Be warned: MY contempt for spoilers means this little essay referencing The Book of Eli will be filled with spoilers for this and other stories. So if you fear spoilers, I wouldn’t read this. Carry on.
FRIENDS, I don’t worry about spoilers. I used to. There was a time I avoided spoiling stories until I’d read/watched them just like a lot of folks do, but I’ve given up on that. I don’t make any judgements – if you choose a spoiler-free life, go with Gary and be happy. I’ve decided to go the opposite route: I now actively seek spoilers. I dare spoilers to ruin my day. My epiphany a few years ago was that the vast majority of stories in the world have been spoiled for decades if not centuries, yet the good ones still get read and enjoyed. Thus, if a spoiler truly ruins a story, that story sucked to begin with.
Of course, a sucky story with a great twist can still entertain, so there’s logic behind avoiding spoilers. Like I said, no judgements here. But I figure if a spoiler is so huge and a story so poor that mere knowledge of its denouement ruins everything, then I have better ways to spend my time. Thus, I seek spoilers: The Movie Spoiler is my friend.
Anyway, one reason this comes to mind is because I watched The Book of Eli on pay-per-view this past weekend. The movie stars Denzel Washington as a man in a post-apocalyptic America traveling and protecting what may be the last bible in the world, and Gary Oldman as that favorite post-apocalyptic trope The Last Educated Man as the leader of a rough town of hoodlums who thinks that the words in the bible will help him to rule all of what’s left of mankind. Hilarity ensues.
Not a bad movie, no small part because of the epic charisma of the two male leads. Denzel Washington can play anything and make me like it, and Gary Oldman sells the Ridiculous like the best used car salesman in the universe. The movie also stars Mila Kunis, whose voice makes me want to hit myself, but that’s besides the point.
Now, there’s some debate about the spoiler for this movie – well, the major spoiler. The fact that the book Eli is carrying is a bible is treated as a tiny secret, but it’s revealed halfway through the movie and isn’t that much of a mind-blower. No, I mean the major spoiler, which, depending on who you believe, is that Eli is blind through the whole movie (when the Bad Guy gets his hands on the bible at the end, it turns out to be a Braille version, and thus useless to him). Some folks will tell you Eli is blind and thus his amazing acts of kung-fu and gun-fu throughout the film are just that much more amazing because of it. Others will sneer and say there’s plenty of evidence he can see quite well, and if he was blind, well, that just makes the entire movie hogwash. It’s an interesting argument, and in some sense any story that inspires argument has done a good job.
It was interesting to have read about this before watching the movie. If I recall correctly, the movie wasn’t marketed as having a twist, but then again in these post-Sixth Sense days audiences are increasingly ready for twist endings and even expect them, so maybe marketing twists is redundant. I remember after watching The Sixth Sense, in fact, back when I still feared spoilers, I waited for the home video release just so I could watch it again with the blinders off, and a curious thing happened: I enjoyed the movie even more because I could see the subtle artistry that went into staging the scenes. I particularly loved the scene where Bruce Willis’ doctor and the kid’s mother sit in silence in her apartment, facing each other, for a few seconds before the kid comes home. On first viewing, it appeared that the doctor had been invited to come and speak to the kid, and the two adults simply had exhausted all small talk by the time the kid finally came home. Of course, since the doctor was a ghost only the kid could see, the mother was simply sitting there in silence waiting for her son to come home. It’s a great scene in a good-to-great movie, I think, and nothing was lost, and a lot was gained, when I knew the spoiler.
The Book of Eli has some similar moments. Choosing to view Eli as blind, you can see how smart some of the setups are. One thing I liked particularly is that when Eli is shown reading the bible – which he states he does every day – his fingers are on the page. Now, simply being able to read braille doesn’t mean you’re blind, but if you assume he is blind, it’s a nice subtle hint to the fact. Some of the scenes where Eli is reading are just throwaway establishing shots, bit of business, but with this knowledge they took on more weight and did more work for the story, and I appreciated it. There’s also a scene where Eli is in a (admittedly improbable) shootout with a gang, led by none other than Titus Pullo (“Thirteen!”). He kills everyone except Pullo, who is a badass and so just stands in the open, amazed, then Eli steps out into the street and turns to face Pullo, who puts his gun on him, and then lowers it and nods as a sign of respect for what he’s just seen, allowing Eli to walk away. Viewing it with the knowledge that Eli is blind, however, the reason he steps out into the open is because he can’t hear Pullo, who doesn’t move, and the reason he just stands there while Pullo has a clean shot at him is because he can’t see Pullo.
For me, knowing the spoiler improved the experience, and I’m finding that more and more – the spoiler either improves the whole movie, or it’s a cheap last-minute rugpull that ruins everything. And I have come to prefer to know what I’m getting myself into.
Your mileage may vary, of course. And there is something to be said for the thrill of sudden wonder when a spoiler is pulled off with real flair and intelligence, and I am probably ruined forever because I tend to look at the creaking gears and pistons under the hood of most plots these days, looking for tricks to steal and giving everything the yellow eye of professional jealousy. Still, I’m going to keep spoiling movies for myself, daring them to still be good.