Donald Clarke

Whingeing about cinema and real life since 2009

The contentious issue of the spoiler

I have just come back from interviewing Elena Anaya, star of Pedro Almodóvar’s excellent new film The Skin I Live In.You’ll have read about it. A creepy horror flick with shades of Georges Franju’s Eyes Without a Face, it stars Antonio Banderas …

Tue, Jul 26, 2011, 23:44

   

I have just come back from interviewing Elena Anaya, star of Pedro Almodóvar’s excellent new film The Skin I Live In.You’ll have read about it. A creepy horror flick with shades of Georges Franju’s Eyes Without a Face, it stars Antonio Banderas as a plastic surgeon who experiments on a woman confined in his luxury home. This is not the warm Almodóvar of Volver. This is the more transgressive incarnation.

His sled is called Rosebud!

A nice woman with excellent English, Elena told me an amusing story about Gnomes, but you’ll have to wait a few weeks to hear that. Today’s subject hangs around another matter. In the course of our conversation, we touched upon a plot point that — though you could guess it — is not explicitly revealed until about halfway through the picture. “Well, of course, you can’t write about that” she said. I agreed. Some reviews from Cannes did reveal the secret. Most did not. It certainly seemed to me that — though not unveiled in the final act — the narrative swerve was sufficiently melodramatic to deserve polite concealment.

Here’s the question. What on earth are the rules about (horrible word, incidentally) spoilers? Are critics and internet posters forbidden from revealing anything that happens in the last 20 minutes? Are all significant deaths embargoed? The question arose a few years ago in relation to (ahem, spoiler alert) whichever one of the Harry Potter films it was in which Professor Dumbledore died. There is no question that, under normal circumstances, such a plot point would be on the forbidden list. But some critics argued that Harry Potter is a special case. The event was so highly publicised when the book was published — and so many of the viewers have read the damned thing — that this was, surely, like trying to keep the crucifixion a secret.

It does seem that some commentators are obsessed with catching critics out in supposed spoilers. The following post appeared beneath Manhola Dargis‘s review of The Beaver in The New York Times.

“Walter, after finding it in a Dumpster, takes it to a hotel, where he tries to kill himself by hanging (the shower rod falls) and then by leaping from the balcony (his necktie still attached to the rod)”

Manhola, I’m a big fan of your reviews, and largely agree with your views re: spoliers. However, it seems wholly unnecessary for you to divulge the information in the text quoted above – whatever your views of the originality or effectiveness of the way the suicide attempt is executed by the filmmakers, giving away the details of how it takes place is completely disrespectful of the filmmakers and the audience.

But hang on. This takes place in the first 10 minutes and it’s the set up of the whole bleeding film. This is akin to complaining about revealing the fact that William Holden dies at the end of Sunset Boulevard.

The ideal plan — though space doesn’t permit in our case — would be to follow the lead of Sight and Sound magazine and print a complete synopsis beside the notice. The reader can them choose to know as much as he or she likes.

It’s a tricky one. What are the rules?