I’ve been tempted to write a long essay about spoilers for some time. And while this isn’t that long essay, I hope it will get my points across quickly.
IRONIC SPOILER WARNING:, the text below will contain spoilers (largely older ones that most of you will probably already be familiar with) as illustrations.
Repeat after me:
Spoilers SUCK. Knowledge is power. Narrative is magic. Context is everything.
The douchebag who left the opening night of ‘Alien‘ telling the assembled line for the next show that ”Ash is a Robot“ destroyed the viewing experience of many (if not most) of those who came next. Because they could gauge the actions of the character, as well as understand a technological facet of the world that was meant to be hidden, and (for those with the ability to put pieces together), the entire plot.
This is the most straight-up sociopathic spoiler I know about, but in a world where communal experience is ever-lessening (I go to a great Halloween party every year filled with lovely smart folks, but usually recognize only a couple costumes because our sprawling nerd culture/s are far more vast than I could ever have imagined), being able to destroy something communal and fresh becomes all the more important for the petty and the sad.
It doesn’t matter much if you know ”Rosebud” is a sled, that’s more of a red herring than a deep reveal (and then funnier once you know the Hearst/Davies conjecture). But many other films in my favorite genre (Memory/what makes us human) are badly damaged by spoilers. And as storytelling becomes more plot-driven, spoilers hurt a lot More. Hard to spoil ‘Blade Runner’, but way too easy to spoil its sequel (which I also really liked).
‘The Prestige’ is all about magic, and it uses film editing AS magic. Take away the magic and you remove the first viewing’s surprises, sort of collapse any future viewings into the first one. I looked at many Prestige posters – there are a surprisingly vast number of posters, and many of them directly relate to the deep themes of the film – before deciding to use the photo below:
Marvel (currently the smartest movie-making machine on the planet) spoiled a lot of ‘Thor: Ragnarok’ for many of us by showing a key plot point (or 5) in the trailer. If I hadn’t known the Hulk was present, I would have been as surprised and delighted as Thor himself. And really, you want to show me Thor’s hammer destroyed in the trailer? Wow. OK.
I could go on and on, but I’ll end with the ending of ‘The Road Warrior’ – something I find especially beautiful (all the moreso for its unexpectedness). If it had been spoiled, that would have gutted its effect, and for all that many of us don’t like to think of it, film is about emotional power. Spoilers have the ability to lessen and recontextualize the great and the good – diffusing and commodifying. They spoil – thus their name.
To sum up: Spoilers suck. Knowledge is power. Narrative is magic. Context is everything.