Op 3: Based on a “True Story”

Spoiler Alert: The Way Back movie and Quills movie

We all have watched movies that either have the famous “based on true story” words written on the screen before the movie actually starts, or are about a famous person (therefore implying that the movie is based on a true story). The presumption that a movie depicts true events helps make a dull movie seem more entertaining, and it makes an exciting movie even more titillating. The only problem with these presumptions is that they are often untrue.

The movie The Way Back is about a group of men who escape from a Siberian work camp. This movie can be summarized in one sentence: The main characters walked, and then they walked, and then they walked, and then they walked a bit more. Although the cinematography was gorgeous, and the dialogue was humorous at times (unfortunately most of the funny bits were shown in the preview), it did not change the fact that a person could take a 30 minute nap during this movie, and not see anything different on the screen when they awoke. Well that’s not true, after all sometimes the characters walked in snowy woods, and other times they walked near a frozen lake. However, after I watched this movie, not only did I have an urge to hike, but I also felt that I did not waste my time sitting in the theater. After all, this movie is based on a true story, and I just witnessed a reenactment of extraordinary events. Except the only true part of this story is that a place called Siberia does exist. The movie is based on a ghost written autobiography The Long Walk, and this book has been declared fiction by many sources. Not only would it be impossible to complete the strenuous walk depicted in the movie, but this walk has not been recorded anywhere. The fact that there is written proof that shows the main character had been released from the work camp before the walk occurred, severely shakes the credibility of this movie. When I found out the movie was only based on a story (there was nothing true about it), I not only felt that I wasted my time watching people walk, but I also felt that the actors wasted their time walking. I would not have been that disappointed with the movie if I knew is was a piece of fiction from the beginning.

Unlike The Way Back, the movie Quills is very captivating. Quills tells the story of Marquis de Sade (the father of sadism), and how he faced imprisonment, torture, and death because he wanted to be allowed to write naughty novels. As a huge fan of free speech, I can empathize with the plight of the father of sadism (even if I don’t enjoy his stories). Not to mention, who can dislike a movie where the protagonist is so dedicated to his novels, that even when all his writing instruments are taken away from him, he uses his own excrement to write on the walls. The fact that he commits suicide by swallowing a cross, makes him almost seem like a martyr. Unfortunately, many events in this movie are also fictionalized. Marquis de Sade was imprisoned several times during his life, but it was usually for committing sadistic acts, not writing about them. Feeling compassion for a man who enjoyed to write about depraved acts is a tad different from feeling sympathy for a man who forced others to do depraved acts. Also, Marquis de Sade died while he was sleeping in his bed, and unless he dreamed about swallowing a cross the night he died, that part of the movie is pure fiction. I would have enjoyed this movie if I knew it was mainly fiction from the beginning, but finding out the outrageous events in this movie came out of someone’s imagination (and not based on facts as I had previously thought), left me feeling the way I did when I found out the tooth fairy wasn’t real.

Does finding out a biographic movie is fictitious ruin the movie? If the reason you went to watch a movie is to take a break from life, then it doesn’t matter if your break was actually based on a true story or not. However, if you plan on watching a movie to learn new information, you should probably stick to watching documentaries (at least until Hollywood stops monopolizing the movie industry). Does it matter to you if a movie is actually based on a true story?

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17 Responses to Op 3: Based on a “True Story”

  1. I’d never go to a movie just to sit and watch someone walk and walk and walk. There is no drama, no action, apart from time passing. Granted, it would be tough to have been the person doing but but…. nope.
    You give a really great and very fair review here, good writing!
    Thansk for visiting me and the lovely comment :)

  2. Anonymous says:

    I liked this a lot! Cool review.

  3. lena says:

    Very interesting topic and cool writing. How about if the movie is about some political or social message and conveys the right thing but is based on a made up story? Does it make the message invalid?

    • I think it would depend on the genre of the movie. If the story could be true (i.e does not defy the laws of physics), I think the social or political message would be just as valid. However if the story is filled with magical or fantasy elements, it might make the movie watcher not consider the message of the story. They would probably just enjoy it as a good piece of fiction. What do you think?

  4. lena says:

    The message can remain valid I guess. What got me thinking about this was a Vysotsky disc of one of his live concerts. After playing one of the songs about war he told the audience, that having listened to his songs, people kept asking him in which particular battles he had fought in WW2. He then said, that he had been a baby in the war time and had not fought in the war himself at all. In his songs Vysotsky described the feelings and experiences of people taking part in the war as he imagined and understood them and not first hand experiences. It was kind of weired for me to realize that. His songs on this topic are always very touching for me and now I felt that my emotions had been fake in some way, even though the message of the song was still valid and I am sure that what he described there, comes very close to what people experienced in reality.
    In general, most of fiction is exactly that – fiction. It might tell us a big truth about something or make us care about something we previously ignored, but it remains a made up story. But I guess that is OK, for some reason ideas need not only to be right, important, interesting etc. but also to be packaged in a digestible way….

    • Is here a that big of a difference between historical stories and historical stories infused with fiction? Most historians don’t see the entire picture, but they use official documents and personal accounts, to try to form a story. Yes they are given non-fiction puzzle pieces to work with, but how they put the puzzle together, is left to each historians own discretion. Also most personal accounts are not completely factual. Memory has a funny way of distorting facts. It is pretty common to have two people remember the same event completely differently. Also I took cognition class in college. We were taught that every time we think about a memory we change a small aspect about it. Therefor memories that we think about often (whether they are traumatizing or happy events in our lives), tend to be the least accurate. That’s why even if a person adds a little bit of fiction to convey a historical message, I don’t feel it is any more of a lie than a history book or a personal account. I do agree that ideas have to be packaged in the right way. It seems that creating a good movie, book, or any kind of product is only 50% of the battle. The other 50% is having the right marketing….

  5. lena says:

    I heard about that we alter our memories too. Did you talk about the way in which the memories are usually altered in the cognition class? Is it, that we make them fit our current understanding of things or are we painting them into pink/black? Considering this, we never say “hi” to reality :-) .

    • I’m not sure how we alter our memory. I suppose it would depend on the person. However, (I don’t know if this is related), but there was a study done that shows people remember good things better than bad. A group of students was asked to recall grades they had gotten on tests years ago, and the students were able to recall most of their good grades; however, if they had a bad grade on a test, most of the students not only did not remember their grade, a good portion of those students did not even remember taking the test. I suppose that’s why we always have a nostalgic feeling when it comes our childhoods. I know I never say hi to my reality :). Maybe a quick wave, but that’s it. I think reality is w/e we believe, and it does not matter if it is true or not.

  6. lena says:

    I agree! For an individual person,it doesn’t really matter what the objective reality is. (When we experience the laws of physics, we get the closest to it but not closer than that.) What matters is the choice of the subjective reality and the choice of the way how to deal with it. (We could have a discussion about the word choice now, but also here I would say it doesn’t matter if there is a free will or not :-) )

    • I guess free will is also a ” personal reality” :). If a person believes he/she has free will, then they do. However, if they believe they are a slave to their genes and environment, then that is also true. It’s like religion, impossible to prove/disprove, so might as well believe in what makes you happy.

  7. lena says:

    Well, I think even if one doesn’t believe in free will, one should live such that there is one. Just in case. :-)

  8. lena says:

    I mean as if there is a free will.

    • Not believing in free will would make business decisions easier though :). “Should I invest in this company, hmmm. Well it doesn’t matter what I decide, because since I have no free will, I can’t make the wrong decision.”

  9. lena says:

    Yes, that is true. But there are a bunch of other questions, where you don’t want to take any chances. If it turns out later that there is actually a free will but you didn’t make a real choice, it would kind of suck…. I mean questions like: should I be with this guy, should I pursue this or that in life etc. Better to pretend its in any case your personal decision and to think about consequences. Then, there is nothing to regret later. You might still think later, that you were an idiot when deciding, but it was a real choice, based on the given facts (:-)), so you don’t regret things.

    • I think that most people will choose what they want to choose, without worrying if it was free will or their own choice. If the decision turns out good, GREAT, but if it was a bad decision, most people need to find ways to justify it. If a person gets s divorce from a horrible spouse or leaves an awful job, they usually don’t want to admit they they just wasted years of their life. Most people will justify these bad decisions by saying “well at least I got my child from that marriage, or if it had not been for that awful job I would not have met Mr. Wonderful.” Not having free will is another way to justify bad decisions . “It wasn’t me who made that bad decision, I had no control over it.” I don’t think people use free will as an excuse not to make good decisions, but they use it as a coping mechanism.

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