Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Spoiler Space: Foxcatcher

Illustration for article titled Spoiler Space: Foxcatcher

Thoughts on, and a place to discuss, the plot details that can’t be revealed in our review.


On January 26, 1996, wealthy heir John Du Pont shot and killed his friend and star athlete, the Olympic wrestling champion David Schultz. Several reviews of Foxcatcher, Bennett Miller’s new film about the events that brought these two men together, have disclosed this information upfront. It’s a defensible decision: Publicity about the making of the movie was transparent about the story’s true-crime origins, and one should feel no obligation to conceal the details of a two-decade-old news story. Furthermore, one could make the reasonable case that Foxcatcher isn’t really about the murder anyway; certainly, the way it’s presented—as an anticlimactic denouement—reinforces this perspective.

Nevertheless, while I respect the decision to essentially reveal the film’s ending—and hence grapple with it in writing—I couldn’t quite bring myself to do it in my own review. Maybe I’m just avoiding a backlash by the spoiler police. On the other hand, I do think that Foxcatcher benefits from a vague sense of unease—the feeling that it’s building toward something awful, the suspense deepened by not knowing what, exactly, is in store for these characters. One could go into Foxcatcher knowing just that someone dies (as I basically did when I saw it at Cannes) and still not be quite sure who it’s going to be. For example, one could watch Channing Tatum’s Mark, the younger Schultz brother, and reasonably assume that this ticking time bomb of inarticulate rage had to have been involved in the violence to come. He wasn’t, though.

Foxcatcher is about many things, but one is them is definitely the murder it depicts, however belatedly and almost nonchalantly. The film simply wouldn’t exist without this true-crime conclusion, and whatever significance the plot gains is retrospective; without the punctuation of a gunshot, the movie is almost perversely uneventful, its true events not nearly exciting enough to warrant dramatization. What’s more, if Miller and company really saw the climactic violence as besides the point, they wouldn’t take so many liberties to play up its importance. Take Du Pont, for example: His behavior allegedly didn’t become erratic until weeks before the murder, but Foxcatcher makes him look unhinged from the start—the better, of course, to foreshadow the crime he committed a whopping seven years later.

Anyway, to deemphasize the murder’s importance to the movie by foregrounding it could actually have the opposite effect: If readers know that Foxcatcher is building toward this climactic act of violence, they might be inclined to treat every scene that comes before it as an ominous, telling hint of what’s to come. (And, frankly, some scenes serve that very function.) Better, I say, to leave the uninitiated in the dark. Those who want the context beforehand have the option to Google.