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Spoil the Ending?

  • By Mark Moring Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2005 18 Jan
Spoil the Ending?

Picture this: You've been looking forward to a certain movie for months, and it's finally come to a theater near you. You head out on opening weekend, fork over your nine bucks for a ticket, pick up some popcorn and a soda and find your way to the perfect seat—right in the middle, about halfway up. You sit through a bunch of dumb ads and movie trivia, a few previews you don't care about, and then the theater darkens. You settle back, excited about the next two hours and what's going to unfold in front of you.

And then the unthinkable happens: Just as the studio logo appears on the screen and the first chords of music begin to play, Mr. Big Mouth sitting behind you, in a "whisper" so loud you can hear him four rows away, tells his date how the movie ends.

Aarrgghh! You want to strangle the guy—or at least dump your popcorn over his head. Who wants to watch a movie when you know how it ends?

We've actually had to wrestle with that question around here lately, regarding the highly touted film Million Dollar Baby, a potential multiple winner at next month's Academy Awards. Our critic assigned to the film, Jeffrey Overstreet, did not give away the ending in his review, but noted that a number of other critics were giving it away—or at least enough of it to spoil the ending.

After we posted Jeffrey's review last Friday, he heard from some people who said he had a "moral obligation" to give away the ending. Why? Because Million Dollar Baby has a significant, unexpected plot development near the conclusion that is certain to jolt viewers—and for Christian viewers, to raise important ethical questions. As Jeffrey noted in his review, it's a plot twist that "will prod some viewers to grief and others to outrage." (And, I might add, it also makes for lively discussion fodder after watching the film. To that end, Jeffrey included some excellent discussion questions in the Talk About It section at the end of his review.)

So, we're back where we started: On the one hand, it's easy to say that it's always a bad idea to give away a movie's ending—especially when you're a film critic. But Million Dollar Baby manages to at least raise the question: Is there ever a good enough reason to give away the ending? Million Dollar Baby certainly got us thinking about it.

We wondered if our "moral obligation" to warn Christians about the potentially disturbing subject matter somehow "trumped" our professional commitment to avoid plot spoilers—especially the worst plot spoiler of all: divulging the end. After some discussion, we agreed that the right decision was to not give away the end to Million Dollar Baby.

But we're also thinking about how we might handle similar situations in the future. One solution might be a clearly marked plot spoiler warning at the end of the review, where the reader must click a link to read the additional material. We'd set it up something like this:

Note: This film's conclusion includes some disturbing ethical issues that could be of particular concern to Christians. To explore that here would give away the ending, but if you'd like to read about it, click here. But again, be warned: THIS ADDITIONAL MATERIAL GIVES AWAY THE ENDING.

Something like that, anyway.

We'd like to know what you think: Under what circumstances, if any, would you want to know how a movie ends? And this: Do Christian film critics have an obligation to "warn" Christians about certain content if that warning gives away the ending? If so, again, under what circumstances? And finally, this: If you've seen Million Dollar Baby, did you think our review did a good job addressing the conclusion? Why or why not?

Drop us an e-mail with your thoughts, putting "Movie Endings" in the subject line. We might do a follow-up story with some of your reactions.

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