Predicting Movies **SPOILERS FOR 90% OF EVERY MOVIE EVER**

I’ve been watching a lot of movies lately for my interdisciplinary, multi-media classes. While that’s just a fancy way of saying the class doesn’t have a focus, it has opened my eyes to something far more important. In the deluge of recently viewed films, there hasn’t been a single film I haven’t predicted the plot of in the first twenty minutes with frightening accuracy. My secret? I know how films are put together, to an extent. Getting inside the heads of producers and writers isn’t an incredible task when you once aspired to be one, but the tricks themselves are simple. So simple, in fact, that I can expound them here in a couple of paragraphs.

The first thing you have to understand is that a movie or a story is a self-contained episode. It’s similar to an essay in many ways. It has a beginning, a middle and an end. It has a point or a conclusion to the story-line. It has been edited, revised and polished to a fine sheen; it’s a crisp telling of the narrative. That’s the first mistake that authors make when they try to cloak an ending to surprise us. Anyone familiar with detective stories will tell you that the primary methods people use are either a ridiculous twist or a too-clever sleuth. The thing is, the sleuth isn’t smarter than us, he just has data that we don’t have. Sherlock Holmes is a great example of this. A cursory reading will show you that most of the clues he uses to draw his conclusions aren’t provided to the reader; he’s right to chastise Watson for sensationalism. However, that’s what makes it a good story: the revelation. There are hints, though, and so as readers we must make our predictions through tropes instead of through an induction-deduction process. Ours is purely deductive.

What is a trope, you might ask. Well, it’s the predictable, repeated example of an idea or representation used across various examples of a category. Scooby-doo had a long-standing trope of making the villain the “one-shot, auxiliary character that was introduced at the beginning of the show and soon forgotten.” Anime characters in a 5-person group as usually broken down into stock characters lead by the guy with the spikiest hair or the most elaborate goggles. For a more comprehensive survey of tropes, go here—> Start clicking the hyper-links, but, I warn you in advance: you can lose a large chunk of your life here.

The thing is, the writers of Scooby-doo were trying to be clever, but they were also noosed by their concept. They couldn’t just make the villain some random person; audiences would be all like, “Where the hell did he come from?!” But, they couldn’t a la Bugs-Bunny is either; the excessive palm-rubbing and maniacal laughter would have given the game up straight away. So, they were stuck in a formula that rarely deviated. Chained between limited time (they needed the hi-jinks, the clues, the motivation and the reveal scene to fit into a 22-minute episode) and the necessity of introducing all the pieces of the story, they didn’t have much of a choice. Neither do today’s producers, directors and writers. The more complex the narrative becomes, the less time they have.

They’re clever, though. But, you’re more clever. There are always those scenes that stick out as exposition or foreshadowing; they don’t quite seem to fit in with the sequence of events that’s happening at the time. However, you can bet that if they made room for it on the film reel, then it’s important. Shooting, editing and screening are expensive, time-consuming processes. If something makes it to the final cut, there’s a damn-good reason. Films like Memento try to get around this, but, really, who else is going to betray him? He only interacts with three characters for any length of time and, it’s not much of a psychological thriller without a twist. The Sixth Sense? What did you think that opening scene was about? Producers, writers and directors depend on us to do one or all of these three things: be lazy, suspend our disbelief and jump to the most obvious conclusions.

I grew up watching anime. The producers of anime are masters of the cut-away scene. If you want to understand what’s going on, then you need to be engaged enough to understand why they cut away to that scene in the meadow, the scene of the couple hugging or the picture of that piece of paper. Another often-used technique is background foreshadowing. Doctor Who did this with Bad Wolf. Obviously, it meant something, but what? It wouldn’t be there if it didn’t mean something.

Let’s put this all together with a film that not many of you will know, but is good enough that you might want to watch it. The title is a death-reference. It portrays a simple Professor-student, older-man-younger-woman relationship dynamic. He is embarrassed by his age and, ostensibly, doesn’t commit to the relationship because of it.  He takes pictures and develops them himself. His son hates him for leaving his mother. He talks constantly about sexual liberation, but acts like a fourteen year-old in his current relationship. He references his love for her breasts several times and, once near the beginning when he’s trying to seduce her, her resemblance to a painting in a book. That should be more than enough for you to figure out what happens. There are a couple of sub-plots, but they’re pretty obvious, as well. All of this is can be easily discerned in the first twenty to thirty minutes of the film, but it’s enough to let you know exactly what’s going to happen. An active imagination, combined with a knowledge of tropes and the limitations of movie-time should be all you need to know. Remember, it has to make sense and it all has to fit. Sometimes, you may have to make a leap of intuitive, narrative logic, but that’s part of the fun of deduction.

Lastly, if you do this, you might spoil a movie for yourself. However, you might also come to appreciate doing this in terrible movies. Guess-work is fun. You can always just sit back and enjoy the ride to see if you were right. It adds an extra layer of surprise when you’re wrong. Sometimes, they’re just more, more clever. I’ve found that movies that are critically bad also include stuff that has nothing to do with the main plot. They mess up this formula more than anything. Superfluousness is the spice that makes movies more believable, even when they’re terrible. But, we like crisp, don’t we?

Don’t get me started on movie previews. But, that’s a whole ‘nother ball of orange peelings.


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