Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Spoilers TK


It's about damn time that someone bucked the trend, one of the worst on the internet in my opinion, of being careful about spoilers: Movie Review: 'The Happening' (side note: we should have more genius headlines like this where I work).

For the longest time now, I've been wary of movie/book reviews where the author intentionally resists spoiling the work for his readers. This practice not only capitulates to the audience -- as an editor of Time once said, "Keep the dog food where the dog is" -- it also presupposes the plot summary found in the worst examples of criticism. In both outcomes the critic is failing to do his job: the point of criticism is not to convey the plot or action in a work but rather to discuss the importance of the themes and messages in the work itself. The best criticism goes a step further and connects the art with it's context. Take for example this Manohla Dargis review of Children of Men:

Based in broad outline on the 1992 dystopian novel by P. D. James about a world suffering from global infertility — and written with a nod to Orwell by Mr. CuarĂ³n and his writing partner Timothy J. Sexton along with David Arata, Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby — “Children of Men” pictures a world that looks a lot like our own, but darker, grimmer and more frighteningly, violently precarious. It imagines a world drained of hope and defined by terror in which bombs regularly explode in cafes crowded with men and women on their way to work. It imagines the unthinkable: What if instead of containing Iraq, the world has become Iraq, a universal battleground of military control, security zones, refugee camps and warring tribal identities?

Do you see what's happening there? There's no plot discussion, just themes and connections. Two of the best modern examples of these practices are Ed Rothstein's "Connections" columns and William Safire's "On Language" but both of those are hardly pure criticism. Perhaps more germane -- and older -- is Sam Johnson's Rambler series. However, my favorite example of good criticism comes from James Agee, in a review of that bender of a movie "The Lost Weekend":

I understand that liquor interish: innerish: intereshtsh are rather worried about this film. Thash tough.

I suppose this unfortunate trend against spoiling the ending of a movie arises out of the class who writes these reviews: journalists. The very nature of the journalistic pathos hinges on the practice of reporting the truth, and summaries are nothing but truthful. In addition, the hesitancy to refrain from discussing the ending and thus the movie, arises out of a kind of narcissism, and most likely stems from the increased voice readers have on the web. I didn't think I'd end on that note when I started, but the review of 'The Happening', while not among the ones I'll count great, is at least a step in the right direction. (I also have no desire to see 'The Happening'. Though I'm no fan of Mr. Night, due to masochistic urges I've seen all of his previous films, probably because I thought it was funny, but after Lady in the Water I don't have enough time left in my life to see another.)

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