Tuesday, July 24, 2012

What information to reveal, when?

In watching Christopher Smith's movie Triangle on Saturday, there were (appropriately) three instances when I was inspired to reveal information about the film that maybe I shouldn't have. One was before the film and two were during. Two also (not the same two) were instances where I actually revealed the info, and in one instance I kept my mouth shut.

But let me start by telling you a thing or two about this film, which worked very well for me despite the fact that a close scrutiny of its narrative structure might uncover all sorts of logical flaws.

A group of six friends (three men, three women) leave a Florida harbor on a beautiful morning for a day of sailing. Included in these friends is a woman (Melissa George) who seems a bit shell-shocked, like she can't exactly remember the events leading up to this moment in time. As they get out on the water, some unusual changes in the weather -- which seem localized to exactly where they are on the water -- portend ominous things to come.

Which is all I really want to say about it until I've given you a spoiler warning. Here it is: Mild spoilers to follow, but only about the kind of movie it is, not about actual things that happen in the plot. So in other words, you won't be too disappointed if you keep reading, and it shouldn't affect your enjoyment -- especially if you realize that the triangle of the title is the Bermuda Triangle, where weird things are always afoot.


Triangle had come up for discussion in the Flickchart group on Facebook sometime in the past year. The larger theme of the discussion was: mind-bender movies you may not have seen, which may or may not have to do with time travel. Also discussed were Timecrimes and Primer, the former of which I love and the latter of which I most certainly do not love.

It's rare enough these days that my wife and I watch movies together -- two a week at most -- that I feel like I need to sell each suggestion to her in order for her to agree to it. I probably don't; in fact, she loves not knowing anything about a particular film before she sees it. But when I've got a movie I want to watch, I immediately start planning out the sales pitch, to make the movie seem more enticing to her. So in this case I explained that the movie had come up in a discussion of Timecrimes and Primer.

My wife didn't balk at the information, or tell me she wished I hadn't revealed it. But as we started watching, I wished I hadn't revealed it. Knowing that other people had compared this movie to two time travel movies, I was immediately second guessing everything I saw on screen, instead of being lulled into a false sense of the movie's straightforwardness by what seemed like an ordinary boating trip on a beautiful Florida day. In fact, before the movie started, I hadn't even known that Triangle referred to the Bermuda Triangle. So if I hadn't known there was going to be a supernatural element at play, I mightn't have suspected anything from this innocent beginning.

Of course, I had to know something was up because I knew it was a thriller/horror. Clearly this was not going to be a movie about people taking a pleasant sail and then returning home unscathed.

So how much is too much? You need some information to get you in the door. Without movie websites telling you things like "People who liked this also liked this," you might not even know a particular movie existed. In fact, that may have been how those who recommended Triangle to me learned about it in the first place. Maybe they saw Timecrimes, and then Triangle was recommended as a similar movie. (Note: If you are worried that I have spoiled Triangle for you in some way, worry not -- calling it similar to Timecrimes and Primer is in many ways a red herring, and the very specific thing it has in common with Timecrimes is not what you would expect at all.)

My wife, who didn't like the movie as much as I did, didn't scold me one bit for telling her that it was similar to these other movies. She didn't say it affected her expectations, or anything like that; in fact, she didn't mention this advanced knowledge whatsoever. She did, however, scold me about yet again taking her out of a movie by identifying one of the actors as someone who once appeared in something else.


See, one of the compulsive things I do that pisses my wife off the most is to point out actors on screen as the movie is going. "Hey, it's so-and-so." Or "Hey, that's the guy who was in such-and-such."

Objectively, it's an annoying habit. I will own that. But certain viewing companions -- my wife not being one of them -- would actually benefit from something like this. If they are like me, they get something out of recognizing that this actor appeared in that other movie, and they want to know about it at the time so they can appreciate it. If they are like me, they like figuring out the way the cinematic universe fits together like a jigsaw puzzle, how many degrees people are removed from each other, and the twists and turns in people's careers.

My wife, however, represents the much more sizable majority of viewers who want to get lost in the movie, and see that person only as a character. The nerve.

I may be slow on the uptake, but believe me, by now I know that my wife doesn't countenance such interruptions. Especially since she gave me a pretty definitive tongue-lashing (with a half smile, of course) on the subject recently. However, Triangle represented what I considered to be an exception to the rule -- and I want to see if you agree with me.

One of the three men aboard the sailboat in Triangle is an actor named Henry Nixon. There is nothing exceptional about Mr. Nixon -- his is the smallest of the three male roles, and though he performs more than capably in the movie, no one is specifically going to remember him from his work in this film.

Except, there is one thing exceptional about him to us: We've met him.

Nixon is an Australian, like both Triangle's lead (Melissa George) and my wife. And not just any Australian, but an Australian who appeared in the movie Noise, which was directed by my wife's good friend Matthew Saville. Noise appeared at Sundance in 2007, and as such, so did Henry Nixon and my wife and me. Considering the despicable character he plays in Noise, we were glad to see that Henry (I think we can call him that) is a really affable guy without an ounce of ego about him. We spent the better part of an evening with him while we were there.

Because of this connection, I thought my wife would want to know the very moment I identified who he was, which came probably 30 minutes into the film. I figured she would want to know that this was a person we had met and liked, as that would allow her to see his performance through a slightly different lens. It was time sensitive, and even though she warned me as I was doing it, I overrode her warnings for what I thought was her own good.

Turns out, she still didn't want to know. When we discussed it afterward, she told me I could have just waited until the movie was over. But according to my thinking, she would have by then missed her opportunity to watch this guy as he was doing his thing. If she hadn't known she needed to pay special attention to him, she might have had a hard time going back and considering his performance in retrospect.

Okay, well, now I know for the next time we see a movie featuring someone we know.


The third thing is kind of a silly thing, and this is the thing I did not mention to my wife.

At some point in the second act of the movie, I noticed that there had been an inordinate number of shots of Melissa George turning dramatically toward the camera. I think you can imagine what I'm talking about: You start on the back of her head, then she turns around and faces the camera, either to display a look of horror or to deliver a weighty line of dialogue.

I started to notice it so much that I almost thought it was worth pointing out. That way, if this shot then happened a half-dozen more times, we could laugh about it.

There were two main reasons I didn't: 1) I had already been scolded about the Henry Nixon incident; 2) I was enjoying this movie, and didn't want it to become the subject of ridicule.

However, let's say I did want it to become the subject of ridicule. Wouldn't I want to get everybody on the same page, so we could all have a fun time ridiculing it? That might turn the experience from a dull one to one we might remember years from now.

I think of when my wife and I watched Crazy Heart with another couple. Unbeknownst to each other for the first half of the movie, we were all suffering through the viewing, finding falsehood upon falsehood, one unintentionally hilarious moment after another. Then, fortuitously, someone ventured a snide remark, and everyone else chimed in with an equal passion for how little they were enjoying the film. This opened the flood gates, and allowed us to openly crack wise about the movie. I remember laughing and laughing and ultimately having a very fun time -- which doesn't make me feel any more fondly about the movie, only the experience of watching it.

But it can be a risk to take the movie into the MST3K realm. First off, you have to read the room. You have to pick up on the shifting bodies, the sighs, the mild scoffs, to be sure that others are in agreement. Then you've got to pick just the right moment to point out something absurd in the film, and see if your vocal interruption is welcomed or rebuffed.

With Triangle, I didn't want to take it to the level of ridicule, because I was really enjoying the movie. My wife might have actually taken it and ran with it, since she didn't get as much out of the movie as I did. But I didn't want the numerous shots of Melissa George doing a 180 to be our defining memory of the film.

So I did something that I can, surprisingly, do when I want to:

I kept my trap shut.

1 comment:

Thaddeus said...

I've been there before: debating whether or not to speak up during a movie, wondering whether you should point out every little factoid you notice.

Of course, the proper thing to do is to leave the experience untainted for others, including your companions, and wait until the film is over. But I've made a theater erupt into laughter 4 or 5 times; and I've broken the tension in a moment in similar ways. Try watching the first, foreign Girl with the Dragon Tattoo movie with a woman you barely know; I found a new way to break the tension of a sexually-violent scene...

Like so much of life - and as you describe yourself - it's always about reading the room, figuring out whether you have something worth saying right then and there, and knowing whether what you have to say is so worthwhile that you should interrupt a performance.

I'm a huge MST3k fan, and I've been in theaters where people both lived up to and failed the standards of fan commentary. All I can say is I walk the line =)