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Spoilers… And Movies Beyond Spoiling…

Last week, Total Film included a selection of heavily stylised posters for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. They do look quite fabulous and are well worth a look, but it has been pointed out that one of them does spoil the film by identifying the mole. This got me thinking – the information is already out there, both in le Carré’s original Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and the BBC’s adaptation, so at what point does the identity of the “mole right at the top of the Circus”cease to be a spoiler and become fair game? More than that, with the identity having been in the public sphere for decades, is it possible that the revelation could ruin the movie for anyone?

Everything's under Control...

Note: I do not actually reveal the identity of the mole here, so feel free to read ahead without impeding your viewing experience.

Certainly, some of the people I know who are most looking forward to the film are fans of the original book or the miniseries that starred Alec Guinness. That does, of course, leave a large percentage of individuals for whom this will be their first exposure to the story, and it’s understandable they don’t want it dampened. I respect that. Hell, I enjoyed the film while trying to work out the identity of the bad guy in my own unique fashion.

Still, the movie had to be constructed in such a way that it could offer something to those who already knew the answer, and those who had already figured out the identity of the double agent. I think it succeeds on those terms, and I’ve said before that I am looking forward to seeing it for a second time. Because, at the risk of being controversial, I think that’s the key to a truly exceptional mystery or twist. Rather than the ending standing completely on its own in a “that was quite clever sort of way”, I’d argue that the very best twist endings work because they cause us to reconsider everything that came before.

Pulling off the perfect twist is no mean feet...

I’d argue The Usual Suspects has a great such twist ending, in that it causes us to reevaluate what came before. More than that, though, it encourages us to look at different areas when we watch the film again – it seems to point to scenes we dismissed as if to say, “You missed this.” At its very best, the twist allows us to see another side entirely to a film that was quite entertaining in the first place. It surprises us, in the same way that great slight of hand does – “are you watching closely?” – but films have the advantage of being watched again, knowing the outcome. If we know how things play out, a trick that can still keep us interested is a rare one indeed.

I’d argue that The Sixth Sense has a central twist that doesn’tdo this. It’s a great hook, and one of the most surprising revelations I’d seen in quite some time. There’s a reason that most people remember the film, because it’s a great idea. However, the ending doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. While you could argue the film holds together on rewatch, all sorts of awkward questions occur about certain scenes. We know that certain scenes can’t have been what we thought they were, but Shyamalan’s film doesn’t even hint at what they actually might be. In short, it feels like you got your return the first time you watched the film – that first time was bang for your buck.

It's all on the table...

I don’t fault movies for that. As much as I may like to believe that every movie in the world should be a masterpiece, I can appreciate movies that offer simply and cheesy gratification. Not every release needs to stand as a monument to the ages, and films you enjoy once have as much place in the cinema connaisseur’s diet as genuine classics or holiday favourites. I’m not talking about the merit of the film, though, but the merit of the twist.

To continue with the Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy theme, I hope that there are a few hints I’d missed in watching the film, or even a few character interactions that can be cast in a whole new light once I know for sure the identities of those involved. I’d make the argument, though, that the film isn’t really about the mole him- or herself, but more about the world that the spies inhabit. Karla’s top secret double-agent is just a plot device to allow the story to explore the web of lies and mistrust, and I think it works quite well like that.

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