Should You Be Worried About Spoilers?

Short answer: No.

Little bit longer: No in general, but it’s complicated.

But I guess you are going to want some explanation.

Why should spoilers matter? You don’t want to know the story beforehand, because that might affect your enjoyment of the movie, book, TV series or whatever.

Why shouldn’t spoilers matter?

Okay, let’s be real here. I’ve seen about 4000 movies during my lifetime. In how many of these cases would spoilers have actually spoiled the movie? None. Absolutely none. Could spoilers have affected my enjoyment of these movies negatively? Sure. Just by skimming through my ratings on IMDb I would say in all of these cases it would have affected negatively about a hundred movies, if I’m being generous. And in none of these cases it would have actually spoiled the movie, meaning that I couldn’t have enjoyed them. Actual number is probably much less than that. So, we are talking about 2.5% of movies at most. The real number is around 1%.

I first saw Empire Strikes Back around 1985, so it was pretty new at the time. Well, by the standards of those days. We didn’t have Internet, nor were we old enough to be reading movie magazines (I was eight), but despite all this, I did know beforehand the big reveal of the movie. Did I still enjoy it? Yes. Did I enjoy the movie when I saw it in theatre earlier this year (for it’s 40th birthday of sorts)? Yes. At this point I knew everything about the story, but I still enjoy the movie, even though it does have this major twist, which you know even if you have never seen a single Star Wars movie.

So, here’s the thing: Movies and art in general are not about the story. The story is a nice frame to hang the actual important elements on (and important for marketing purposes). Sure, Hollywood likes to emphasize story, but the European tradition has been much more interested in characters for ages.

What are movies about then? Sympathy. Obviously not all movies, but our enjoyment of movies is not (or at least shouldn’t be) connected to how many plotholes you can find. We enjoy movies, because (or if) we can relate to the characters. The story is there to tell us why we should be interested in them.

Going back to Empire Strikes Back, we can symphatize with Luke. He’s young and impatient, but we also know there’s a valid reason for how he feels, so we can feel for him even if we know that he’s approach to the training might not be the best.

My approach is actually often that I tend to read about movies beforehand. I don’t have the time to watch all movies, so I have to make decisions about them before trying to acquire them (because most of the movies I’m interested in are not readily available on streaming services). This does often lead me to spoil them for myself, but I don’t think that has made me not want to see a movie. Quite the opposite, in fact. If I read about an interesting twist, I’m going to be interested in how they pull that one off.

But my enjoyment is still largely dependent on whether I can find someone to sympathize with. It doesn’t have to be someone who is like me. It just has to be somenoe who can pull me into their story. One of my favorite movies is 4 Months 3 Weeks 2 Days, a Romanian movie about a young student trying to help her roommate with an illegal abortion during the 80s. There’s not much to the story. Does the abortion happen? It doesn’t really matter. I feel sympathy for the main character because of her struggle, which makes for a great film.

In fact, you often can read the movies anyhow. You know easily figure out how most Hollywood movies will go, because there is a strong tradition in professional screenwriting, which is being upheld by certain books and teachers. For example, (and this contains a spoiler – skip to the next paragraph if you don’t want to read it) I saw Freaky recently. It’s a movie about two people exchanging bodies, but with a twist: instead of a teenager and a parent exchanging bodies, it’s a teenager and a serial killer. So, how does the movie end? Early on in the movie (before the exchange) the protagonist talks to her crush, who gives her a tip: move your watch ahead by five minutes, so you’ll never be late. Than, just a little bit later a ticking clock element is introduced in the story. If you know how movies work, you know immediately that the main character will think that they’ve missed their window, but than at the last possible moment they will realize that their watch is not on time and she still has a few precious minutes. And that’s exactly what happened. Did I still enjoy the movie? Yes. Actually much more than I expected to. It’s kind of stupid, but also kind of fun horror comedy with an interesting way of approaching revenge killing.

Obviously I’m not the only one who has thought about this. Here’s a link for you. It contains a further link to a study, but that link is sadly dead.

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