moments. My first viewings of Fight Club, The Usual Suspects, and The Sixth Sense will stick in my memory pretty much forever.

I watched them all again because there is a ton more there besides that, but the first viewing was the best. There are also tons of movies with crappy twists. If I was a screenwriter I would avoid them since they are pretty hard to execute properly especially in the age of the internet, but boy do I love it when I see a good one so I hope writers aren't scared away entirely.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 3:34 PM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wait, Rosebud wasn't a symbol for misplaced desire, longing, regret and the uselessness of nostalgia?

What a twist!
posted by loquacious at 3:35 PM on June 17, 2011


I can't imagine there is a single person in the world who would admit to holding this opinion now

Some people really, really dislike American Beauty.
posted by empath at 3:36 PM on June 17, 2011 [8 favorites]


No one in their right mind who wasn't thirteen years old in 1999 ever thought that The Sixth Sense was a better movie than American Beauty, and I can't imagine there is a single person in the world who would admit to holding this opinion now. This article is either a subtle work of alternate history science fiction or it's just kinda bullshit.

The Sixth Sense is decent, albeit incredibly slow because Shyamalan doesn't really know how to pace a movie, whereas American Beauty is an unwatchable piece of shit.
posted by kafziel at 3:36 PM on June 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


Spoiler Alert: I don't feel like wading through this article now. But I don't think it's just twists that are affected by our participant media culture. (Did I just make that phrase up?)

It's - everything. It's the instant access everyone has to everyone. Now if you live in a small-town you're not so isolated from the BigTime. You can have convos - or flame wars - on message boards/blogs/FB/twitter with really Big Cheeses. You can create something that goes viral on YouTube and earns a call from Hollywood. If you're a performer you can go on AI or SYTYCD while you're still a hick from the sticks.

It's a blurring of the lines between professional and amateur.

That seems to be creating a kind of self-consciousness for some creators, not just about major plot surprises, but about everything they (we) do.

But as a writer it just seems to me like "Oh, they'll guess the spoiler, why even try" could also be an excuse to be a lazy writer. Or a lazy studio/TV exec who doesn't want to bother doing something challenging.

As for 6th Sense, oh gawd, such an overrated movie. If you guess the twist at the start you sit in the theatre bored out of your gourd for the next two hours, same as with the rest of his awful movies.

But because I often do guess twists, I appreciate the movies, novels and short stories where I don't see it coming. Those get such a grateful, "Well played" from me.
posted by NorthernLite at 3:37 PM on June 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


There was a twist at the end of Primer?
posted by Zozo at 3:37 PM on June 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


Okay, well, some people would agree with Klosterman, apparently. I personally maintain that a film you vitriolically loathe has got more going on than one you sort of begrudgingly admit is a mediocre but okay piece of entertainment. I know which one I'd rather be responsible for.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 3:38 PM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Stories that depend on twists are sort of bullshit, but I will confess that I literally dropped the book to the ground when I read Fight Club for the first time.
posted by Sticherbeast at 3:39 PM on June 17, 2011


I do have to say, I went to see Midnight in Paris last week knowing only that it was a Woody Allen film starring Owen Wilson, and was SO grateful that I hadn't read any reviews going in. 100% worth going in blind to that one, so you and the character are experiencing the "twist" at the same time.
posted by sarahsynonymous at 3:40 PM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's more like the entirety of Primer was one long, slow twist.
posted by baf at 3:40 PM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


As far as I can tell, the biggest spoiler of most movie plot points are the trailers themselves.

A million times: THIS. I can't count the number of times I've watched a trailer and said, "Well, that might have been interesting, but now I don't have to see it because you've shown me the whole fucking thing!"

A good trailer should give me just enough to whet my appetite and not one bit more. When you show me, in the trailer, a character's death scene, you have to understand that when I see the film, I'm not really going to put any effort into caring about them, because I know exactly how you are going to kill them.

I've actually thought about putting a page together that details trailers that have ruined the movies they are trying to sell, but I eventually found the entire enterprise too depressing.
posted by quin at 3:41 PM on June 17, 2011 [9 favorites]


The Crying Game didn't contain a twist with the intent of "surprise!!"

But I think knowing the twist beforehand would compromise fully putting yourself in the main character's (Stephen Rea's) shoes and empathizing with his experience of the twist.

That movie came out in '92 and it's a loss if no one in today's world is attempting anything with similar elements.
posted by airing nerdy laundry at 3:42 PM on June 17, 2011


I'm pretty sure that the incessant nattering conversation that all of the internet insists upon having about movies as soon as they come out has made me start going to fewer movies. It's not a spoiler thing, and it's not even that I don't like talking about movies. It's that I'm tired of them before I even see them, now.
posted by penduluum at 3:44 PM on June 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


My first viewings of Fight Club, The Usual Suspects, and The Sixth Sense will stick in my memory pretty much forever.

Fincher's twisty movies in general are a combination of a strong build up to a rules changing ending. Fight Club, Seven, The Game, all were very entertaining movies without the endings, but without the endings they would have been lesser films.

Memento, with all of its time defying scene changes finds the heart of the movie at the middle of the story which, chronologically arrives at the end and is a game changer.

I knew the endings to none of these films before I saw them and it made for much better viewing. Arguing that a twisty ending is insulting or bullshit doesn't ring all that true to me, especially when it's an ending that forces you to reevaluate what you've just seen. It's a useful device (when not in the hands of M. Night Shyamalan).
posted by eyeballkid at 3:44 PM on June 17, 2011 [4 favorites]


I went to The Matrix in theatres because someone said, "Hey, you want to go see a sci-fi movie starring Keanu Reeves?" and I had nothing better to do. It was literally the first time I had heard of the movie and such an awesome surprise.

I really should watch fewer trailers.
posted by ODiV at 3:44 PM on June 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


I liked both The Sixth Sense and American Beauty pretty much equally when they came out. Is the comparison because both the protagonists are dead throughout (one declared, the other not)?

I actually think The Sixth Sense is a better thing the second time, when the viewer knows something the protagonist doesn't. Beginner's luck, perhaps. Or casting Bruce Willis luck. I think I should see it before I proffer that opinion again.
posted by Grangousier at 3:45 PM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


When Blair Witch came out, an ex-girlfriend of mine managed to make it to a theatre and see the film before she was told-- minutes later in the parking lot by friends that were wondering why her face was sheet-white-- that it wasn't real. This is exactly the way that I would have liked to experience it-- an asshat FM radio DJ ruined my chance.

Rhaomi: As far as I can tell, the biggest spoiler of most movie plot points are the trailers themselves.

This. I am as. toun. ded. at how the damn things sum up the entire movie-- showdown and all, with all of the exposition-detailing bits of dialogue and key moments of action split-second edited in. I pay to see a movie and I get to see 6 whole movies for free before the lights go all the way down. I don't fucking get it.

I can only conclude that the current movie-goer just wants to be a savvier-than-thou critic, and full-disclosure spoilers & trailers only aid them in doing so. ..idk- that just covers the trope trough of the mainstream anyway; the best films still have the most appropriately obfuscatentious trailers.
posted by herbplarfegan at 3:46 PM on June 17, 2011


Oh also, I went into Moulin Rouge knowing only that it was a cabaret-esque movie with Ewan McGregor. When the men at the club started singing "Smells Like Teen Spirit"...
posted by sarahsynonymous at 3:46 PM on June 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


quin, we crowdsource stuff like that now.

Although, even that incredibly crowded page still needs additions. The first good example I thought of (The Truman Show, where you could have spent the first 20 minutes of the movie just as in-the-dark as the protagonist if it weren't for the trailers) isn't there yet.
posted by roystgnr at 3:47 PM on June 17, 2011


But still, please be considerate!

You know, I think it might be up to the people who are half way through a TV series or planning to watch some plot-heavy movie to stay out of a thread about plot spoilers because it might, in fact, contain plot spoilers. Somehow I managed to skip over every mention of Dexter on Mefi and everywhere else until I finally got around to watching the whole thing. I manage to avoid movie reviews and discussions for films I am planning to see, either soon or in the future. It is not up to the people writing about those TV shows and movies to accommodate my viewing schedule, nor is it up to me or anyone else to accommodate your viewing schedule or that of anybody else. Telling everyone how they should conduct a conversation is extremely patronizing, and I ask you to refrain from doing so.

As regards screenwriting, I personally don't mind a twist ending as long as it was motivated or signposted properly, but no deliberate misdirection was employed by the writer or director. That's much easier to say than it is to achieve in practice, or even to define - where is the line between deliberate ambiguity and misdirection, for example? If one is attempting to do this in a script, or build a story around subversion of a well-known trope even if it doesn't include a twist, it takes a good bit of work to do so consistently, so that you're not giving the audience false confirmations that later fail to add up and lead to a post-viewing disappointment.

When writing a script (which I haven't done for a couple of years), part of me sees it as a machine that's designed to produce certain emotional effects at certain times - empathy here, surprise there, anxiety when they arrive in this order, and so forth. There's no way of knowing what people will be aware of before they watch the film, so I have never ever worried about spoilers or requiring that something be a secret. Two of the feature-length scripts I've written have been about real people/events, and at least one of those was well-known enough in the country where it happened that everyone who might be interested in the film would know how things turned out. As Dov Simens joked about Titanic: 'does anyone go to that not knowing what happens? The boat sinks!'

The point of plot, in most cases, is less to surprise or startle the viewer than to provide form. The older you get, the more worn lots of films look because you've seen so many of them and there are a fairly limited number of dramatic situations. Some have even claimed there's an exact number like Georg Solti (36), although this doesn't seem to have prevented the list at tvtropes.org from continuing to grow. While there is no shortage of possible plots, in order to be coherent any film is going to have to rely on certain kinds of stock characters and obligitary scenes with which the audience is familiar, because they will become impatient and annoyed if they do not have any sense of where things are going or if the film treats them like people who have never seen a fictional narrative before. Hence the difficulty of putting out any film over 2 hours long or even getting people to read a script of that length. I also enjoy opera which most people find even slower and less plotty, but in opera a lot of the structure is in the music, which often refers back to earlier parts of the work even if the characters have been standing in the same spot on stage doing nothing for the last ten minutes.

As long as you're familiar with the form, then there's a great deal of pleasure to be had in seeing it executed well even if there are no surprises; indeed the anticipation of the resolution is a major part of that pleasure. Otherwise there would be little point in watching films or reading books or listening to tunes for a second, third, or hundredth time, because you'd already know what happens. I don't really care what happens, I care how it happens. When I'm writing, I rarely get excited about the plot unless I've been feeling completely stuck on some narrative problem and come up with a plausible sequence of events that solves it. What excites me is finding a way to depict some sort of universal or dream-like experience that everyone in the audience can identify with emotionally, or finding a way to get rid of several lines, pages, or whole scenes and replace them with a single line or action that communicates the same information about the character far more economically and truthfully.
posted by anigbrowl at 3:49 PM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


I enjoyed the twist in Ghostbusters II when they busted the ghosts at the end instead of the other way 'round.

Those were the good old days before everyone blabbed everything on the internet.
posted by airing nerdy laundry at 3:49 PM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


No one in their right mind who wasn't thirteen years old in 1999 ever thought that The Sixth Sense was a better movie than American Beauty, and I can't imagine there is a single person in the world who would admit to holding this opinion now.

honestly, I've probably thought more about TSS than AB. The former was very primal for me, the latter more intellectual. Once AB was understood, there was nothing more to consider.

But the images and mood of TSS! They've lingered all these years.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:52 PM on June 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


Interesting question. There is the element of gimmick in the twist ending, but what I think that mostly does is to make the task of creating a re-readable book, re-watchable movie that much more difficult. Given how ephemeral 99% of all creative work is, this just sets the bar a tad higher.

On the other hand, knowing the twist ending when the protagonist does not (see Oedipus Rex) can make for the more exquisite audience experience. Is anyone up to that level of work these days? Really, I don't expect Hollywood would be interested in a father murder mother incest story where the hero tears his eyes out.

On second thought....
posted by IndigoJones at 3:53 PM on June 17, 2011


Everyone remembers exactly where and who they were the first three times they ever saw Chill Factor.
posted by Sticherbeast at 3:54 PM on June 17, 2011


Two good movies that would have been great without their twisty finales - "Primer" and "Shutter Island".

I wasn't sure how I felt about Shutter Island (no spoilers, don't worry). I remember when I was reading the book and I thought "Hey, I wonder if X is Y". As it turns out, that wasn't the twist. But I also thought "Oh ho, ho, ho, I wonder if X is actually Z". That was the twist. Later on I thought "Wait, maybe Q doesn't exist. That's it!". That was not it.

When the twist was finally revealed I felt that it was sort of an impossible reveal. Sure, that was the solution, but it could have been any of a number of other things that were equally plausible (if that's really the word I want) and the author picked one. I liked Shutter Island enough that I eventually decided that it wasn't a twist so much as an ending and the author (as is his right) chose to end it that way.

So, where the hell was I? Oh yes. A real twist, a proper twist, is one that you don't see coming but once you see it you realize it was obvious all along and that there is no possible way the movie could have made any sense at all without it being true and you were an idiot for missing not just clues, but billboards surrounded in blinking neon with the twist written on them.

Sixth Sense fails that, BTW. I'm not sure what movie or book passes the test. This might mean that my standards are too high, but I know that the entertainment industry is up to it.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 3:55 PM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Fight Club, The Usual Suspects, The Game and Seven all serve as great examples of films that employ "twists" without being poor films.

Pulp Fiction also does something clever with the structure of a story (and if memory serves Tony Parsons actually gave this plot point away on TV when the film came out).

The films still remain great films when watched again, but it doesn't take away the impact of watching them the first time being unaware of what happens.
posted by panboi at 3:55 PM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


kafziel: Mysteries have kind of always been a massive thing. How many gimmick detective shows are on right now? How many Miss Marples, Hercule Poirots, Sherlock Holmeses, Jessica Fletchers, Adrian Monks, etc have been all over popular culture?

Getting there is important, but what's at the end is pretty damn important too.


In a number of those shows, some episodes start with the who doing whatever it is whodunnit. The fun is then watching the characters cover up tracks and others uncover the truth. In those cases, the end is boring. Getting there is all the fun.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:59 PM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh yeah, trailers. Here's how they work, most of the time: the first one you see, the director and editor had some control over, and it announces the movie and what you can look forward to but without giving too much away. It's often delivered along with the final cut, or sometimes far in advance of it (depending on budgets, release schedules, genres - the bigger the movie, the sooner after principal photography a trailer or two will be delivered).

But the closer you get to release, and especially-but-not-only if the film doesn't test well and the distributor decides the only way to recover their investment is to advertise the fuck out of it and hope for a good opening weekend, the lower the probability that anyone involved with the creation of the film will have had any input whatsoever into the trailers. I was very relieved to have seen Super 8 last Monday because I was sitting in the kitchen yesterday evening and the new trailer for this weekend uses a McGuffin reveal. What. The. Fuck.

Writers can be whiny. Directors can be pretentious. Actors can be annoying. DPs can be infuriating. Producers can be idiots. But only distributors can take something that defied all the odds and obstacles to become a work of art and then wreck it right in front of the customers that they are selling it too. Fucking distributors.
posted by anigbrowl at 4:02 PM on June 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


I don't understand people who don't like to be surprised in the course of being told a story. Do you really think that surprise is only contained in twist endings, that it is a gimmick? Do you like to hear the punchline before you hear the joke? Are you so sophisticated that no revelation can affect you emotionally? Is there no pleasure in suspense for you? Do you really think so little of the art of storytelling?
posted by Bookhouse at 4:03 PM on June 17, 2011 [18 favorites]


I'm sorry if that comes off as snide. This is what I do for a living and I do take it seriously.
posted by Bookhouse at 4:04 PM on June 17, 2011


Once AB was understood, there was nothing more to consider.

Or to put it a different way, AB's relentless trashing of the middle class suburbs was something I had already seen and considered. Many of its characters (the army day, Lester's wife) were just stale stereotypes that had me rolling my eyes.

And in the end, the move punked out with Lester, which pissed me off to no end. Rather than have that certain thing occur and deal with the aftermath, it went flaccid and limped to its insane ending.

But was TSS better than AB? That's a tough question. They're different movies, doing different things, enjoyable in their own way. If you like both apples and oranges, then which is better? It probably depends on your mood.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:08 PM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


I watch almost no big mainstream movies these days. It's almost all obscure shit I find on netflix, based maybe on one of their wildly inaccurate two sentence summaries. So I can be surprised every time I watch a movie -- it's not like I have the plots of every South African or Belgian movie memorized, for example. There's no spoiler culture if you make that choice.

But if I were someone who like big hollywood movies, I'd be cranky about the spoilers.
posted by Forktine at 4:10 PM on June 17, 2011


There was a twist at the end of Primer?

Primer has an end?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:11 PM on June 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


Enkidu remains in the nether world
posted by everichon at 4:14 PM on June 17, 2011 [5 favorites]


would you even try?

I think most said "No" decades ago.
posted by hal_c_on at 4:14 PM on June 17, 2011


A movie that relies on a twist ending solely is bound to be eviscerated by the demands of the marketplace and the movie trailer industry.
posted by Renoroc at 4:15 PM on June 17, 2011


Dr Who producer/writer Steven Moffat discussing his thoughts on people posting spoilers (audio link).
posted by panboi at 4:18 PM on June 17, 2011


On review, I agree that a badly executed twist ending is infuriating, and many of them are badly executed. I am still infuriated about Jacob's Ladder in that regard. Ii found the film genuinely scary while it was unfolding, which is pretty rare for me, but when it got the end I just felt completely ripped off. Fuck you Adrian Lyne, because you had all the resources a filmmaker could ever ask for and then pulled out the crappiest deus ex machina I have ever seen. I would have been embarrassed to even pitch that.
posted by anigbrowl at 4:21 PM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm a spoiler Companion myself, but I respect people's aversion to spoilers. Sure, art should be great when reread/rewatched, etc, but a true Holy Shit! moment can still be awesome.
posted by kmz at 4:23 PM on June 17, 2011


I found Shutter Island's ending so awkward and cheap-- all the surprise that they were going for, but no joy: it felt like betrayal, not nuance.

I'm pleased to say that I went to Fight Club thinking it was about.. euh.. fighting. It was a very unique opportunity for its permanent "top 5"/whatever status.

I agree that the first-viewing surprise isn't essential to enjoying the protagonist's ignorance of the Bigger Truth... Nearly all of my favorite films involve varying high degrees of this: Dancer In The Dark, The Man Who Knew Too Little, Run Lola Run, the Matrix, Memento, Waking Life, Groundhog Day, The Truman Show, Inception....

American Beauty seems re-watchable to me; The Sixth Sense just seems built for a single-serving-- pretty damn good, but the epitome of 'disposable by design.' see also: Requiem for a Dream, though for entirely different reasons.
posted by herbplarfegan at 4:32 PM on June 17, 2011


I don't understand people who don't like to be surprised in the course of being told a story.

Are you asking me? I don't mind being surprised, I love it in fact. But I don't feel shortchanged if the story is predictable or even quite formalist. I might know what's coming, either through experience or having seen it before, but I'll still enjoy others' reaction to it, even if I'm watching alone and imagining that.

Watching something I actually wrote has literally zero surprise factor for me, but the gratification that comes from the audience reacting as intended more than makes up for it. On the other hand, the feeling that the audience might be getting bored is excruciating. I want them to be intrigued. Too many surprises can work against that and end up being disorienting rather than really moving the story forward, which ends up feeling like an amusement park ride - you move fast and your stomach jumps around on the turns, but you don't actually go anywhere.
posted by anigbrowl at 4:37 PM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Not having Fight Club or The Sixth Sense spoiled for me was pretty much the only good thing about not having friends in high school.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 4:37 PM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm surprised Blair Witch Project didn't get a mention

For me, the current design of trailers seems to make me want to see a film less once I see the trailer.

As a kind of strange aside to this, by dumb luck I got to see The Blair Witch Project several weeks before it came out, or had any press. I was working at a vaudeville-era venue that showed second-run films, where drinking and smoking were not just allowed in the theater, but encouraged. So one night, on a Thursday, i think, our manager told us some filmmakers had rented out the building for the first film (usually three a night, one big screen) to do a screening. It was a unique moment for me, as I didn't know what the film was, no one working at the venue knew what it was, other than "I hear it's some fucked up shit. I think it's a documentary about a ghost or something."

So I watched the film, and thought it was pretty cool. It messed with my head a bit, and I can dig that in a film. Usually horror/scare films don't interest me, but this one had an effect on me.

So about two weeks after the screening, the press comes out for its official release. I see the trailer, and I just get confused. This is the movie I saw? It just looked silly and irritating. I was almost embarrassed about telling my friends about this film right after I saw it. When it came again to the theater, it just didn't make sense. It just felt flat and uninteresting. Also, I think there was more editing of the film afterwards, because some key scenes I remembered weren't there.

What made Blair Witch interesting was the context in which it was presented. I got to see it with no context at all, and that made the whole film work so well as an experience for me. Put an ad campaign out that says "scary scary movie," and it just killed it for me. Part of what was cool about it was you didn't know exactly what was their angle until you were in the thick of it, and by then, you were involved enough to want to see how it ended.

It stayed at the theater for weeks, and I had to watch it again and again. It was painful. The irritating and whiny characters in the film deserved every horrible ending they each got. Any sympathy with the characters were gone about 30 minutes into that second viewing of the film.

I had an amazing experience watching that film when I didn't know anything about it, or even if it would ever get a theatrical release. That I can't deny. I suspected, but never fully realized how much modern marketing wrecks my possible enjoyment of a film. It may not affect most people, but it sure does for me.

For me, the way trailers are designed today do more to destroy the context of a film than they do to help set up a context where you want to see what happens. I try to avoid as much press as I can for films I may actually want to see. I even try and steer my friends away from telling me too much about a new film I haven't seen, beyond a recommendation of whether or not I should take the time to see it. Once I've seen it, we'll talk until the cows come home about it, sure. However, this only seems to apply to new films only. Older films I haven't seen or known about somehow can maintain the strength of the viewing experience, even when the person goes to great detail to describe it. I'm not sure why that is. Who can tell, I'm a strange guy.
posted by chambers at 4:40 PM on June 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


Are you asking me?

My comment was sort of a rant against a lot of comments here and in a recent spoiler thread; I wasn't really calling out anyone in particular.

On the other hand, the feeling that the audience might be getting bored is excruciating.

I hate that. I can just barely watch anything I've written with my wife in the room.
posted by Bookhouse at 4:49 PM on June 17, 2011


As far as knowing nothing about movies going in, a friend of mine told me that he first saw Predator thinking it was just another tough soldiers in the jungle movie.
Another friend saw From Dusk Till Dawn without knowing it was a vampire movie.
I envy them, a little.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 4:49 PM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Do we go to the theater to be surprised?

Yes. I also don't watch television (only Netflix) and avoid all chat about movies I haven't seen yet. I regularly search my local cinema to see what's out.
posted by Malice at 4:49 PM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


I went to go see Bug only knowing it was directed by William Friedkin and it was a horror movie. Such a great surprise.
posted by Bookhouse at 4:54 PM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Just read this regarding Game of Thrones (Edited out the Spoilers, but it had a nice point when talking about Fans and Spoilers).

"I want to share something with you, which I think says a lot about the proud allegiance that people who have read these books have to the stories. .. [regarding plot events] those who have read the books have such respect for the series, all the characters and plot twists and turns, that they have held their silence so you could experience the surprise and betrayals just as they did. And judging by Sunday’s collective gasp, very few people let on anything. I don’t say this pretentiously, but proudly, because it was important for you to experience these tragedies as those who have read the books have. " (wired)

And HBO stuck with it as well. Anyone could have gone online and read what happened, you can ruin your own experience easily; it takes a true asshat to ruin someone else's experience.

Second Related Point Point: The Sixth Sense was one movie that completely subverted the tropes of trailers to get a different experience across of the actual movie. Heneke's Funny People was another movie that did this, but in a completely different way. It gave you the expectation of one kind of movie, and completely bloodied you if you walked into it expecting a normal "fun" horror movie shown in the trailer.

Do other movies do this? Why not?

Third Unrelated but Related Point: Watch "Primer".
posted by stratastar at 4:59 PM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Another friend saw From Dusk Till Dawn without knowing it was a vampire movie.

This was my experience, I was definitely not expecting that one!
posted by TwoWordReview at 5:10 PM on June 17, 2011


Good films (and I count The Sixth Sense, The Crying Game and The Usual Suspects as good films) may lose some value after their first viewing, but they remain well-made and enjoyable films. (Casablanca, Citizen Kane and The Maltese Falcon remain great films, even though you know their "secrets".)

A film that relies entirely on a weird twist is weak and possibly a bit of a cheat. There's more to a good film than plot, after all.

(OK. You went there. You mentioned From Dusk Til Dawn, a film that had only that one moment to recommend it.)

The Blair Witch Project (a film I admire greatly) has no twist at all. You know things will go badly, very badly, for the protagonists. The challenge to the director is: make the audience care for these characters before they go to their inevitable doom.
posted by SPrintF at 5:18 PM on June 17, 2011


I try to avoid learning anything about a movie or game after I decide that I will watch or play it. Everything is more enjoyable that way.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 5:33 PM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


The interesting thing about Fight Club was that every single one of my preconceptions about it were wrong. I thought it was, I don't know, some sort of action movie. I was an acerbic, nerdy teenage girl; this was clearly not a movie for me. And then someone brought in a copy to my Latin class during exam week after we'd already taken our test and we watched the first half hour. I saw the Ikea scene and I was like, WTF, what is this?! Very unsettled, to have a movie totally subvert your expectations like that.

And then I forgot about it. Until six months later, when I traveled with a friend to her uncle's house in rural Indiana. We were at a tiny little video store that was part of an ice cream shop, and we had nothing better to do but watch movies. I picked up Fight Club--"Hey, I saw part of this in school. It's weird" (we were weird teenagers; weird was good). My friend was like, ew, I don't want to watch that. But I insisted that she would like it. We watched it in her uncle's finished basement. I noticed one of the early Tyler flashes and made her rewind it (I thought it was a skeleton or something). She insisted that I was crazy. When the big reveal came, we paused it to talk about how completely insane it was.

But in a way, it made sense--and in a way, the massive mismarketing was perfect, because the disjunction between our expectations of what the film would be and how wonderfully weird it turned out to be were just so perfect.

I mean, yeah, we've probably lost that in the internet age. As for the movies mentioned (The Sixth Sense, American Beauty), I feel so bleh about them as films that I sort of don't think that much is lost. Sure, there are "twists." But they're kind of completely normal twists--Twilight Zone twists, really. Which are so well-worn in our society that I have sort of come to expect them.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:38 PM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


I wasn't sure how I felt about Shutter Island (no spoilers, don't worry). I remember when I was reading the book and I thought "Hey, I wonder if X is Y". As it turns out, that wasn't the twist. But I also thought "Oh ho, ho, ho, I wonder if X is actually Z". That was the twist. Later on I thought "Wait, maybe Q doesn't exist. That's it!". That was not it.

Weird, I had an almost identical experience with The Prestige (which I liked a lot better than a lotta twisty movies, but then, it had David Bowie in it). I liked the ending they ultimately went with, but I anticipated that there would be a major twist. I was just wrong about what that was for 4/5ths of the film.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:40 PM on June 17, 2011


I find it really hard to believe that anyone thought Blair Witch Project was a documentary. I enjoyed it when I wasn't vomiting because of the shaky cam, but the film was rater R. Adults 17 and older who ought to know better, here's a big spoiler for real life: there's no such thing as a witch. Not the supernatural kind, anyway. Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy, though? Totally real.

Several of M. Night's movies would have been amazing if the twist and everything after them had been done by a someone else. Especially Signs.
posted by Thoughtcrime at 5:44 PM on June 17, 2011


I'm going to take this opportunity to unequivocally state how much I loathed Primer. It was sorta the polar opposite of Inception -- a movie that I didn't totally get, but would be willing to watch again because I actually enjoyed the experience. There was nothing enjoyable about Primer. Just two dudes talking about some shit that becomes less and less understandable as the movie goes on. Yeah, I know, if I watched it again and again and read somebody's obsessive analysis of it, maybe it would actually make sense. But you know what? I'm not going to re-watch a movie that wasn't enjoyable to watch.

I dunno, it probably would have made a decent short story.
posted by Afroblanco at 5:51 PM on June 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


I hate that. I can just barely watch anything I've written with my wife in the room.

It's even worse when she tries to be diplomatic. That means it's my fault and not someone else's. She's always right about that too SOB
posted by anigbrowl at 6:11 PM on June 17, 2011


Fuck you Adrian Lyne, because you had all the resources a filmmaker could ever ask for and then pulled out the crappiest deus ex machina I have ever seen.

Adrian Lyne didn't come up with the twist. The script was written by Bruce Joel Rubin and the twist was in it. It's not a deus ex machina, imo.

No one in their right mind who wasn't thirteen years old in 1999 ever thought that The Sixth Sense was a better movie than American Beauty, and I can't imagine there is a single person in the world who would admit to holding this opinion now.

The Sixth Sense is unquestionably a better film than American Beauty to me. AB is boring, trite, and vapid. SS is at least entertaining.
posted by dobbs at 6:24 PM on June 17, 2011


Darth is Luke's father.

Luke fucks Leia and later finds out she's his mother.
posted by philip-random at 6:44 PM on June 17, 2011


Look at all the examples people have brought up in this thread - not The Usual Suspects (no pun intended..okay, well yeah it was) but stuff like Predator, From Dusk 'Til Dawn - not even knowing the genre of the movie. This is why "spoilers" is such a sticky concept.

Not only do I not like spoiler warnings but I don't even like discussing the concept of spoilers. Because a "spoiler" can range from something like "genre of the movie" to "hugely important plot twist" - which doesn't mean it's incoherent as a concept, but that the glue that holds the concept of something being a spoiler together is not about the information actually being told to you in advance, but what you're not getting - an idealized, imagined "better" viewing of the movie that you could've had if only you hadn't known X, Y, or Z facts about it.

This is the rise of "spoiler" culture, and it has nothing to do with the actual movies being made, whether they are twistier or less twisty, whether the twists are more or less important to the plot. It has to do with the extent to which the audience compares the experience of watching the movie to their imagined conception of what the experience of watching the movie would've been like if only they had known less about it. This is why arguing with spoiler-warnings-fanatics is a bit like arguing with religious fanatics - the core of their belief is something that cannot be disproven, in the case of the spoiler-warning crowd that belief is that every movie viewing experience could be better if you knew less about it before seeing it.

Without the concept of "spoilers" in your head for a specific work, you go watch it knowing whatever you know and that's that. If you know it's a horror movie, you go in with some expectations. If you go in knowing it's a horror movie about a guy in a hockey mask, you go in with slightly different expectations, and react differently the first time you see hockey mask on screen. If you go in knowing it's a slasher movie set in space, you have still a different experience; and if you go in knowing exactly which character survives till the end, you have yet a different experience. Some of these movie-watching experiences may be better than others, but we don't generally compare them to each other - you just accept that the one you had was the one you had, and probably judge the quality of the movie based on the quality of the specific experience you had, knowing or not knowing whatever you knew. So it goes. And that's fine, because we're not comparing it to some pristine totally unspoiled experience of the movie that we didn't have but we feel, because someone introduced the concept of spoilers to us, that we could have had. The very idea that it could have been better increases our dissatisfaction with what we got.

And then, like that annoying high-pitched noise that you didn't notice until someone pointed it out, but now you can't un-hear it and it's driving you crazy, once the seed of the idea has been planted in your head, that you ought to be watching this movie knowing nothing about it at all, that that's the best way to watch it, you can't un-think the idea that there was some elusive better viewing experience out there that you didn't have because you had been "spoiled" by some bit of information.

SPOILER: Citizen Kane sucks just as hard whether you know "Rosebud" is his sled or not.
posted by mstokes650 at 6:47 PM on June 17, 2011 [4 favorites]


ODiV: "I went to The Matrix in theatres because someone said, "Hey, you want to go see a sci-fi movie starring Keanu Reeves?" and I had nothing better to do. It was literally the first time I had heard of the movie and such an awesome surprise"

I got dragged there by my then girlfriend who loved Keanu. I thought that it was going to be another lame hacker movie like that Sandra Bullock movie and didn't want to go. I haven't been that happily surprised by a movie since then.
posted by octothorpe at 6:54 PM on June 17, 2011


Being 'spoiled' for Fight Club was what made me watch it. I had been vaguely intending to watch it for several years. But when I read, I think here on Metafilter, that Brad Pitt and Ed Norton were the same person, I got off my ass and watched. And it was great. I love the movie. It would have been a different experience if I had watched it not knowing about Pitt and Norton, but I doubt it would have been better. There's a lot more going on than Norton=Pitt. So thanks, Metafilter, for spoiling me.
posted by nooneyouknow at 7:05 PM on June 17, 2011


A million times: THIS. I can't count the number of times I've watched a trailer and said, "Well, that might have been interesting, but now I don't have to see it because you've shown me the whole fucking thing!"

Maybe it's just me but I find that trailers that tell you the whole story tend to be for movies that suck. So in this regard, I welcome them. They alert me to the fact that I don't need to see the movie while filling me in on all the important stuff, so I can talk about them with a degree of authority at the next cocktail party.

And just a quick point: SIXTH SENSE, AMERICAN BEAUTY, FIGHT CLUB, BLAIR WITCH PROJECT and BEING JOHN MALKOVICH are all 1999 releases. Was that the last year anyone actually made good movies?
posted by philip-random at 7:06 PM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Weird, I had an almost identical experience with The Prestige (which I liked a lot better than a lotta twisty movies, but then, it had David Bowie in it). I liked the ending they ultimately went with, but I anticipated that there would be a major twist. I was just wrong about what that was for 4/5ths of the film.

The Prestige infuriated me. It's such a gorgeous, tightly-wound mechanism of a movie and then you get right to the end and Christopher Nolan goes HA HA FUCK YOU AUDIENCE. I mean, the end (what happens to Hugh Jackman's character, that is) completely invalidates the whole film. It's not clever, or satisfying, or even particularly coherent. It's a tawdry, cheap trick at the end of what was until then an absorbing puzzle of a movie. I fucking HATED the end of that movie. HATE HATE HATE

/rant
posted by BitterOldPunk at 7:12 PM on June 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


It beats the end of the book. Seriously, that shit made no sense.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:14 PM on June 17, 2011 [4 favorites]


The ending of Shutter Island couldn't have been worse if it had stopped dead at the climax and someone laboriously explain the whole plot complete with a flip chart of word puzzles. Oh wait.
posted by octothorpe at 7:26 PM on June 17, 2011 [5 favorites]


OK, I get it, we miss ArtW... but did anyone else notice Fake's account went dark, too? It's beginning to feel like "Who's Killing the Great Chefs of Europe" in here...
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:27 PM on June 17, 2011


OK, I get it, we miss ArtW... but did anyone else notice Fake's account went dark, too?

Yeah, we're gonna miss them but Metafilter's like the Bruins. This team has a lot of depth.

Oh, and SPOILER ALERT on who caused the Canucks riot -- it was the Mayor.
posted by philip-random at 7:39 PM on June 17, 2011


The ending...stopped dead at the climax and someone laboriously explain[ed] the whole plot complete with a flip chart of word puzzles.

And BAM we're talking about Vanilla Sky.
posted by adamdschneider at 7:50 PM on June 17, 2011


SPOILER

Queen Anne is dead.

END SPOILER
posted by winna at 8:32 PM on June 17, 2011


For those who like going into movies blind, spolier-free, I personally foind these movies wonderful when I rented them from Netflix, not knowing anything about them but their ratings:

Transiberian
Moon
North face

That's all I have to say about them, other than I wish I could be you and see any one of them again for the first time.

As for 6th Sense, oh gawd, such an overrated movie. If you guess the twist at the start you sit in the theatre bored out of your gourd for the next two hours, same as with the rest of his awful movies.

Wow, not my take at all. My heart felt so moved by the idea of this poor, tortured kid and his Mom, who wanted to make everything right and didn't know what to do for her son. There's one scene, where he is bullied at a birthday party, that just had me so upset, feeling his fear, that I felt like taking out the bullies and adopting him at the same time. Haley Joel Osmont was fantastic in that movie. And when he talks about the grandmother to his Mom? M.Night Shyamalan sucks now, but that scene was *powerful*.

I feel sorry for you, that you didn't connect with the characters. And i know it is the internet equivalent to hipster cool to say, "Oh, I knew what the twist to Sixth Sense was going in!" but I find the endless repetition of that comment far more boring than the movie ever was.
posted by misha at 8:35 PM on June 17, 2011 [5 favorites]


Adrian Lyne didn't come up with the twist. The script was written by Bruce Joel Rubin and the twist was in it. It's not a deus ex machina, imo.

My ire's targeted at Lyne because ultimately it's the director's job to be the audience's representative through production, and make the decisions about pacing, tone and so on. That's why the director gets paid the big bucks, in the end; contributions may originate with the writer, the editor, or just about anyone else, but the director makes the calls about how they work.

I call the ending a deus ex machina because the questions facing the protagonist during the film - am I going mad? or am I beset by some lovecraftian horror? - are answered at the end with a mere device. Usually in a DEM the god shows up and puts things to rights, here the ending is dystopian but it's still a DEM restoring the narrative continuity: oh hai it was all a hallucination resulting from a heartless government experiment and you are actually dead, too bad, the end. I was furious when I saw the movie because although the protagonist's battlefield injury is established at the beginning, we're then asked to jump forward into a story about What Happened After He Returned, with fully formed characters and so on.

Fair enough, but since we're still in the first ten minutes the only way I can possibly engage with the protagonist's situation after such a narrative discontinuity is if I accept the premise of a reliable narrator. If I don't, then 5-7 minutes into the movie I'm having to say 'Hey wait, I thought this guy just got stabbed on a battlefield, why haven't you bothered to explain how he overcame this rather tricky medical problem before transporting me into the future? I do not like your abandonment of linear chronology one bit, Mister Director.' Of course, the only reasonable answer to this is 'I must use time compression and editorial juxtaposition to create narrative structure, DW Griffith * Sergei Eisenstein > Erich Von Stroheim, you philistine.' Naturally, I must fall silent, because if I wanted to see everything happen in real time then I should have gone to a one-act play instead. So I go along with the structural premise and get emotionally involved with the character, and am suitably horrified as his world crumbles around him. And just as he hits rock-bottom and I'm most upset, along comes this denouement: 'Ha HA! It is all but a dream, and you fell for it because you bought into conventional narrative structure! How about them apples!!' Well...no. I went along with your conventional narrative structure because it wouldn't have made a lick of sense otherwise. The guy doesn't get hurt, dream of rescue and recovery only to have things fall apart again; there's a four year jump in narrative continuity at the beginning. Was I supposed to see the transition from 1971 - 1975 and think 'ah, I bet he's hallucinated his way through four whole years, but you can only keep that sort of thing going for so long before evil bobbleheads show up and people start to grow lizard tails.'

In Owl Creek Bridge, Peyton Farquhar finds himself in a sticky situation at the beginning of the story too - he's about to be hanged as a spy. But in a stroke of amazing good fortune, the rope breaks, he manages to get free of his bonds, and evade his pursuers. He makes it all the way home and is just about to embrace his wife when...oh shit none of that happened because usually when someone gets hanged they end up dead. Bummer. In Jacob's Ladder Jacob Singer get's stabbed with a bayonet in a strange incident during a Viet Nam war battle in 1971 and passes out, only to wake up on a subway train in 1975, apparently from an unpleasant dream. Strange nightmarish events begin to plague him as he goes about his daily life. Well, maybe that battlefield was real, wouldn't that explain things? Yes, but while getting injured on a battlefield is a Bad Thing, it's entirely plausible that someone could be injured in battle but recover from their wounds and go on with their life. 'Wounded in war' is much more common than 'cheated the hangman.'

If the director tells me that four years of relatively normal life which are too prosaic to recount in detail have transpired since, of course I'm going to go along with the premise that this world is real - what other choice do I have? Otherwise, whenever I have a strange dream I have to start worrying about whether I really woke up from the minor operation I had 3 years ago. I thought it was fine and got married and went back to school and stuff, but maybe there were complications and I died on the operating table OH GOD MY LIFE IS A LIE. That would be surprising, but would make for a terrible plot because the idea that you wouldn't notice anything fundamentally out of the ordinary for the first three years of your near/actual-death experience is just a non-starter. Given that initial false premise, when the answer comes at the end it just feels horribly forced.
posted by anigbrowl at 8:40 PM on June 17, 2011


No one's mentioned one use of spoilers, and that is to let those like me who are squeamish and/or sensorily overwhelmed by BIG LOUD OH JESUS IT'S SO VIOLENT movies. I don't like going to movies w/ violence in them, which is a lot of them, because I find it overwhelming to sit in the dark and have all that noise and imagery coming at me. I find even mundane tension-building scenes hard to take; it triggers my anxiety something fierce. I have a very hard time watching characters get humiliated or shamed. Can't handle rape scenes at all. At home, I can deal with this by pausing, distracting myself on the internet, or skipping scenes. In the theater, not so much.

But sometimes my friends and loved ones who aren't so highstrung want to go see something like that. And if I read the entire plot online, with spoilers, before I go...I'm much better. I know what's going to happen, and so can be braced for it, or know when to look away, or whatever.

I've run into at least two other people who are like me in this respect, and I suspect there are quite a few out there that find spoilers extremely helpful.
posted by emjaybee at 9:22 PM on June 17, 2011


Community ruined Catfish for me. Thanks, Britta.
posted by Apocryphon at 10:07 PM on June 17, 2011


Rosebud.

An yeah, rosebud was the sled. Who cares? It meant nothing.

Wait, Rosebud wasn't a symbol for misplaced desire, longing, regret and the uselessness of nostalgia?

SPOILER: Citizen Kane sucks just as hard whether you know "Rosebud" is his sled or not.

"Rosebud" was supposedly William Randolph Hearst's pet name for his mistress' anus.

Welles' transmogrification of it into the name of a sled amounts to one of the most vicious swipes at Hearst of the entire film.
posted by jamjam at 10:26 PM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's usually better to see movies without any advance information, because they're relatively short. 90 to 180 minutes or whatever is a small enough timespan to be vividly remembered many years later, so those first impressions really do count. With a book it takes much longer to experience the story - dozens, maybe hundreds of hours on different days, all cumulatively adding up to the total emotional impact.

That's why books don't rely on suspense in the same way as as movies, and why events feel so pure and visceral when we see them on the screen. With movies something happens, we react, something happens, we react, we anticipate, and then something else happens which surprises us, all in a timespan that approximates real life. With a book the author's goal is to get us to care about the characters by building believable, interesting people who live in a vivid, interesting world. The buildup of events in a novel is much slower, like an avalanche on a tall mountain, and if the novelist is doing their job right we feel suspense because that's what the characters are feeling, and we're experiencing those emotions right alongside them. (Or alternatively, we see a disaster coming that the characters are oblivious to.) Even if you know the plot in advance it doesn't matter as much, because it's the the quality of the writing that draws you in, and draws the emotions out of you.

Now of course there are many films that also create interesting characters that live in vividly realized worlds, and these are the movies that can be watched repeatedly even after the suspense is gone. But it isn't inherently necessary for movies to be crafted that way, and many just aren't.
posted by Kevin Street at 11:16 PM on June 17, 2011


I always get a bit pedantic when people talk about twists. A bit of a break down makes more sense of these things. Most movies have a "BIG REVEAL!". A murder mystery: whodunnit? A burglary caper: do they get away with it? And so on.
All twists are reveals but not all reveals are twists. For twists to work they rely on the narrative to be specifically sculpted around them and reliant on them. Rosebud? Not a twist, simply a reveal. Darth Vader? Not a twist. Not in the sense that ti didn't change any of the preceding storyline but it definitely put a definite twist in the overall arc of specific character development. Sixth Sense? Obviously a twist. Fight Club, and Crying Game are twist endings. The Usual Suspects? A reveal. Although you could put a good argument the other way, nothing about that story intrinsically changes with the ending other than... ya know, a reveal.
You can do the same thing for all of Shyamalan's films, and in this light none of them actually have twist endings other than maybe The Village.
So I don't think Shyamalan fails at making great twist movies like he did with Sixth Sense, just that people are so attuned do this idea that he's the guy who makes these really cliched films except that he doesn't. He just makes regular old films that people keep thinking are failing at what they aren't trying to do.
Anywho, I'm not making a case for Shyamalans films as misunderstood greatness, because for most of them they aren't.

I do think Inception has a lot of people puzzled in this age of spoiling. It was so expertly put together with multiple reveals that you simply couldn't spoil with a concise soundbite, especially because the big reveal was a huge ?.
posted by P.o.B. at 1:16 AM on June 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


RE: Being bored if you guess the twist in The Sixth Sense. I find this movie quite reqatchable though I've only seen it a hand full of times because I find the sceen in the school just too freaky. Kept me up for several days the first time I saw the movie.

Mister Moofoo writes "Another friend saw From Dusk Till Dawn without knowing it was a vampire movie."

I saw it this way; the reveal was pretty intense. "Psychos do not explode when sunlight hits them, I don't give a damn how crazy they are!"

Thoughtcrime writes "I find it really hard to believe that anyone thought Blair Witch Project was a documentary. I enjoyed it when I wasn't vomiting because of the shaky cam, but the film was rater R. Adults 17 and older who ought to know better, here's a big spoiler for real life: there's no such thing as a witch. Not the supernatural kind, anyway. Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy, though? Totally real"

I don't find that hard to believe at all. After all what percentage of the population do you figure participate in the mass cultural delusion that the sun's apparent position relative to arbitrarily defined constellations at the time of their birth somehow affects their personality? It's ~25% Or how many don't believe in evolution/think men coexisted with dinosaurs.
posted by Mitheral at 2:31 AM on June 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


emjaybee, I also like to know if there's going to be certain types of scenes in movies I'm going to see at the cinema (for me, it's sexualised violence). But it's pretty rare that I can't figure out if a movie is likely to have that type of thing or not, e.g. I'd be pretty damn surprised if Bridesmaids did, and not terribly surprised to find out that From Dusk Til Dawn does. The ones in-between, where I can't quite figure it out based on basic tagline, director's name (some directors are guaranteed to include certain scenes), genre, etc I deliberatly seek out highly-specific spoilers from friends who know my tastes first. If that's not working out, I cautiously go online. But I still don't want spoilers for the stuff I've decided to see. I want to control which spoilers I see and when - an impossible dream over a lifetime, but I've done it enough times that it seems worth the effort to try.
posted by harriet vane at 4:23 AM on June 18, 2011


SPOILER: Citizen Kane sucks just as hard whether you know "Rosebud" is his sled or not.

What? I thought "Rosebud" was a references to his mistresses vagina?

(I got bored before the end and never bothered finishing it. Still, I could swear I read this somewhere.)

The Magnificent Ambersons, OTOH, was great.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 4:32 AM on June 18, 2011


Ah, obviously I read it further down in the thread. Damn you, jamjam.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 4:34 AM on June 18, 2011


And just a quick point: SIXTH SENSE, AMERICAN BEAUTY, FIGHT CLUB, BLAIR WITCH PROJECT and BEING JOHN MALKOVICH are all 1999 releases. Was that the last year anyone actually made good movies?

I would argue that we've had some good movie years since, but '99 is my favorite movie year. Looking over Wikipedia's handy (and certainly incomplete) list of films released in 1999, I would also mention:

Audition
Existenz
Galaxy Quest
Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai
The Green Mile
Go
The Iron Giant
Magnolia
The Matrix
Office Space
Sleepy Hollow
South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut
The Straight Story
Summer of Sam
The Talented Mr. Ripley
Three Kings
Titus
Toy Story 2


These films may not all be modern classics, but I would say most of them are or are just under the wire. (I'm not even that crazy about The Matrix, to be honest, but I can't deny its influence on pop culture. This was also the same year as Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, for what that's worth.) Best year ever? Pretty sure.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 5:58 AM on June 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


That seems to be creating a kind of self-consciousness for some creators, not just about major plot surprises, but about everything they (we) do.

That kind of wraps it up for me. I really don't like the whole thing on this site where people analyze something and it automatically gets called out as overthinking or beanplating; yet when it comes to creating art or writing and thinking about spoilers during that process, that's straight up beanplating. Chinatown is a movie with a big fat twist in it, and it worked because the main character was a detective, and the twist and what ensued was meaningful for him beyond his investigation. It gave the ending great impact.

The example in the article of Cloverfield seems like a good example of how overthinking this stuff hurts everyone. If that had been a decent movie to begin with--a good monster movie, with characters you cared about that acted like real, intelligent people, more story and less explosions of various kinds--the marketing campaign wouldn't have mattered.


As far as spoily trailers go, that happens because the industry still relies on a vast and diverse audience. A lot of people don't go to the movies to have their minds blown, to learn something about themselves, to see if the internet buzz was true, etc. They want to know exactly what they're going to get ahead of time, just like when they go to McDonald's or tune into Law and Order. I'm not trying to knock any of that stuff, or said people. Just to say that for a lot of people, it isn't any sort of exploratory experience, only a pleasant diversion. Not everyone wants surprises.
posted by heatvision at 7:20 AM on June 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


"'Rosebud' was what Hearst called his friend Marion Davies’s clitoris."
posted by kirkaracha at 7:34 AM on June 18, 2011


And since we're talking about Citizen Kane... The upcoming reissue will have the extras from the previous 2-disc, as well as the excellent HBO film RKO 281, which is about the making of CK. Even after watching/reading/commentaries, RKO 281 changed my perspective by showing rather than telling how personal it all really was. I highly recommend it.
posted by heatvision at 8:15 AM on June 18, 2011


Oh, I forgot about my Sixth Sense spoiler story!

Before I saw it, I mentioned I was going to watch the movie that weekend, and one of my classmates turned to me and said "He's dead!" Some of the other students shushed him, but it was too late.

Thing is, he didn't say who.

I spent the majority of the movie trying to figure how the FUCK Haley Joel Osment's character could be dead. So the end of it was, like, a double-twist for me. Awesome.
posted by sarahsynonymous at 10:35 AM on June 18, 2011 [5 favorites]


I accidentally spoiled The Sixth Sense for the friend I was seeing it with by figuring out the twist in, like, the first half hour of the movie. It seemed kind of obvious to me at the time (haven't seen it since I saw it in the theater), so I didn't know I was ruining it for him. Oops! (Maybe the lesson here was don't talk at the movies...)
posted by zorrine at 11:22 AM on June 18, 2011


I wonder if the Internet's ability to spoil is somewhat overblown. The Internet, for the most part, at least allows you to pick and choose what content you decide to look at, so if you want to avoid spoilers about a particular piece of media it's not all the difficult to figure out what sites/links you should avoid. For example, I missed out on most of this past season's Sons of Anarchy due to a dispute between Fox and Dish Network, so I'll have to wait for the DVD's to come out to catch up. No plots have been spoiled for me though, despite frequent Internet use, because I know to stay clear of recaps on sites like Hitfix.com or the AV Club and stay away from message board topics such as "Sons Of Anarchy Season 3 Finale"

Sure, there may be times, as has been discussed ad nauseum on this site, where a spoiler may find its way to an unintended place, catching an unsuspecting person off-guard, but there still is at least some level of control.

Meanwhile, off-line, I've had the ending of Oliver Twist spoiled for me while I was halfway through the book by a Jeopardy clue and had the major "twist" of Never Let Me Go ruined for me by the Library of Congress Classification in the front pages of the book. Much harder to avoid those kind of spoilers since you don't even know they're coming.
posted by The Gooch at 1:55 PM on June 18, 2011


"In this way, The Sixth Sense is actually a victim too. Imagine watching the first 30 minutes of that movie without having seen the trailer and known that the kid sees dead people. It would have been a completely different experience.

Often, my favorite moviegoing experiences are when I literally know nothing about a movie, aside from maybe there being a writer or director that I like.
posted by roll truck roll at 3:12 PM on June 17
"

This is exactly how I saw The Sixth Sense, I knew absolutely nothing about the movie and this is probably the reason I enjoyed it so much.
posted by Vindaloo at 2:45 PM on June 18, 2011


I don't think the internet is unique or even the worst about revealing spoilers for books or movies or TV. There is generally an etiquette about it on most message boards, etc. If I'm into a particular TV show and catching up on Netflix, I think one has to simply be intelligent and realize that reading forums about it is likely to reveal stuff you might not have wanted to know.

This reveals me as a lit-nerd, I realize, but I'll tell ya what I had to stop reading, at least before I read the book it was attached to - the literary forwards/critiques that preface classic literature. After a few times of whatever junior college scholar wrote the damn thing saying "and then when the main character dies in the last chapter, we find 'he' was..."

Yes, I know the book is 100 years old. Yes, I know many people are buying the damn book hoping it contains cliff notes and they won't have to read it. Still... live and learn.

Back when I actually cared about the Tour de France, not finding out who won the day's stage took a near-total internet embargo, however.
posted by randomkeystrike at 9:40 PM on June 18, 2011


This reveals me as a lit-nerd, I realize, but I'll tell ya what I had to stop reading, at least before I read the book it was attached to - the literary forwards/critiques that preface classic literature. After a few times of whatever junior college scholar wrote the damn thing saying "and then when the main character dies in the last chapter, we find 'he' was..."

Agreed, those "Introductions" always seem terribly misplaced since they inevitably are spoiler heavy.

I just finished "Crime and Punishment" today. The version I read (Signet Classics) spoiled a major character's death by including a map of St. Petersburg, Russia at the front of the book with one spot noted as "Location of (character's name) suicide". Geez, thank, guys.
posted by The Gooch at 12:15 AM on June 19, 2011


I've always wondered why they don't put them at the end of the book instead. That's usually when I'm ready to find out if there were any themes or motifs I didn't spot, or if the author had any particular intention, etc.
posted by harriet vane at 5:25 AM on June 19, 2011


But because I often do guess twists, I appreciate the movies, novels and short stories where I don't see it coming. Those get such a grateful, "Well played" from me.

This. Every mystery, suspense or thriller book I read I have to try to figure out before the end; the same goes with movies I watch. It's a compulsion and has been since I was a kid--I blame "The Westing Game" by Ellen Raskin for that.

Anyway, I feel the exact same way. Anything that can take me by surprise or can end before I can guess "whodunit" (without resorting to cheap tricks or poor writing, that is---I'm looking at you, Heavy Rain) gets top marks from me.
posted by Corpsegoddess at 2:50 PM on June 19, 2011


I feel the same way about mysteries. The ones that start with the criminal and then follow the detective as they triy to find out what we already know have always been boring to me. Sorry, Columbo.
posted by Kevin Street at 5:37 PM on June 19, 2011


OK, I get it, we miss ArtW...

Wait, WTF? Artw is gone?
posted by homunculus at 5:55 PM on June 19, 2011


Wait, WTF? Artw is gone?

Yep, says he's never coming back.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:01 PM on June 19, 2011


Well, shit.
posted by homunculus at 6:09 PM on June 19, 2011


When I turned 14, I got the paperback Lord of the Rings box set my father had as a kid. Return of the King, of course, had a good eighty pages of appendices at the back, maps and genealogies and whatnot, and a detailed and comprehensive timeline of Middle-Earth.

I burned my way through the first two books in a couple of days. I've always been a fast reader. Not competitive-speed-reading fast, but if I look at some text, a sentence or two is going to jump right up into my brain whether I want it to or not.

So I was about five chapters into Return of the King, marking my place with a bus transfer. I fished the book out of my bag to get a little reading in between classes, took my bookmark out, and tucked it in near the back so I wouldn't lose it.

Near the back, as it turned out, was in the middle of the aforementioned timeline. Right at the end of the Third Age, as it turned out. And in the second it took me to tuck that bookmark in, a sentence jumped right off the page and into my brain:

[ROT13'd] "Tbyyhz frvmrf gur Bar Evat naq snyyf vagb gur Penpxf bs Qbbz."

It would be several years before humanity developed a way to express my feelings at that moment.

I still haven't finished the book.
posted by Zozo at 8:56 AM on June 22, 2011


Often, my favorite moviegoing experiences are when I literally know nothing about a movie, aside from maybe there being a writer or director that I like.
posted by roll truck roll


On a first date with a woman I ended up living with for several years, I suggested going down the block to a little repertory film house that was showing Sleeper as part of a Woody Allen retrospective.

We were so deep in conversation neither of us noticed that the Woody Allen retrospective had ended the day before.

Taxi Driver did turn out to be a pretty good movie, though.
posted by jamjam at 12:47 PM on June 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


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