The warning in movie reviews and film commentaries is as common as stop signs these days. After all, no one wants to ruin a good surprise.
But they do anyway.
I was accused of that cinematic crime more than a year ago by a reader after I revealed the endings to Inception and Shutter Island in a film review of Unknown, an action-thriller starring Liam Neeson. The film was an enjoyable ride until an unnecessary and rather pedestrian twist to start the film's third act changed the complexion of the movie -- and not for the better.
I used the aforementioned films in my review as examples of good (Inception) and bad (Shutter Island) major plot twists.
The reader who responded to the review hadn't seen either of the movies I mentioned and suggested I robbed her of the full experience of each film. If Inception and Shutter Island were still in theaters, I would have felt the same way. But in the case of the former it had been seven months since the movie was released, and a year for the latter.
So, when is it safe to talk openly about a movie's major plot points?
To my knowledge, there has never been an approved expiration date for plot twists. Yet, how long are we realistically expected to keep from divulging a guarded movie secret for fear of ruining the surprise?
Everyone speaks freely of Norman Bates dressing up as his mom while her dearly departed mummified corpse sits in the cellar. And if someone were to mention The Crying Game, is it worth discussing the film more than 20 years later without talking about its "She's a man, baby" twist?
The Darth Vader "I am your father" revelation to Luke is a voice snippet on a Star Wars sounds app I have on my iPhone. It actually bothers me when my daughter plays the app because she hasn't seen the movie and I don't want the revelation ruined for her.
Then again, I had the moment ruined for me by my childhood best friend who saw The Empire Strikes Back a week before me and couldn't resist sharing the surprise. Thanks again, Mitch. Even after the spoiler, I still loved the movie.
For the most part I've avoided having movies ruined for me. Growing up, I quickly learned what film critics could be trusted to keep the big twists to themselves and out of reviews. I'm actually conscious of giving away too much plot information in my film reviews as well. (Though one reader might argue otherwise.)
For my recent four-star review of the clever horror movie The Cabin in the Woods, I strongly encouraged anyone curious about the film to see it before its many twists were ruined. Much of the film's fun is derived in riding blindly along the creative path forged by its writers, Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon.
And it's not just me who believes in the sanctity of plot twists.
Filmmakers are highly protective of their secrets, including George Lucas.
Lucas was so determined not to let the big Empire Strikes Back secret out, so the story goes, that he told Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker) only moments before the "I'm your father" scene what Vader's revelation would be. Everyone else on set heard what Dave Prowse, who played Vader but did not provide the voice, said, "Obi-wan killed your father."
When Prowse did reveal the secret just before the film was released, Lucas supposedly "punished" him by having another actor wear the Darth Vader costume when he's finally unmasked.
Now that I think about it, I guess I pulled a Prowse myself and ruined some film surprises too. And for that -- and to the reader who emailed me -- I apologize.
Now there's a surprise ending you didn't see coming.
Contact Kirk Baird at firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6734.
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