Going in Blind

With some of the films I’ve been watching lately, a thought has entered my mind. In just about every case, it was a film I’d heard of in the past; sometimes a film I’d heard quite a bit about. Now, sometimes I enjoyed the film, and sometimes I didn’t. Sometimes what I knew ahead of time was to the film’s benefit… and sometimes it wasn’t.

There’s a lot of info out there about films. Trailers. Posters. Reviews. Word of mouth. Like anybody else, I use this information to help determine what to view. It’s almost always been beneficial, on the whole. But a few of the films I’ve seen have made me wonder about the appeal of a different approach.

For the most part, I consider information about a film to be benign. As long as it’s not revealing a major secret about the film’s plot — of the “No, the true villain was the hero’s sidekick all along” sort of reveal — then I’ve considered it to be, on the whole, fair game. After all, if I’m in the mood for a particular kind of story, I can’t very well claim to be upset about knowing that the film tells that kind of story. If I’m looking for a heist movie I can’t criticize the promotional material for telling me the film involves a bank robbery. I’m certainly not going to stop looking at trailers, or reading reviews (or writing them). I do enjoy the anticipation of a film that I have an informed reason to expect good things out of.

But at the same time, there are occasions when I wonder what it would be like to watch a film without knowing anything about it beforehand. It was something I contemplated when watching Psycho: the film is so well-known that even somebody who hasn’t seen the film typically knows the major twists. It’s a good thing the film is masterfully crafted, because the surprises that Hitchcock intended are no longer surprises; as soon as the movie reaches the Bates Motel, even the most ignorant viewer knows what scene is coming up next. It’s impossible to not know about Psycho… but what about other films? Not every film is as heavily discussed and parodied and homaged and ripped-off as Psycho.

Suppose you take a typical film, one where it’s probably a decent movie, maybe even a classic, but it’s not one where every scene is familiar by age ten. What would it be like to watch it without foreknowledge? To have not seen the trailer, not read a review? Of course, that doesn’t really go far enough. Posters and box art tell a lot of the story too. Those have got to go. Skip the back-of-the-box synopsis, skip the cable directory summary. The title, too. Sometimes titles are pretty obscure — Adaptation could refer to a few dozen different things — but most of them give something of an idea of what the film is about. How the West Was Won spells it all out. Mighty Aphrodite tells you it’s a romantic comedy. Even something like Memento gives an idea of the tone, given the generally dark connotation of the word.

But what if you skipped that? You’d have to have a friend help, of course; I’m not aware of any streaming service that has a “select a random recommended film and skip to the point after the title” feature. (But if there is one, let me know, because that seriously sounds like fun.)

What if you watched a film and truly knew nothing about it when you started watching? What if everything was a surprise? The plot, the characters, the cast, even the genre itself… What would that be like? It’s something I think very few of us have ever experienced, and if we have, it was probably as kids when our parents picked stuff out for us when we were half paying attention; alternately, it’s been when we wander in partway through a movie that is already on the TV — but how often does that happen while still being close enough to the beginning to give you the full movie?

If you didn’t know anything about a film you were watching, I suspect there would be a sense of wonder that is otherwise lacking. The human brain is powerful at forming associations and making connections; even the smallest scrap of info leads to subconscious expectations. But without that scrap, it would have to figure things out as they came, just like the characters in the film.

Sometimes this wouldn’t necessarily make a difference. I’m fairly sure my enjoyment of Gangs of New York would have been about the same had I known nothing of it. But I might have enjoyed Chicago even more than I did if I hadn’t already been fairly familiar with it. And then there are the genres that really thrive on surprise. I wasn’t a big fan of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, but suppose I had been able to watch it without knowing what it was. Well, I would still probably have found the first half boring, but I wouldn’t have necessarily known it was a horror film initially, let alone which one. The appearance of Leatherface would have been a total shock. It probably wouldn’t have been enough to make me truly like the film, but at least I would have been surprised.

Of course, in a lot of ways this is just an idle thought experiment. As I said, I’m unaware of any service that currently sets this up, so it’s pretty much impossible to do as a solo effort. Even a friend would have difficulty, since obviously you can’t go in blind on a film you’ve already seen, or a film where they ask you if you’ve seen it — and even good friends seldom know each others complete viewing history. Plus, there are probably a lot of films that wouldn’t be affected. But it might be interesting to try some time, if one can pull it off.

About Morgan R. Lewis

Fan of movies and other media
This entry was posted in Ramblings and Musings and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Going in Blind

  1. Kate says:

    A bit of World Cinema but try ‘Rust and Bone’… I went in blind and enjoyed it. Have a look, it’s a bit of a surprise.

  2. There have been times where my dad’s put on a film, and I’ve wandered in and started watching. Sometimes it’s actually quite interesting, especially if it’s a film I’ve not heard about. But yeah, you can’t really do it as a solo experiment. There is a brilliant image online of a little kid watching Star Wars episode V, really young kid, who has no idea of the plot twist. The picture captures him as he finds out Vader is Luke’s father. Growing up, I’d seen so many different parodies of that scene, and had seen Space Balls, before seeing Star Wars. So when I finally got to watch it, the only real excitement from that scene was just because I knew it was coming up.

    • Yeah, a twist like that, you can only ever really be surprised by it if you’re so young you haven’t seen all the different pop culture references to it. And unfortunately, there are so many films that have universally-known twists but aren’t kid appropriate.

  3. Jaina says:

    Even the tiniest bit of knowledge sways your subconscious about film, in my eyes. Even if you think you’ve read or seen something benign, your brain will still think about it and it’ll sit there until you watch the film.

    Reading this made me think, is it not just going in blind to a particular film that might just give you more of a lateral view of the film. But also seeing no films at all? Hear me out. It’s like getting desensitised to film/tv violence. The more you see, the less you feel. Same could be said about film. Time and time again we’re shown the same plots, the same characters, and in our little brains we piece things together, based on these facts, with films we’re seeing for the first time.

    I can’t remember the last film I went into blind. It might have been Triangle. Which was a long, long time ago.

    • Definitely true about desensitization, or being “genre savvy” as some put it. The more films of a particular type you see, the better you know the generic plot structures. Going in completely blind wouldn’t solve that entirely, but it might at least make your subconscious work a little harder since it would have to figure out the genre first.

  4. elina says:

    I love this post because I go in blind around 50% of the time. One day, I discovered I hate spoilers and I’ve been rather obsessive in avoiding them ever since. And take it from someone who knows โ€“ sometimes it’s not that good. Sometimes I pause and go on Wikipedia or IMDb or a blog because it’s way too confusing without knowing anything. But mostly it’s pretty darn awesome. So I recommend you do try it sometimes. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • There are definitely films which are hard to follow without a road map… but then, I tend to consider those to be poor films as a whole anyway. ๐Ÿ™‚

      I hate spoilers as well. I’m usually OK with knowing general plot outlines, but all too often it seems like people don’t know how to give an outline without giving key details away.

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