The BBC has recently asked whether movie trailers reveal too much plot. I think this sort of question takes the wrong approach to film.
Too many people view films as nothing but plots. All they care about, really, are plots. If the plot is good, the film is good. If the plot is known before the film begins, there’s no point in watching the film.
One of my favorite trailers was one from Brian De Palma’s Femme Fatale. It showed the entire film on superfast-forward, slowing to show only those scenes that would have been included in a normal trailer. At the end of the roughly hundred-second piece, it told you that you’d just seen Brian De Palma’s new film. Then it asked if you wanted to see it again. Brilliant.
Complaining about revealing trailers seems decadent to me. It reminds me of St. Paul’s Athenians, who “spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing” (Acts 17:21).
Early dramas always told stories that were known beforehand to the audience. Homer’s entire audience knew the stories of the Trojan War by heart. Everyone going to watch the latest tragedy by Sophocles was familiar with Oedipus. No one in the first audience of Magnus Herodes was surprised when Herod went postal on the Bethlehem boys.
Drama is art. A new and creative telling of a familiar story. Not the mindless generation of some new thing, but a way to reconnect audiences to their rich histories and deepen cherished stories’ themes for new listeners, an interweaving of past and present into a full and whole cultural tapestry.
Only decadence complains when the thrill of some new thing is robbed by a revealing trailer. We shouldn’t really be watching films for their plots anyway. The artist’s skill isn’t in finding us something new under the sun, but in rejuvenating the old to write it anew in the fleshy tables of our hearts.