During my daily routine reading through AE’s catalogue of articles and reviews (which you should all totally do) I came across Dave’s “Will It Make A Good Film?” post for Gone Girl (link has spoilers). I missed the spoiler warning and caught a pretty big one. I won’t mention the spoiler here but just know you’re in for a shock. I really can’t wait to see how the movie ties it all together. This experience made me reflect on how I used to avoid spoilers like the plague and why I think it’s actually okay to indulge yourself with those peeks behind the curtain once in a while.
There was a point in my life where I thought a good plot twist made for good storytelling. Last year really helped solidify my opinions on that being complete and utter bullshit. Hell, Iron Man 3 had people flipping backwards in anger because of the twist that The Mandarin was actually a puppet/an amalgamation of America’s fear of a Bin Laden inspired boogeyman (There was also some great stuff about the military industrial complex but PLOT TWISTS). A few weeks after release, Star Trek Into Darkness was released and had its own take on the villain bait-and-switch. It meant significantly less because the villains were poorly defined and the switch had nothing to do with the themes the movie was trying to convey. It’s why (even those who hate it) Iron Man 3 is still making waves in the blockbuster discussion and Star Trek Into Darkness vanished from thought, until JJ Abrams was announced as the director of Star Wars, before fading from consciousness once again.
Like most kids, I wasn’t crazy about getting clothes as a present. I wanted the big bright shiny toys or new video game that I could lose myself in for hours. As I got older, that entertainment, while still fun, wore thin for my enjoyment. That’s not to say I don’t still play video games or anything (I just pre-ordered Alien: Isolation and finally got around to playing Far Cry 3). I just find more to cherish in gifts that are more personal. Clothes is about as personal as a gift can get. You have to know someone’s size, style, favorite color, and if they hate that little tag thing on the back. Most movies, as much as I love them, aren’t wholly personal affairs.
A little over a year ago, I was dating someone who wasn’t as crazy about movies as I was. I showed her some of my favorites, divulged guilty pleasures, and willingly opened up to her about many other things in life. We dated during the summer so she got me a white button up shirt for our beach days. I wear that shirt at as often as possible because a) I look good in it. b) It breathes well and doesn’t make me feel nasty in this damn California heat. The relationship didn’t work out in the end for a variety of reasons unrelated to movies, but I still wear that shirt once in a while. If she had gotten me a burger as a random present, that would have been fine, but once I’m done digesting the burger, it would mean nothing to me.
Now it might seem crazy to compare movies to romantic relationships, but make no mistake, movies are absolutely establishing a relationship of some sort with audiences. Look at The Sixth Sense: it’s a ghost story with one of the greatest shockers in movie history but it’s also a tale of loss and letting go. I couldn’t tell you how many people reference that movie as something that helped them move on from the grief of a lost loved one. Hypothetically speaking, even if you were the unluckiest bastard in the world and got the “Bruce Willis is a ghost” twist just before entering the theater, there are still things to enjoy from the film (All listed above).
So when a movie betrays that connection with a shitty plot twist or surprise for the sake of surprise, I can’t help but feel betrayed. If a movie is so dependent on its “twist” that it doesn’t have anything else to say, what’s the point? Since I like to stay moderately relevant, let’s look back at Star Trek Into Darkness. STID is a movie I generally enjoy (I put it on my top 50 Space Adventure Movies), but twist doesn’t actually pay off any greater meaning or purpose. During an emotional speech delivered by John Harrison, he reveals that his name is not John Harrison at all. His name… is Khan. Doesn’t change anything and nobody in the whole movie knew who he was until they contacted Spock Prime. And even then the initial “John Harrison” persona doesn’t wholly disappear into Khan. It’s still the same person, doing the same actions with no effect on anyone or anything. I’d even argue that the movie would have benefited from keeping Khan as John Harrison.
That’s not to say there’s no merit to pure entertainment in a cleverly constructed, or intentionally schlocky, whodunit type movie. One of the newest additions to my guilty pleasure collection is Non-Stop (Taken on a Plane). It is a stupid movie with questionable narrative propulsion and a batshit crazy resolution. But dammit if that movie wasn’t a blast to watch. Who needs another poorly directed TAK3N film when you have this masterpiece of cheese?
Spoilers represent one of the biggest problems with storytelling nowadays. Everyone is so concerned with the “SURPRISE!” they forget what makes everything building up to the surprise so wonderful. So much focus is put on the plot twist that there’s ultimately no thematic purpose or resonance to anything beyond “SURPRISE!” Is that really the way we want to process artistic expression? If everything relies on our ability of not knowing plot based elements, we forget about what really matters: a beautiful narrative tied together through logical emotion character decision. We all deserve that white button up shirt.
So when you watch Gone Girl this weekend, remember that if it turns out to be terribly contrived in plot for the sake of “THE SURPRISE,” Dave Shreve ruined the movie for me.