Remember When... The Crying Game Did the Impossible By Keeping Its Secret a Secret?

Remember When... The Crying Game Did the Impossible By Keeping Its Secret a Secret?

Nov 27, 2015

The Crying Game was a hit with critics and at the box office in the early 1990s, and it would probably be just as acclaimed if it came out today. It has a forward-thinking take on gender, sexuality, and race that would do well in the current social climate -- probably better than it did at Thanksgiving 1992, in fact, when the film was released in the U.S.

But a 2015 version of The Crying Game probably wouldn't make as much money as the 1992 one did. Why? Because in 2015, there's no way its famous secret would remain a secret for very long. The Internet has seen to that. People would find out, either accidentally or on purpose, and the number of tickets sold to curious patrons who just wanted to find out what all the whispering was about would thus be drastically reduced.

(Spoilers for The Crying Game are coming. You've been warned.) 

You see, things were different before the Internet. If you heard a movie had a surprise and you wanted to know what it was, the easiest way to find out -- especially when it was an art-house flick that most people hadn't seen -- was to simply watch it. There wasn't a convenient way of combing through news stories about it, looking for one that had revealed the twist.


And that's if you wanted to learn the secret. Pre-Internet, you didn't have to worry much about stumbling across spoilers accidentally. The Crying Game was a bona fide indie hit, ultimately grossing $62.5 million (that's $126 million at 2015 prices) -- but it was still only seen by about 5% of the population. The average person who hadn't seen it was unlikely to overhear a conversation between two people who had.

Bob and Harvey Weinstein of Miramax, then just embarking on their career of winning Oscars through savvy marketing, made audiences co-conspirators. Ads called it "the movie everyone is talking about, but no one is giving away its secrets." Notice the subtle implication: if YOU give away its secrets, you're a spoilsport, and BOO ON YOU. For the most part, audiences went along with it.

Reviewers kept mum, too, even when it meant bending the rules of syntax and journalism. Keep in mind, Davidson wasn't transgender. He was a gay man with feminine features, who by his own account never dressed in drag until he made the movie. His character identifies as "she," but the actor was "he."


But in Time magazine, Richard Corliss avoided all gender-specific words when talking about Davidson (and even when talking about Dil, the character), while cleverly hiding an acrostic spoiler in the first letters of each paragraph ("SHEISAHE"). Janet Maslin's interview with Davidson in The New York Times likewise avoided pronouns, and Maslin was even permitted to break the Times' usual policy and call her interview subject Jaye instead of Mr. Davidson. That's an extraordinary amount of leeway from a paper as rigid as the Times

The issue became moot on Feb. 17, 1993, when the film was nominated for six Academy Awards that included Jaye Davidson for Best Supporting Actor. So much for that mystery. Surely a good portion of the million or so people who saw the movie that weekend because of the Oscar push had put two and two together and weren't shocked at the revelation of Dil's pickle. Well, OK, they were probably still shocked. But they weren't surprised by the information. 

We know how all this would play out in 2015. Movie websites would write about the twist, with ample spoiler warnings at first, but after a couple months writers would start to assume "everyone" had seen the movie. Some sites would think they're being helpful with coy headlines like "Let's Talk About a Certain Movie's Gender Issues," but then give it away by attaching a still from The Crying Game. Then you'd have the people who were offended by the movie because of its progressive/not progressive enough depiction of LGBT issues, who would have no problem dropping spoilers every time they ranted about it. 

In short, the percentage of people who hadn't seen the movie but knew the twist would be much larger today than it was back then. Many of them would still see the movie, of course (and knowing the secrets ahead of time doesn't ruin it). But there wouldn't be as many curiosity-seekers, the looky-loos who watch the movie so they can be part of the conversation. For better or worse, in the 21st century, you don't need to have seen something to talk about it. 


When The Crying Game came out, on Nov. 27, 1992:

- It was a small release, just six theaters, but its per-screen average was second only to Aladdin, which had opened two weeks earlier. The top films at the multiplex were Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, Aladdin, The Bodyguard, Bram Stoker's Dracula, Malcolm X, Passenger 57, A River Runs Through It, Under Siege, The Last of the Mohicans, and The Mighty Ducks.

- The Seinfeld episode "The Contest" had aired nine days earlier, forever changing TV's depiction of masturbation. Cartoon Network was new. People were still talking about Sinead O'Connor's tearing up a picture of the Pope on SNL seven weeks earlier. 


- The soundtrack to The Bodyguard had been out for 10 days and had already sold about a zillion copies. It remains the best-selling soundtrack of all time. Whitney Houston will always love you. 

- Speaking of which, "I Will Always Love You" was the top song on the Billboard charts that week. Also getting a lot of airplay: "How Do You Talk to an Angel," by The Heights; "Rump Shaker," by Wreckx-N-Effect; "Rhythm Is a Dancer," by Snap; "Layla," by Eric Claption; "Jump Around," by House of Pain; and two songs from the Boomerang soundtrack: P.M. Dawn's "I'd Die Without You" and Boyz II Men's "End of the Road." 


- Two days earlier, Czechoslovakia had voted to split into two parts, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, starting on New Year's Day. The countries never got back together, but they remain friends to this day.

- The New York Times best seller list included Douglas Adams' Mostly Harmless, plus several novels that would eventually become movies:The Bridges of Madison County (Robert James Waller), The General's Daughter (Nelson DeMille), and The Pelican Brief (John Grisham). The non-fiction list was topped by Rush Limbaugh's The Way Things Ought to Be and Madonna's Sex. Now picture those two together, romantically. You're welcome! 

- Miley Cyrus was four days old and already overexposed. Josh Hutcherson was six weeks old and already boring.  

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