In a world full of spoilers, I consider myself the anti-spoiler. I am the safest person with whom to watch movies or television of anyone I know, because I won’t spoil anything for my fellow audience members. I’ll make absurd and off-color jokes, sure, but I don’t postulate theories on who the killer is, or whether that character who got shot off-camera is actually dead, or whether the entire story takes place in purgatory. I take no pleasure in staying ahead of a story, and, in fact, I try to avoid overanalyzing when I’m watching something. If there’s even a slight chance of being challenged or surprised by a television show or movie, I do my best not to interfere with it.
That’s why I’ve always been so averse to spoilers. I hardly ever watch something with someone who has already seen it, because one comment like “Pay close attention to this part” drives me over the edge. I tend to lurk carefully in discussion forums and comment threads about my favorite television shows, lest I stumble onto something I’d rather not see, and I’m inactive on Twitter, which helps. But with the release of Catfish, the much-talked-about maybe-documentary that landed big at Sundance this year, I may have finally met my match. This is where I’d normally talk about what Catfish is and what it’s about, but the truth is, I have no idea. I know it has something to do with Facebook or social networking or something, and I know from news stories that the less you know about it going in, the better it is. So I’m doing my best to keep it that way—not because I’m so deeply interested in this particular film, but because my quest to remain unspoiled has turned into a principled, ascetic experiment. Is it even possible anymore to go into a movie knowing nothing about it?
The Emmy nominee almost had a run-in with Matt Weiner. Find out why. Part of NEWSWEEK's 2010 Emmy Roundtable.
Catfish is opening in limited release Sept. 17, and I’m happy to report that my efforts have gone well so far. I haven’t watched the trailer yet, though it hasn’t been easy. I went with some buddies to see Machete, but I’d remembered reading somewhere that the Catfish trailer was attached, so I shuffled around the lobby and had a friend text me when the trailers were over so I wouldn’t have to see it. A case of overvigilance on my part? Perhaps. But the biggest challenge to remaining spoiler-free is the fact that no one can seem to agree on the difference between a spoiler and baseline information. Matthew Weiner, the creator of Mad Men, seems to think that saying just about anything about his show prior to its airing constitutes a spoiler. That’s why he decided to shut down advance screeners for critics, lest a single detail leak beforehand.
But there’s an advantage that television creators have over movie creators. There is a sense of community created among fans of a television show that a movie never gets to amass, and generally, that community takes its cues from the top. If Weiner makes clear that the Mad Men community doesn’t tolerate spoilers, there’s a stigma around them that is typically enough to keep even the zealous in check. With movies, on the other hand, there’s almost a giddiness to the way in which people defy a filmmaker’s request to keep quiet. When the pulpy horror movie Orphan was released last year, the film’s bizarro twist popped up all over blogs and Twitter feeds on the day it opened. The film’s tagline was “You’ll never guess Esther’s secret.” But why bother to guess when you could have just Googled? The marketing campaign for Catfish, with its tagline “Don’t let anyone tell you what it is,” is almost hilarious in its hubris. If there were any chance audiences might have kept quiet, it’s certainly ruined now.
I don’t live in one of the handful of cities in which Catfish will open first, and the main reason I’ve remained blissfully ignorant about it thus far is that it’s a movie that no one has really heard about outside of film-geek circles. As the buzz spreads after the release, it’ll get increasingly difficult to avoid loose-lipped friends on Facebook or callously written review headlines. Perhaps Catfish will prove to be so compelling that viewers will want to avoid ruining it for their friends, or, like Inception, such a pretzel of a story that you couldn’t explain it if you wanted to. But it seems unlikely. Chances are, Catfish will prove that in our news-feed age it might be quaint to make a movie that’s better the more you know, but it’s best to make a movie that’s awesome even if you know everything.