Warning: Spoiler alerts… for Empire Strikes Back, Flight Club and, Citizen Kane, Watchmen
Time ran an article way back in 2011 and it got me to thinking about the art of the film review, and the responsibility of the audience. A study was conducted at the University of California, San Diego where they had a series of stories which they gave away the endings before the subjects read them. They found that when the subjects knew the ending, even if they were twists, they enjoyed the story more.
Here are my thoughts on the matter, and review writing, as well.
Of course, revealing the twist can take the fun out of watching -or reading- a good mystery, and there are people who would argue that even telling someone that a story or film has a twist can ruin part of the movie going experience. That knowing Darth Vader is Luke’s father would have spoiled the whole of Empire for everyone, or that Rosebud is Kane’s sled will cause someone to lose interest in travelling along the journey of Charles Foster Kane. But, where does Spoiler start and helping create an informed audience begin?
I postulate that knowing the twist or the entire end of a film can give the untrained viewer permission to view a film with an attuned sense for the story. That years of watching summer popcorn movies has lulled the viewer in to not needing to pay attention in any sort of concentrated focus. This is all well and good if that is all films were, but the myriad of films that sneak under the radar as Summer movie, but are actually complex character studies can perhaps throw off someone if they are unaware of their responsibility.
So many films that make it to the larger Googolplexes are there to entertain your eyeballs and are not necessarily requesting you to qoute-unquote think. By no means do I pass judgement on the Transformers and Mummy movies that continuously fill the seats because at heart movies (and books as well) are for escapism and they do just that. This does not mean that a movie which asks you to take time to analyze and pontificate are not escapism, either, but they can surely scare the casual viewer if not prepared.
And, what of those films that are trying to do and say more? The 2001’s, the Inside Llewyn Davis’s, and the Lost Highway’s insist on more from you. They need you to view them and study them; discuss them and then view them, again. And what I wonder is if that means giving the viewer permission (a disclaimer, if you will) to turn on the analytical part of their brain that usually shuts off for the so-called Summer blockbusters and typical romantic comedies.
Take Fight Club for instance- for many, the sheer joy of learning that Tyler Durden was in fact “The Narrator” the whole time and never existed is part of the journey, but others found it confusing and chaotic. How would they have viewed the film had they known already? My belief is they would have spent more time viewing the film with a critical eye; studying the hints that were left for the viewer to find along the way. Heightening their enjoyment as they became a willing participant in The Narrator’s psychosis. Giving the audience permission to pick at the nuances of the film with the belief they are on the same journey. The joy of Fight Club is also in the return visit but if they are left cold, would they come back?
Take Alan Moore’s Watchmen comic series. Well considered to be the greatest comic format story of all time. On first read most would have breezed through the twelve issues with the same speed and attention given to any other DC comic out at that time: Glance at the panel, read the balloons, move on. But the other reason that Watchmen is great is that it took a medium that hadn't yet used the format to its grander potential, creating a world within the background of the panels; that characters and events of importance happen in the BG that had you known to pay attention you may have solved the mystery of who Rorschach was earlier than anyone else. AND had you been told that Rorschach was “The End is Nigh’ Man you would have then spent more time meticulously examining each image plus studying the text giving you an even greater reading experience.
This is what I hope to do with my reviews; to give the reader enough information that when they view the movie they will have a bit more information in their back pocket so as to find another level to their movie. Rest assured not all movies require such an in-depth look, but some do- and what a shame it is that a would-be viewer might miss an opportunity to enjoy a movie because they came in not knowing what they were in for. That knowing what to expect means you won’t be walking into a political triller when the trailer was cut to look like an action blockbuster.
Firstly, a review must express not only whether a movie fails or succeeds at what it sets out to do (eg: Titilate, scare, make you swoon) but, also why it did or did not do just that. Have no fear, I don’t plan to give out twists or main plot points in the third act but my hope is to give the future audience a more equipped tool box and set them on with a prepared mindset for a film that may or may not have sold itself properly via its trailer or word of mouth.
James C. The Cold Open-BC