Just when it seems to have died down, the debate over spoilers flairs right back up again, like a pesky form of a physical ailment that – unlike spoilers – isn’t likely to be mentioned in mixed company. The rise and proliferation of social media has made the spread of spoilers even more virulent, totally off-hand, and hard to avoid. Live in Los Angeles and love a show like Mad Men? Better stay off the ol’ Twitter machine while the other time zones watch it (and, no, I am not being sarcastic here – I’ve lived in Los Angeles, and I managed to stay the hell off of social media during “important” television events, and no, it’s really not that hard). Highly anticipating a film? Keep away from pals who have already seen it (or maybe just tell them “no spoilers, pals, okay?”). Prone to accidentally overhearing big-time spoilers because you’ve got super hearing? We cannot help with that, but it actually sounds cool.
We’ve covered spoilers pretty heavily over the years, including exploring the science of spoilers and the truth about twists, we’ve cautioned against Twitter, and even given “the final word” on the matter, though I’ve mainly stayed out of the fray. It’s high time I admit my stance on spoilers: I don’t mind them a bit. Well, mostly. In fact, there’s been a few I’ve actually loved.
It should go without saying that spoilers follow (and, if you’ve somehow gotten this far and now realized what you’ve gotten yourself into, those spoilers apply to television shows Game of Thrones, House of Cards, How I Met Your Mother, and films Bears, Gravity, The Counselor, and The Purge).
Late last year, I wrote a piece about how a number of movies I saw in 2013 helped me tap back into my ability to cry over and during movies, an ability that “had been confined to animal documentaries (Born to Be Wild 3D and Chimpanzee nearly killed me).” While my ability to cry in other films has been reignited, my ability to sob it up in those animal docs has continued unabated. Which is why I was so afraid when I realized I’d have to see Bears, and most likely cry while doing so.
So I asked a friend who had already seen the film to be straight with me – does anyone die in the film? To his credit, he asked me if I really wanted to know and, yes, I really wanted to know, goddammit. There’s little doubt that without this particular “spoiler” I’d be able to enjoy the film. I had to know if it was going to happen, and if it was, when it was going to happen. I needed to be ready. He advised that none of the bears died during the film, though there were a few tense moments, including a sequence that was particularly dicey. Even with that knowledge safe in my brain, when said dicey sequence arrived, I found myself so gripped by what was happening on screen that I became convinced that my friend had lied to me and that, yes, one of these cubs was going to die. The “safety” afforded to me by the “knowledge” that “no one died” vanished, and I was a bundle of nerves, tears, and terror.
The bear lived. It really was just a very dicey sequence.
Did knowing what happened to the bears of Bears impact my reaction to the film? Nope. I loved this thing, and I still experienced something pretty visceral and real, spoilers and all.
Elsewhere, I’ve gone accidentally searching for spoilers, poking my nose where I shouldn’t (and wouldn’t, if I was truly concerned with not having things spoiled for me). Sometime during the previous season of Game of Thrones, the still-living King Joffrey did something so heinous and so horrible that a) I actually can’t remember what it was (all those horrible things just blend together now) and b) it made me click right over to the book series’ Wikipedia to figure out how long we’d have to deal with his shit.
Hey, turns out, it wouldn’t be that much longer – and that knowledge left me happy, secure, and maybe a bit smug. (And, no, I didn’t say a word of it to friends who had no idea that the Purple Wedding was approaching.)
Roughly the same thing happened in the middle of the second season of House of Cards, when I idly perused the Netflix series’ Wikipedia (just, you know, be careful with Wikipedias) to see if anything bad would happen to the nefarious Doug Stamper. Huh. Look at that. Oops.
Somewhat similarly, I had to go forcibly and knowingly hunting for word on what happened on the series finale of How I Met Your Mother. I was out of town and out of pocket when the show wrapped up, and I didn’t just have questions I needed answered on a personal level, I also had a piece I needed to wrap up, one that was mostly written but needed a conclusion based on what happened when the show ended (hint: I wish it had ended entirely differently). I needed this spoiler – and I got it.
That’s not always the case.
Late last year, mere hours away from finally seeing Gravity on the big screen – and, really, in the best conditions possible: in true IMAX at the Toronto International Film Festival – the film’s ending was revealed to me in casual conversation. Because I happened to be at a large international film festival where, yes, films are the topic of conversation at every single gathering, I probably put myself into harm’s way, but I wasn’t thinking about that as I stood around chatting with friends. Unfortunately, both of those friends had previously seen Gravity, and when one of them mentioned something about when Sandra Bullock first lands back on Earth, my face turned into cartoon-styled, open-mouthed expression of shock. “Oh. Oh, no,” the spoiler-spiller gasped.
I shook it off. And when it came time to see the film, I found the experience so riveting that the spoiler didn’t impact my appreciation in any way that I could possibly discern. As was the case with Bears, I was so riveted that I just plain forgot.
Also last year, both The Counselor and The Purge were spoiled for me in the exact same way by different people, simply because I casually asked friends who had seen the films before me how they were, and both times I was told “oh, man, everybody dies.” (And, no, this is not exactly the case with The Purge, but it’s close enough.) Again, it didn’t change my enjoyment (or, in some cases, lack of enjoyment) of either film.
You know what’s more enjoyable than being militant about any and all spoilers? Chatting with my friends and colleagues without living in a constant state of fear. Spoilers! Hey, I don’t mind them! (But if you do, be sure to let me know.)
This is, of course, just a recent sampling of projects that have been spoiled for me – I’ve also got a bad track record of getting M. Night Shyamalan films spoiled, and I knew the “twists” of The Sixth Sense, The Happening, The Village, and even Devil before setting foot in a theater. But that may be a story for another time.