Why Spoilers Are, You Know, Spoilers

Over at the Chicago Reader's movie blog, Jonathan Rosenbaum recently mounted a defense of spoilers. He doesn't see why people get all riled up about being informed of plot twists before seeing a movie, and he addresses the matter with intelligence and thought. But he's still wrong.1. He first mentions that spoilers have been appearing in literature, even/especially in the titles or chapters of certain works, for hundreds of years. He cites Death of a Salesman and The Taming of the Shrew as only two examples of this, saying that if people don't complain about these spoiler titles, then they shouldn't complain about plot spoilers. I'm surprised he finds the two worth comparing. Obviously, any action contained in the title isn't a spoiler, but a framework for the story's tone. It doesn't detract from the film to call it The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, but rather enhances the experience by focusing the action in on a specific subject, namely, the death of Liberty Valance. By giving away such prominent information in the title, the author isn't "spoiling" the story, but establishing it. 2. He then makes an interesting point by correctly stating that "spoilers invariably [privilege] plot over style and form." This part of his argument is well-founded, but ultimately tries to be a little too broad. Of course spoilers value story over style; that's their entire definition. To say that Children of Men finds its emotional climax in a continuous take lasting 7-8 minutes in the third act merely provides information about the film's technical aspects; to describe in detail the events of that take and the characters involved would be, well, to spoil the story. There are even stylistic parts of a film that can be considered spoilers when they directly relate to the plot, and Rosenbaum names one: The switch from black-and-white to color in The Wizard of Oz. Aesthetic decisions that directly affect the plot are obviously spoilers, e.g., "Man, that slow-mo computer-aided shot when Edward Norton shoots himself in the mouth in Fight Club is great." But ultimately, what sense does it make for Rosenbaum to complain that spoilers value story over style? I thought that was self-evident. 3. It's completely possible to be a functioning film critic and describe the film (or book, or TV series) without actually spoiling the relevant action; more than that, it's expected. What's so impossible about laying out the ground rules for a movie without revealing the twists that happen in the second or third acts? 4. I don't like spoilers because, yes, I do want to "experience everything as if it were absolutely fresh" when it comes to film/TV/whatever, but I don't think that means I'm trying to regain some kind of "infancy." Rosenbaum again goes way, way broad by thinking that resisting spoilers must lead naturally to refusing any foreknowledge of a film, including stars, director, you name it. The nonsensical leap ignores that the joy of seeing a story for the first time is that you don't know where it's going. Yes, it's also pleasing to re-watch (or re-read) something when you know what will happen, because you can pull back just a little and really appreciate the structure and build and flow of the story. But that initial viewing should be as devoid of spoilers as possible to preserve the story's power, to maintain that gut punch you get when the hero is suddenly shot or the villain suddenly appears. Is Rosenbaum saying it really doesn't matter if, before you ever see the film, you know that Vader is Luke's father? Or that Keyser Soze has been under our noses the whole time? Is Rosenbaum really saying that having that knowledge beforehand wouldn't damage the film's impact? Because to suggest that would be foolish. Nothing beats the emotional thrill, whether it's joy or heartbreak, of seeing a film with unspoiled eyes.