When discussing films the etiquette is always not to give away the key beats of the story for fear of spoiling someone else’s enjoyment. Revealing those important final twists drives some into open fury, as if they’d just heard the date and manner of their own death. But can you really spoil a film? I mean, beyond the obvious like casting Cara Delevinge as a space witch? If the only reason to watch a film is to find out what’s happened, then surely that film has already been spoilt by the people who made it.
If knowing what happens spoils a film, why is any film ever re-released? Why are there boxed set editions of movies when the film inside has been utterly ruined by fans already watching them? If spoilers are a thing why is it that our favourite films are the ones we watch again and again?
Indeed many of my favourite films are those I barely enjoyed on first watch. The narrative of Burnt By The Sun is a ramble thing that irritates and bores until, partly as an affect of sheer duration, the film delivers an emotional punch that leaves you reeling. The first time I watched it I nearly turned it off, the second time, free from the narrative junkie’s obsession over what was happening, I was able to properly take in the complex beauty that imbues every shot and situation. First time round the doom of the central characters was a blow because it was a surprise, second time round the eloquent fury of the conclusion genuinely left me woozy and wounded for days.
This is not just a point about cinema as high art. I challenge any of you to spoil a super hero movie by revealing the plot. Did you go and see the Avengers wondering if they’d save the world from total destruction? Did you even go to see how they would save the world from total destruction? Having seen it can you tell me what the destruction was and how it was averted in any more detail than “aliens coming through a portal” and “the goodies closed the portal”? This is not to be churlish, the joy of these films lies not in what happens but in the experience of it happening.
For anyone involved in cinema the concept of spoilers is not just a mistake, it’s dangerous because it implies that film is chiefly a narrative medium like the news. The idea that the most important thing is what happens rather than what it feels like or what it means encourages us to concentrate on the wrong part of the creative process. If you asked someone “Have you seen Van Gough’s Sunflowers?” you’d be astonished if they shouted “WHAT!? DON’T RUIN IT! I WAS GOING TO LOOK AT THAT LATER BUT THERE’S CLEARLY NO POINT NOW I KNOW IT’S JUST SUNFLOWERS!!” To give such total importance to story over all else is to fundamentally misunderstand what a film is.