With Jurassic World, the season finale of Game of Thrones, and the ongoing exploits of Penny Dreadful and Sense 8 all going on this weekend, there’s a good chance you might accidentally encounter some plot “spoilers” online. But film critic Dave White thinks you should stop worrying and learn to love a third (or second, or first) act twist.
WARNING: The following op-ed rant contains some movie spoilers — about Jurassic World and a handful of other, older films — spoilers that don’t matter one bit.
“How was Jurassic World?” asks a friend.
“Boring,” I say, “First of all—”
“Please, no spoilers,” he says.
“It’s Jurassic World. What kind of spoilers were you expecting?” I ask. “Please, do tell me. Tell me what dino-hijinks you’re dreaming of for your future experience with Jurassic World, and how spoiled you would find it all if you happened to learn the details of that adventure.”
“I just don’t want to know who dies,” he says. [Here, reader, is where those spoilers begin. You are on your own.]
“Do you honestly believe any single one of the main characters in this film dies? Like Chris Pratt? Are you worried Chris Pratt might not make it out alive? This is, allow me to remind you, a movie about a dinosaur-theme park run amok. Give or take some self-aware, satirical moments, it’s the same story as the first three Jurassic films. They create a dinosaur theme park even though everybody knows it’s dangerous, then the dinosaurs get loose and eat some dummies. And then they leave the ending a little bit open because they want to make a Part 5.”
“It’s a movie for children, as well as for adults who want to be entertained as though they were children. I’m even going to tell you who dies right now, because you are not a baby-person who needs this sort of protection: characters with no names, people who exist on screen to be lunch for a dinosaur, and one bad guy. That’s it.”
The word “spoiler” has become a sword wielded by unreasonable viewers, its use disproportionate to its importance. It dominates online discourse, somehow sharing equal footing with questions of quality.
Worse, its use has turned petulant, trivializing art in the process. It suggests that something has been ruined for the viewer, that the object in question is no longer worth experiencing, and that someone else is to blame for the destruction of that desire. It’s a word that has no place in thoughtful, adult-life, and if you worry about it too much you may very well be a baby-person.
I am a film critic, and the way I just described Jurassic World to my friend is not how I typically review films. I walk the line, writing in the space between telling the reader enough and not too much. When I feel as though I can’t adequately review a film without describing important plot points or character information, I warn the reader, because I understand that all may not share my views on the matter. Furthermore, who wants to be widely reviled? Not me.
But even though I walk that line, I’m also the one who decides where it’s drawn. Every film critic does this, and it’s completely arbitrary. In my own work, extremely bad films (like Grown Ups 2) tend to merit a lot more divulged details, if only to shock the reader into a necessary DO NOT EVER WATCH THIS frame of mind. Mind-blowingly bad films earn even more surprise-shredding detail, in the hope that the reader will rush right out to her or his empty local multiplex and stare bravely into the idiot abyss. This may seem counter-intuitive. But would you go see Oogieloves without a little bait? No, you wouldn’t. Therefore, I will now divulge that Oogieloves contains a subplot about a vacuum cleaner that falls in love with a window. Nothing I just wrote is a fake-out. And now you want to see Oogieloves.
Another garbage-film I can absolutely recommend based on its thoroughly wrong-headed, heavy-handed, anti-female insanity, is Tyler Perry’s Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor, an absurd morality play that co-stars Kim Kardashian and a shockingly inept subplot about Brandy getting a case of Punishment AIDS, which is a spoiler. Not sorry.
No two film critics are the same on this issue, so you’ll have to sort out for yourself which ones you like to read and which ones you’ll avoid. But it’s a good rule of thumb that, in general, the more serious the criticism, the more you’re going to read about the ending before you ever see the movie. If you read magazines like Film Comment, Sight & Sound, or the film writing in Artforum, you know what I’m talking about. Of course, a cheap little jump-scare movie like, say, Unfriended, isn’t going to be covered by those publications, so you’re kind of in the wilderness unaccompanied.
Last year I wrote about a movie starring Elizabeth Moss and Mark Duplass called The One I Love. It’s a strange dramatic comedy about a man and woman working on their relationship during what is intended to be a restorative retreat. Not long after they arrive at their destination, the entire film turns upside down and then inside-out. There’s an enormous twist. I won’t tell you what it is. So I lied: there are spoilers.
But let’s say I did tell you about that twist. You’d still want to see it because it’s a fascinating, weird, well-made movie, whether or not you walk in knowing a lot of details. Nothing has been “spoiled” if you know the plot mechanics. The relative pleasure of surprise would be somewhat diminished, sure, but the movie would have to rest on very shaky legs for any sort of revealed secret to topple the entire construction. Fight Club’s snot-nosed, anarchy-loving, social criticism is still worth your time even if you know going in that Brad Pitt only exists in Ed Norton’s fucked up mind.
You’ll notice I haven’t spoken about television; that’s because TV operates differently. Episodic, narrative programs rely much more on the element of weekly surprises and reveals. Competition shows, in particular, are built on cliffhangers and revelations. To get around this, you have one option: stay away from social media until the coast is clear. That means turning off your phone and not checking Facebook or Twitter until you can watch. Seriously, just do that.
If that’s difficult (or even impossible) for you to do, if you’re that addicted to a constant stream of input, then you’re going to be frustrated and unhappy for a lot of life to come. If you didn’t plan to watch the season finale of RuPaul’s Drag Race in real time, and you think you’re going to be spared the outcome, then you haven’t figured out how to live on this planet in any practical, functional way. One more thing: tough shit.
I mistakenly got on Twitter in California while people in New York were watching Mad Men‘s series finale, and I heard about the final Coca-Cola-themed shot before getting to witness it for myself. Guess how much of that show was ruined for me? Zero. Zero amounts of ruined show. It was still brilliant because it was fucking Mad Men.
Therefore, in conclusion, please shut up about spoilers forever because you’re giving everyone around you a headache, mostly me. No amount of foreknowledge can ruin a good movie. And no amount of restraint will make a shitty movie’s hollow surprises any better.
And oh, by the way: Leo dies at the end of Titanic; Susan Sarandon dies at the end of Stepmom; the American Sniper dies at the end of American Sniper. Jason wins in Freddy vs Jason; Rocky loses in the only Rocky movie worth watching; Rosebud was Charles Foster Kane’s sled; in The Crying Game, she’s transgender; Roy Scheider explodes that shark in Jaws; at the end of the Channing Tatum film Fighting, Channing Tatum is the best at fighting; at the end of Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo, Ozone, Turbo and Kelly save the community center with dance; at the end of the Jessica Alba film Honey, Honey saves the community center with dance; and the Navy pulls Airport 77 out of the Bermuda Triangle with a bunch of enormous balloons.
You should watch them all. Especially Honey. And Airport 77. They’re both so weird and bad and great. You owe it to yourself. They’re not spoilers. They’re selling points.