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.

A narrative spoiler in Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back.
A narrative spoiler in Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back.
In The Cabin in the Woods, a formal spoiler.
In The Cabin in the Woods, a formal spoiler.

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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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