on 1 Jan, 1970
from BBC News (UK) / by Tim Masters
Some reviews of French film Rust and Bone have been accused of giving too much away. As this and new 007 adventure Skyfall hit cinemas, how easily can film-goers avoid the dreaded spoiler?
SPOILER ALERT! Do not read further if you do not wish to know about the plot of Rust and Bone.
When Rust and Bone was unveiled at the Cannes film festival in May many reviewers chose to reveal its central plot twist, pointing out that it happened early in the film.
Not all readers were happy though, with some venting their frustration online.
Now Rust and Bone, which won the top prize at the recent BFI London Film Festival, is about to open in the UK. It stars Oscar-winning actress Marion Cotillard as Stephanie, a killer-whale trainer who is involved in a catastrophic workplace accident.
She awakes in hospital to find her legs amputated below the knee. The story goes on to explore her relationship with Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts), a bouncer she met before the accident during a fracas at a nightclub.
The UK trailer for Rust and Bone gives little away about the fate of Stephanie, while the French version offers a glimpse of Cotillard’s missing limbs.
Ahead of the film’s UK release, director Jacques Audiard and screenwriter Thomas Bidegain are realistic about how much audiences have already picked up before seeing the film.
“I think the audience knows but it is important for them not to see [Cotillard without her legs] in advance,” Bidegain says.
“The interest is in having a huge star losing her legs,” adds Audiard, whose previous film was the Oscar-nominated prison drama A Prophet.
“If the actress is unknown and you cut her legs off it is like a working accident. When Marion Cotillard loses her legs it’s like an industrial accident.”
According to Radio Times film editor Andrew Collins, reviews should, as a general rule, steer clear of any plot point that isn’t clearly signposted in the film’s trailer.
“The trailer is ambiguous,” Collins says of Rust and Bone. “It hints that the killer whale has something to do with Cotillard’s character’s accident, but it does not give away the nature of the injury.
“Even talking about it in vague terms risks drawing attention to it. I knew exactly what happens because I’m the type of person who reads everything before a film, and can’t stop myself. It didn’t ruin it for me, as the scenes connected to the accident and the outcome are so powerful it’s not the surprise element that’s vital.”
But how much should audiences know in advance before they see a film?
“As little as possible,” advises Collins. “Although it’s getting harder and harder to avoid the hype.”
He adds: “I remember seeing Blade Runner in 1983 as a teenager and literally knowing nothing about it, other than it had Harrison Ford in it, and was science fiction. Can you imagine replicating that kind of glorious innocence in today’s networked world?”
When the new James Bond film Skyfall was first screened to journalists two weeks before its UK release, attendees were asked not to give away any major plot points.
Most reviews have held back on revealing the big twists.
“We’re delighted that they’ve been very respectful to the audience in letting them discover the secrets of the story themselves,” Bond producer Barbara Broccoli tells the BBC. “We’re very appreciative.”
“When you come up with an idea for a story you have to assume that the secret will be kept,” says Skyfall writer Robert Wade. “In the end it would fall apart if everyone knew.”
Co-writer Neal Purvis adds: “The surprises will come out I’m sure.”
Indeed, Skyfall’s biggest secrets have been posted online, but are concealed behind layers of spoiler warnings.
So when does a big twist, such as the famous one in M Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense (1999), become fair game for open discussion?
“A twist should stay a twist,” says Collins. “There may be someone out there who has not yet seen The Sixth Sense. Let them enjoy the twist.
“I like The Sixth Sense very much, but once you know the twist, and have seen it for the second time, knowing the twist, the film’s like a spent match: of no further use.
He adds: “It’s fine to discuss films in forums, as these are specialist environments for fans. But in mixed company, you should always check that everybody has seen a film before discussing it. That’s basic social etiquette.”
Collins admits, though, that in the age of social media, avoiding spoilers is almost impossible.
“I often record TV shows and watch them 24 hours later, due to build-up on my PVR, and if I’m daft enough to use Twitter in those 24 hours, it’s my own fault if I find out, say, who was voted off the Great British Bake Off.
“It’s the responsibility of the individual in that case. Twitter and other sites are forums for discussion, often live, so you either join in, or you keep well away!”
One writer who knows all about shock twists is David Nicholls, author of bestseller One Day.
As well as adapting One Day for the screen last year, he has also penned the new version of the Dickens classic novel Great Expectations.
Directed by Mike Newell, the film stars Helena Bonham Carter as Miss Havisham and Ralph Fiennes as Magwitch and is out at the end of November.
Great Expectations contains the famous revelation about the true identity of Pip’s benefactor. Nicholls admits that even having read the novel around 25 times, he is still surprised by the second revelation about Estella’s parents.
“There is this other ingenious twist, but the novel doesn’t rely on that at all,” he tells the BBC. “For me the strength of the novel is in the human relationships.”
But does he talk now about the plot twist of One Day? “I still don’t mention it unless it’s mentioned. When I answer questions at book events if people give it away there’s always some hissing and some booing!”
“I feel sorry for people who read a lot of novels,” says Andrew Collins. “They must always know the ending to films. I never made it to the end of Atonement, so I was pretty smug when we got to the ending of that film and I was, presumably, one of the few people in there who didn’t see that coming.”
Rust and Bone is released in cinemas on 2 November. Great Expectations is out on 30 November. Skyfall is out now.