I could spoil everything

Many people who know me know that I don’t like the way the idea of the SPOILER affects discussions of movies. They know this because I reveal the ending of every film I’ve ever seen in the least polite way possible. It’s a single speech whose delivery lasts as long as there are people remaining in the room. Actually, no, that’s not what I do.

When I end up talking about SPOILERS it usually happens in one of two ways:

  1. Someone is talking about a movie but doesn’t want to give away the end.
  2. I want to say something about a movie, but I first I ask to make sure I won’t “spoil” it.

I never “spoil” a film if someone doesn’t want me to, but I rarely ask someone not to “spoil” one for me. I’m not sure why I don’t mind. I suppose partly it’s related to my interest in history: I’m used to being interested in things while knowing how they turn out. And partly it’s because for me a really good movie is a movie I still like after seeing it more than once or twice.* Sometimes I miss out on enjoying the unexpected, but I rarely feel like the whole experience has been ruined. And when I do, it’s often because the surprise is the best thing about the film. And that’s the kind of movie I don’t usually watch more than once anyway.

Managing SPOILERS isn’t very difficult in in-person or voice conversation. As long as no one blurts things out, all you have to do is first agree to reveal or not to reveal the SPOILERS before continuing. Online – at least in an open-readership blog and comments format – it’s a different story. You can’t really tell if everyone has seen a particular film, or how much they’ve seen, or how much they’ve heard, or if they mind or don’t mind learning SPOILER information. So you’re left with the choice of leaving things out that you really want to talk about or putting up big SPOILER warnings and trying to hide the discussion while keeping it available for those who want to see it.

This can lead to what I think of as unfortunate outcomes, such as:

  • a posting about reviews of a movie I won’t name in which the author expressed disagreement with one reviewer’s assessment of a particular part of the movie (among other things), and then said they wouldn’t discuss that point because it was a SPOILER and SPOILERS must not be revealed. As it happens, I’d seen that movie and knew that that plot point was a total SPOILER. So I could see why the author left it out. But it was a huge part of the conversation I had with other people who saw the movie with me, and if I were writing about the film, I’d hate to prevent myself or the occasional reader from talking about it at all.
  • In a comment thread, someone recommended a movie whose name I will not reveal but which is a procedural based on a true story in which a famous actor plays a journalist investigating someone’s wrongful conviction. I’ve seen this movie and thought it was known as “that movie in which a famous actor plays [see above description]” – in other words, I thought its outcome was part of what it was known for. But another person strongly objected to the recommendation as being itself a spoiler. This is a film from over 50 years ago.

People who’ve “known” me online for a while are no doubt familiar with my attitude towards SPOILERS, as I’ve brought it up before. I’m repeating it here because I’ve been watching a lot of movies lately – this is where my time previously spent blogging has gone in the last few weeks – and I’m going to start posting about them. I won’t include SPOILERS just for the heck of it, and there might be posts where I purposely leave them out for effect.** But while I’ll provide warnings and use the “below the fold” feature – unfortunately not very effective for those on RSS – I’m not going to leave something out if it’s part of what I want to discuss.


*I once held the view that I need to see something three times before I know how much I like it. The first time it’s as new as it can be to me; the second time I’m under the influence of my expectations from the first time; the third time I have more perspective and am ready to start thinking about it “as it is.”

**But I’ll answer if anyone really wants to know.