20 years ago today, a movie called The Minus Man came out. Aside from its cast, which is notable for having Owen Wilson play a serial killer and providing musicians Sheryl Crow and Dwight Yoakam with major roles, there isn’t much to say about it. It reviewed decently. It is, by most accounts, a perfectly okay movie.
That’s not what we’re here to discuss, though. We’re here to remember The Minus Man’s trailer—a work of far greater cultural impact than the film it was made to promote.
It seems simple enough at the beginning: A woman and man exit a theater after having just seen an evening showing of The Minus Man. The guy says, “It was like Heart Of Darkness meets Gilligan’s Island.” This is a strange combination to sum up a movie, sure, but things get back to normal afterward as the pair chat about the film’s characters in a bar, argue about their interpretations of its plot as they walk the streets, discuss metaphors while they eat at a diner, and end up continuing their discussion until the sun comes up. At this point, the woman realizes what time it is and wordlessly sprints off in panic. She arrives at work, changes into a lifeguard’s bathing suit, and the camera cuts to her face, frozen as she looks down at a swimming pool.
The lifeless bodies of two people bob in the water. The camera pulls back to her standing in mute horror at the swimmers’ floating corpses. Words pop up on the screen, reading: “Careful, you can talk about it for hours.” The implication is that watching The Minus Man is such an intellectually engaging experience that you’ll forget other responsibilities, maybe even killing people by negligence in the process.
This is a bold approach to marketing. Rather than follow established movie trailer formula, which is predictable and easy to forget, The Minus Man was advertised as a movie so incredibly provocative that lifeguards (who apparently never overlaps shifts) will fail to save lives (of swimmers who can’t be left alone for a moment without dropping like flies) just because they saw it.
The trailer is obviously good as hell. Watching it, though, forces the viewer to ask themselves some difficult questions of a kind that usually don’t get raised by film advertisements—questions like whether or not your entertainment (and chance to see Sheryl Crow in a major motion picture) is worth a minimum of two lives lost; questions like what would’ve happened if an ER doctor had gone to see The Minus Man the night before his shift; questions like how much unnecessary bloodshed we’ve avoided as a society by letting people talk about movies on Twitter instead of doing it in person.
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