NOTICE: Today I’m going to be writing a topic about SPOILERS. To sum up, I’m going to explore whether or not the inclusion of plot elements within a film, video game, book, or other piece of artwork is actually important to the quality of that piece of entertainment and whether or not it should affect your experience negatively. I don’t think it should, however, in recognition that not everyone feels this way I’m going to warn you now, to discuss SPOILERS one is going to have to actually use examples of SPOILERS. Since I feel some of these SPOILERS are AMAZING EXPERIENCES when UNSPOILED I will list the works following this notice that I WILL ABSOLUTELY BE SPOILING in order to have this discussion. If you haven’t seen or read or experienced the following things, you may feel like missing this post. Of course, for the sake of my argument, perhaps you’d still consider reading anyway and seeing how you feel about the experiences AFTER having them spoiled.
Titles THAT WILL BE SPOILED:
Without further ado, let’s begin.
A Spoiler can be defined as any element of plot that, upon initial experience, a viewer/reader/player is not aware of until after the initial experience. Now, that’s a bit broad, but it encompasses a wide variety of truths and impacts heavily the way we discuss movies. For instance, if I told you that James Bond lives through the end of every film in the series, I’m technically spoiling an aspect of narrative for the viewers. However, our experience of action films and the nature of the protagonist, especially in a franchised series, has taught us that James Bond dying is a narrative choice that would never happen. No one would treat this as a spoiler.
However, if I told you that Halle Berry’s character in Skyfall actually turns out to be Money Penny, or that M dies at the end, then I have actually given away elements of the plot in Skyfall that people would rather learn in the cinema themselves. I could perhaps encompass my entire argument by simply discussing these two reveals, but for now let’s say that while these are both spoilers, they have different impacts on the narrative. Halle Berry being Money Penny is “interesting” and “cool” but the choice and affect it has on Skyfall’s narrative is actually rather shallow and empty. It has none. If Halle Berry weren’t Money Penny, it would change nothing about Skyfall. If Halle Berry just showed up in the next film as Money Penny literally nothing would be different about the situation. It’s a spoiler, but having it revealed has minimal impact on the plot and therefore the meaningful and important experiences of the film.
Telling you that M dies is entirely different. The character of M as played by Judi Dench has been very important in the new Bond trilogy, and she’s been a staple of the series since the nineties. She’s been M for an entire generation of movie viewers, and her official “death” in the role is a big impact. You aren’t expecting it because it comes dangerously close to the idea of James Bond himself dying. It alters our perception of the narrative, it transcends its franchise up to this point, but beyond that, it locks together Skyfall’s thematic ponderings on death, generational change, and the loss of parents. It’s one of the most impactful moments of the 2011 cinematic year, and a strong reason for why Skyfall is one of my favorite films.
But if you’ve read this paragraph without previously knowing that, there’s literally nothing about the film that has changed. If you as a viewer go into Skyfall knowing that Judi Dench dies, absolutely none of the films build-up, thematic construction, and importance, impact, or emotions have to be lost on you. If anything, the first experience of Skyfall is a half-experience, because without knowing where everything is going, or how the entire narrative is building up to that final moment where you wonder whether or not she’s going to die or James Bond is going to save the day you are rendered entirely incapable of perceiving the importance of each moment, each shot, each dialogue exchange.
That isn’t to say you can’t enjoy Skyfall without having been spoiled, but ironically, you can’t truly experience the depth of artistic quality within Skyfall until AFTER you have been spoiled, whether by the film itself or someone else.
That’s because to really dig into a film, to really “get” a film, you have to look at the additive quality of the whole entire thing within the context of the whole entire thing.
What about a film with a “twist?” The whole notion of twist endings and their revelations is to create an experience for the audience. If you don’t get the intended experience that the film maker was going for, don’t you lose something essential?
In 99% of the situations, I still think that the “twist” in question, doesn’t radically transform our understanding of the themes. In short, if a film features a “twist” that is one hundred percent an essential experience to understand the themes of a movie or is important in analysis of a films characters or plot then it’s accomplished one of the highest plateaus of artistic achievement; making a mechanic that normally robs a text of its overall value into something that substantially increases its worth.
For instance, the original Saw features a twist ending where it’s revealed that Jigsaw, the mastermind behind the games, isn’t who you think it is, but it actually a guy who has been laying in the middle of the floor posing as a suicide the entire time. It’s a great twist. It’s also a Final Fantasy twist, because the guy you thought was the villain wasn’t and the big bad reveals himself at the last possible second.
This twist tells us that Jigsaw is bad ass. A mastermind manipulator of people and capable of planning hugely elaborate schemes. He’s also a real sick puppy, wanting to see how his victims struggle in his game himself by keeping a close monitor. But the reality is the impact this has on us is minimal. The plot itself only reveals that Jigsaw was there the whole time, which we already felt was the case from the presence of the tape recorders, cameras, and all that jazz. It’s shocking, and it’s really fun to go through, but it’s not terribly important.
Now, there is a question of quality at play here. I imagine some people might be thinking something along the lines of, “Yeah, but Saw was a shite film. If you took away that one twist you might ruin the only enjoyable thing about the whole film.” Here’s what gets me about this viewpoint, or any argument that emphasizes the twist as an essential piece of a film.
In order to emphasize that a twist is the most important aspect of the film, you have to pack away almost every theme within a piece, every other idea and scene prior to the twist, and essentially declare it less important than a single moment in something. Jigsaw getting off the floor, has to be made more important than the commentary and experience that people who’ve done something wrong should suffer for it in these traps. It takes away the observation that the best way to punish people is by letting them end up in a situation where they can only cause pain and harm to themselves, and then some will survive past the experience and some will die. This creates an incredibly existentialist experience in the middle of a low-budget horror flick. There’s some seriously interesting shit being said in the original Saw that make it kind of an essential experience, say what you want about the acting or the plot itself, the premise and the cinematics of that premise are the basis of what created that franchise. The twist got swept in with all those far more pertinent things, and if you want to know why the other Saw films are a step below or more, that’s all you have to look at; an emphasis on elements that weren’t as important as people thought.
In fact, in all the stories I’ve ever experienced, a book or a film containing spoilers or a “twist” is typically hiding essential information to understanding anything from those in the passive seat of viewer or reader. When we aren’t a part of a story, our job is to pick up the pieces of what the writer has provided and plug in the pieces into places where our unique brain canon creates causality, connection, and interpretation. This is the reader’s job because the reader is disconnected from the actual experience by virtue of their position.
However, someone playing a video game is not.
This hints at one of the most interesting things about video games. As an interactive experience, as someone making a variety of choices within a play space, the impact of narrative is phenomenally more concerning to a player than it is to any viewer or reader. We empathize with film and movie characters, but we ARE the video game characters.
As an example, the Indie Darling of 2014, Gone Home features a few experiences and twists that are vitally important. You play an older sister returning from schooling in Europe to your New England home. The night is stormy, and when you get there you find out that there’s no one there to see you. In fact, your sister has left an alarming note on the door that says she’s gone and you shouldn’t try to find her. As you go through the house you can examine anything in the home, even move things around. Your parents inherited a mansion from your grandfather, and it includes many hidden shortcuts, loose walls that lead to crawlspace passages between wings. You have to manually turn on all the light switches, open and close all the doors. But most importantly, depending on what you find around the house, you’ll get these narrated journal passages from your younger sister. She’s sixteen and very rebellious, talking about her anxieties going to a new school, talking about how she misses you. These confessions are telling you the things you’ve missed out on because you were away, but you accept and move forward because, there’s still a missing little sister that you need to figure out where she is or where she went.
When you go upstairs that’s when the game presents it’s mid-game twist. Your sister begins getting incredibly close to a girl she meets at school. She says she loves her. And it’s in this moment that when you hear your sister tell you her feelings that you have that experience of, “Oh no, oh God,” and you begin to understand why she would run away. Then a distinct significant fear hits you. The attic is locked. Your sister loved going up there. Her petulant signs of “DO NOT DISTURB” and “DO NOT ENTER” become motivating fears and you begin to think that your sister may have killed herself. “Don’t look for me” echoes in your head from her very first note and everything becomes more frantic.
And the thing is that video games don’t disembody their audience from the experiences that occur in the story. Gone Home isn’t just about another coming out story for an LGBT youth, it’s about you, the player, as the concerned absentee older sister of this girl, to discover something you didn’t know before, to be faced with your presumptions about her, to completely see her struggle and later arguments with your parents, her distress when her girlfriend is going to leave to join the Army, and the horrid nightmare scenario in your head of suicide.
You eventually reach the attic where the story receives a happy ending. Her girlfriend came back, and they’ve taken off together. You don’t know when you’ll see her again, but somewhere your sister and her girlfriend are happy, together, in love, and driving away from the problems that home presented. Gone Home’s title should perhaps be Home is Gone.
While I think I’ve made more than my fair point, I wanted to include a last moment here for some who might still have questions regarding my stances. While I’ve expressed that the narrative of films and video games are perhaps weakened by having a “twist” or at the very least, contain plot spoilers that aren’t vitally important for enjoyment of a film or book, I would like to say that missing out on some “twists” can make the experience of a first viewing lose its steam.
Oldboy is a Korean revenge film. If you haven’t experienced this film, STOP READING and go watch it. To have it spoiled in this blog post is going to be perhaps the loss of one of the most impactful twists in a film narrative and you should not miss it.
It’s genre floats between action-thriller-drama. However, as becomes clear later, it’s genre is solidly traditional tragedy. We follow a man named Oh Dae-Su who gets kidnapped on the night of his daughter’s birthday and locked in a prison for fifteen years and is then released for mysterious reasons. He goes on a quest to discover who kidnapped him. He’s spent the last fifteen years teaching himself martial arts and studying literature and preparing for this day. The entire time we get different quotes regarding the link between humanity and beasthood. We get these lilting philosophical ideas of monster and men. The tenuous link between the two, and Oh Dae-su engages in battle various times using household objects to commit painful violence on his path.
On the way he meets Mi-Do, a much younger girl and someone who he quickly falls in love with. He comes face to face with his captor, Lee Woo-jin an hour into the film. He smiles and tells Oh Dae-Su that if he can find out why he was imprisoned, he’ll save Oh Dae-su the trouble of bloodying his hands and kill himself. Oh Dae-su goes on to discover that they went to the same school, and that Oh Dae-su had once caught him having incestual sex with his own sister. Before going to confront Lee Woo-jin, Oh Dae-su and Mi-do have sex.
So he goes to Lee Woo-jin’s penthouse. Oh Dae-su tells him that he’s committed an unforgivable sin and must kill himself for redemption. At this point Lee Woo-jin points to a purple box sitting on his desk. Oh Dae-su opens the box and sees a photo album. We get an interspliced scene with Mi-do at a hotel room nearby, where she opens her bag to reveal a pair of wings we saw earlier in the film, a gift Oh Dae-su had gotten for his daughter. The photo album flips open and we see Oh Dae-su’s daughter at various ages as she eventually grows into Mi-Do.
This moment is fucking horrifying. Oh Dae-su’s reaction is to rage, attempt to murder Lee Woo-jin, fall to his knees, beg for forgiveness, he marks himself with the same words he’d given to Lee before, “I have committed an unforgivable sin,” but he requests Lee doesn’t tell Mi-Do. Then, Oh Dae-su licks Lee’s boot, says he’ll become his dog if he just doesn’t reveal the truth. Then he makes an offering. He cuts out his own tongue with scissors, leaving himself incapable of telling the truth either. Lee leaves Oh Dae-su in the now destroyed pent house, he leaves on an elevator and kills himself.
This twist might be one of the best ones of all time. Like Gone Home, our experience of this twist occurring in tandem with Oh Dae-su, especially after we’ve gone through his journey primarily with him in his confusion, in his passion, in his rage, and in his confrontation. We were right there with him in thinking, wow Lee Woo-jin fucked his sister, that’s fucked up. And then when the rug is pulled from underneath us we’re disconnected. We were with Oh Dae-su a moment ago, and while we still feel sympathy, we realize he’s done something he won’t forgive himself for, something we would now be hypocritical to forgive him for. His quest for revenge was his quest of demise but not because of the violence, but because of the lust, the passion, the love, that a vengeful man cannot place correctly.
So I hope you’ve enjoyed this lengthy discussion of spoilers, twists, and plot things. If you’ve never checked out my other blogs: Fictional Conundrum (especially if you’re a writer), or MFA in FML (especially if you’re an English major like me), then you might check those out for more content. In Fictional Conundrum this week I’ll be discussing why we shouldn’t write twists in our stories. In MFA in FML I’ll be updating everyone on my job hunt, and discussing a book resource for writers specifically.
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Expository Conundrum will be updating weekly on Tuesdays, so join me next week for more gaming, movie, or music content. Thanks for reading.