The Four Types of Spoilers and How Reviewers Should Handle Them

A rough and inevitably incomplete guide to the taxonomy of spoilers

This is a recurring theme in the films of Christopher Nolan, possibly the 21st century's most skillful cinematic wool-puller. All of his films have spoilable elements, but it's his criminally under-seen 2006 thriller The Prestige, which follows a rivalry among 19th-century illusionists, that best expresses the narrative power of withholding. With typical Nolan symmetry, the story follows the three-part structure of the illusions its characters perform, giving us a "pledge," a "turn," and, finally, a "prestige." The audience's natural inclination is to try to deduce the rational explanation for the seemingly impossible thing the magician has just shown them. But: "You don't really want to work it out. You want to be fooled," Michael Caine warns us in narration that bookends the film.

It's the same when we read reviews. We read them because we think we want some context for the play or the film or whatever, but often we don't. I read them because I, like everyone else, am cursed to experience each piece of art I encounter filtered through the narrow view-slit of my own tastes, biases, education, and experience. I only see what I can see. But good critics can show me what they saw. Stick with that, why don't you.


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