Sylvia and I caught Sunset Boulevard the other night on Turner Classic Movies. Sylvia hadn't seen the film before (which surprised me) and we came in a little late as William Holden turns into Norma Desmond's garage to escape the repo men. Since Sylvia hadn't seen it we sat back and enjoyed the rest of the film.
What was interesting to me as a writer and filmmaker is that Sylvia didn't know that Holden (Joe) was dead in the pool at the beginning of the film and the he was narrating from the grave. I didn't really think of the device much before and it seemed fairly clever that a dead man was narrating the story of how he got to be that way. That is until we finished the film and I told Sylvia what had happened in the beginning of the film. She much preferred that she didn't know what happened to him and found the film to be quite suspenseful and engaging. The fact that Joe was killed was quite a shock to her.
It's a concept that the writer always has to grapple with, the audience. How much to they know? How much to they need to know? What is the best time to reveal information and when are you going to get the greatest impact? Do you kill the suspense of the ending, knowing that he is going to die? Or do you enhance the experience by letting the audience in on it? Are they on the edge of their seats pleading with Joe?
At the end of the day you need to make a choice and that was the choice Wilder made. Is it wrong? No. It's just a choice. A great film whatever way you slice it.