In a recent edition of our regular Friday feature “Trailer Park,” we took a look at the trailer for the new Daniel Craig/Rachel Weisz haunted house thriller Dream House, and came to the following conclusion: “this is one of those trailers that gives you, about halfway through, the unsettling feeling that they’re showing you the whole movie.” Apparently, concern for that point was widespread enough that executive producer Rick Nicita was compelled to speak up, insisting to Entertainment Weekly that the revealed twist is “not the ending. The twist happens less than halfway through.” But Nicita’s damage control spotlights the fact that our film culture is increasingly dominated by discussion and fear of “spoilers,” and it’s a phenomenon that is only a couple of decades old. (Ever dive into your DVD special features and check out the original trailers for films from the ’40s? Talk about showing you the whole movie.)
We’re still obsessing over Jonah Lehrer’s fascinating study (and subsequent Wired piece) on the effect of spoilers on literary gratification. (The takeaway: knowing a story’s outcome ultimately does not prevent one’s enjoyment of the work, and may even increase it.) A couple of weeks back, we selected some of the books we still read, knowing full well how they end; now we’ve picked out ten movies that still play, even with precise knowledge of their narrative outcomes.
You can probably put this together yourselves, but just to be safe: plentiful spoilers after the jump.
That “Rosebud,” Charles Foster Kane’s dying word (though, as many a film fan has delighted in pointing out, a dying word that no one is in his room to hear), is a reference to his childhood sled — a none-too-subtle symbol of his lost innocence — is one of the worst-kept secrets in movies. And you know what? That’s just fine (and not just because the movie is celebrating its 60th birthday this year — seriously, you’ve had enough time to get around to seeing it). Jerry Thompson’s investigation of what Kane’s final utterance meant is a brilliant organizational device, allowing Herman J. Mankewicz and Orson Welles’s masterful screenplay to unwind in its innovative non-linear fashion, but it is not exactly Agatha Christie, as far as mysteries go. Knowing what “Rosebud” is (as most modern viewers do) allows Kane’s audience to focus on the pleasures of the picture, and there are many: the snappy dialogue, the groundbreaking cinematography, the ingenious story structure, and the radiant performances, particularly director Welles’s towering work as the title character.