Talking Movies: The joy of playing detective
The writer talks about how spoilers in social media are taking the experience away from watching a nail-biting mystery thriller.
Every minute you spend outside a cinema hall after the release of a murder mystery is one of great peril. This week, we’ve got Murder on the Orient Express releasing, and till you watch the film in question, much as a frightened criminal sees policemen everywhere, you begin to anticipate spoilers everywhere. Social media, during this time, is a hellhole rife with landmines. One second, you’re casually, safely reading an innocuous update about your favourite sports team, and then, you scroll and boom. You stumble upon an exchange brimming with spoilers that’s happening between two people you don’t even follow. Even if you somehow evaded this booby trap, you couldn’t hope to elude spoilers that are published under the guise of criticism. Some of these comments are often posted even before the first show of the film in question has come to an end. As friend and popular stand-up comedian SA would put it, “I was not ready da.”
Some Twitter reviewers are less film critics than they are diligent reporters. Much as a political reporter tries to carefully capture every word of every sentence of an important speech, so does your average Twitter reviewer who believes that sincere reportage of the events of the film as they occur is analysis enough. Facebook is a different beast, as essays over the film’s content — read, ‘laborious retellings of the film’s story’ — abound. And no, you can’t answer phone calls either. Well, at least I can’t, given the number of enthusiastic friends I have who just need my ‘hello’ before they launch into a big monologue over their reactions to the film until I, finally given a chance to talk, tell them as I’m sobbing that I haven’t seen the film in question. So, if you haven’t read Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, you’d be well advised to rush to the theatre at the earliest. But it shouldn’t have to be this way, and it would not be if we had a law governing the careless distribution of spoilers. One can only imagine the losses that the producer of a murder mystery suffers on account of the spoiling philistines. Also, we’d be a perfect place to promulgate this law. Given we’ve already got a law prohibiting homosexuality, this definitely wouldn’t be the silliest we’ve got out there.
And despite all these hazards and the very real fear of having a wonderful film experience get ruined by a single sentence you ended up overhearing, a good murder mystery remains well worth it all. I particularly take to stories in which the big reveal occurs at the very end. And that instantly rules out films like Se7en, which draw your attention to the killer quite early. It is for this reason that I felt rather let down when Gautham Menon, without warning, exposes the identity of the killers in his Vettaiyadu Vilaiyaadu, which until then had been developing to be a gripping whodunit. Till that moment when the camera shifts down from the flight to the killers, you were Raghavan, gathering clues and racking your head. And after that, it becomes a more passive, even if not necessarily a less enjoyable, experience.
The big high of a murder mystery — for me at least — is in playing detective while ensconced in the safety of a theatre. The confusion over the guilty of the killer in 12 Angry Men. The frustration of Norman Bates, as he stands examining the corpse of yet another woman killed by his insecure mother. The shock of Michael Blomkvist when he sees his house cat dead on his doorstep. You feel them all acutely; you’re, like those characters, grappling for answers, and sometimes, they even seem so tantalisingly close. And yet, such murder mysteries are masochistic exercises because deep in your heart, you know you can never truly figure it all out. The beauty of good writing in such stories lies in being able to give you just enough information to keep you hooked, but not enough that you can figure the answer. And when the writer/director finally makes you feel little, ah… the bliss. Murder on the Orient Express, here I come.