The Sixth Sense...
I was in highschool when “The Sixth Sense,” came out. I didn’t see it because anyone was talking about how good it was. I saw it because I was a rebellious teenager and it seemed like the sort of movie my conservative parents wouldn’t approve of.
People might forget how marketing used to work before the internet but I saw it opening weekend and it was not even close to a packed theater. I’m sure there was some article on it somewhere buried in the Grand Rapids Press but unless you were a movie buff, you might not even know that there was a movie called “The Sixth Sense” for the first few weeks.
My point is, I saw it without it being spoiled. I know the internet os full of people who “had it figured out in the first scene,” but I personally believe those are exaggerated accounts based on conversations I’ve had with those sorts of people over the years.
At the very least, I didn’t have it figured out and the ending blew me away. I couldn’t wait to get to school and tell my friends that they HAD to see this movie.
However, I was not tempted in the slightest to spoil the ending.
I knew inherently that telling people how it ended would ruin the experience.
High School was a period where my love for film really blossomed. In no small part this was due to a teacher of mine, Richard Mondoux. He was my History teacher and since our school did block scheduling my class with him was 1 ½ every couple of days. He was a brilliant lecturer and the majority of the class was spent with him at the overhead, outlining notes. He made history come alive for me not just making us memorize dates and names but also explaining the driving factors behind those events and people. He taught history like it was a story that really happened and I was never bored in his class.
Alas, with 1 ½ hours to fill, I was in the minority of students with the attention span to listen so enraptured. That isn’t to say he was not a favorite teacher among the students. He was. It did mean that he showed us a lot of movies, though.
They always had a tie in with the subject matter so when we studied the Civil War , we watched “Glory.” When we studied WW2, we watched “Schindler’s List” (it was during this viewing he explained what a “match cut” was, my first movie term.).
When we studied the Roman Empire the film we watched was “Spartacus.” Readers of this site will know that I already knew and liked this movie because my dad was a fan of it.
We were having a discussion in class or at lunch, I’m not sure which, and one of my friend’s asked a question about the Romans or something. All I remember was saying, “That doesn’t make any sense because of how Spartacus and the slaves all get executed.”
He laughed, realized I wasn’t joking, and then got upset with me. It was then that I began to learn the important lesson that all young adults must learn. All childhoods and families are not the same and just because my dad had taught me something or shown me something did not mean that the same had happened for my friend. I had ruined the suspense of the film for him because I had not realized that he had not seen the movie before.
These two stories come to mind anytime the subject of spoilers comes up in the culture. With the popularity of Avengers: Endgame and the importance that MARVEL/Disney place on the marketing for the new Spider-man movie it has become a topic of conversation once again.
In my life as a movie fan, filmmaker, cinephile, and critic/reviewer I have has movies spoiled, spoiled them for others accidentally, and even, on occasion, done so on purpose.
Through this experience I have come to a few conclusions about spoilers which I hope will help you think about spoilers in a different way and maybe make the internet a little nicer and less judgemental place if only for a few people.
These are my own personal observations and convictions. Take them up or leave them be as you find them edifying to your own enjoyment of movies and discussions of them.
1. Spoilers are sometimes just a marketing tool.
It isn’t always super transparent, as with the Russo Brothers announcement that the embargo on spoilers for Endgame was now past, but the preservation of spoilers and the control of general information about a movie releasing are big tools that studios and their marketing departments wield in order to maximize profits. Don’t be ignorant of this when you decide how much value to place on preserving the secrecy of a film’s plot points.
2. Great movies are great whether you know the ending or not.
Something that is true of every single one of my top 100 films, and I would guess even my top 250 if I knew what they all were, is that I have seen them multiple times and still love them. I knew how the movie ended the second time through and still they are perennials of my favorite movie list. Even movies like “The Sixth Sense,” which hinge on sudden revelation of information continue to work, and in some ways work better, once you know their ending. If letting you know how a movie ends ruins the movie then the film makers didn’t do their job in creating something that would stand the test of multiple viewings. I’m not interested in films like that.
3. Time is the unique (somewhat) subject of film.
Because Film is an art form which takes place over a period of time, compresses time through editing, and can be duplicated perfectly for people regardless of their physical placement, it is already an art form which comments on time and its impact as it passes (see Tarkovsky’s book, Sculpting in Time.) To then act like the context in which it was released (or time) should not matter in my conversations or understanding of a film is simply silly. If the context in which “Casablanca” is important, so is the current context in which someone might see it, including what they may or may not know about it from pop culture.
4. I don’t need to watch trailers.
While I am not afraid of spoilers, I still don’t seek them out. Trailers have increasingly been the culprit of such things. Even telling me that certain characters will meet in a certain place is a form of spoiler. The primary purpose of a trailer is to sell me on the film. Thus, that is how I intend to use them. If I already know I want to see a movie (like Spider-man: Far From Home) I try to avoid the trailer. On the other hand, if I am uncertain about a movie I will see the trailer to help me make a decision of whether to see it or not. I do not analyze trailers or want to see anyone’s breakdown of it. All that can do is, at best, tell me a bunch of stuff about the movie before I see it and at worst, become another way for a studio to make me feel like I have to see a movie because of the time I have invested in it even before I have seen it.
5. I don’t need to engage in fan culture.
I am a movie fan. A cinephile. I am not a pop culture fan. I am not a comic book fan. I have crossover in my Venn diagram of interests with those categories but I am primarily interested in the film as a stand alone piece of art. If a studio wants me to engage on a level more expansive than that, going to theme parks, going to conventions, or hanging on every teaser trailer or leaked photo from on set then I am just not their target audience. I am ok with that.
6. I am first a movie fan.
As such, my opinions on pop culture phenomenon may seem out of step. That is ok by me. I do sometimes wonder if that is ok with everyone else. Sometimes I do feel like I am being told, “well if you had read the book,” or “we’ve been wondering about that moment for a year so when it finally happened it was huge.” I understand that may be how some people feel but for me? I haven’t been waiting a year and I didn’t read the book. If that’s what it takes to be emotionally moved by a film then the film is not doing the work it is supposed to do and I am not interested. How would a literary enthusiast feel if you told them they have to watch the movie in order to understand the book. They would laugh. Not because one contains more than the other but because they should both stand alone.
7. I will never get upset about a spoiler.
I don’t care enough. Movies are just movies. People are more important. If someone wants to tell me about a movie I won’t stop them because I value their thoughts and their companionship and don’t wish there to be any barrier between us and our enjoyment of each others company.
8. I love movies and never want to ruin them for other people.
Cinema is, to me, the most amazing artform. As much as I sometimes think people aren’t engaging with it in a healthy way or companies aren’t using their films in healthy ways, I don’t want to restrict people from the art form and the conversation it elicits. If I contribute to someone feeling like engaging with their cinema isn’t worth their time, even by accidental spoiler, well, that’s is something I’d really regret.
9. First and Foremost, I am a Human Being and care about people.
Likewise, as I value people above film, I never want to do anything that would hurt their experience of a film or make them feel like they need to worry that I do not respect them enough to guard my words or warn people appropriately if I am discussing something particularly spoiley. It seems whether I look at it from the perspective of loving cinema or people, i just want to be careful about how I speak about things that I care about around people I care about, which is everyone.
10. Individuals, Cultures, and I am subject to change so any of these conviction should be held graciously and humbly.
Over the years I have seen many of my views on movies, religion, social movements, politics, and people in general change. I expect that this will continue for sometime. These 10 things are by no means are hard and fast set of legalistic Pharisaical rules but they do mark out some boundaries for my current thoughts on how I hope to conduct myself in regard to spoilers. These boundaries are bound to flex a bit and some will probably get torn down completely either by the Singularity or the great Global Collapse to Climate Change. I probably should take it easy when it comes to claiming everyone should adopt my own personal rule.
I hope some of these personal thoughts of mine help you be more at peace in your discussions and give you reason to care more about the people around you as you explore the world of media we live in. Think less about how much you want to “geek out” about something and more about the people around you. Remember that there are real people who you should love more than yourself or the personal satisfaction you might get from writing a killer pun which also reveals a plot point in the next big blockbuster. And if, perchance, you have a movie spoiled, be gracious. They probably didn’t mean to and in the end, it’s just a movie.