Every Christmas night I head over to my Father’s house and spend the evening with various members of my family. We generally hunker down around the dining room table and converse deeply about all manner of topics—and usually quite loudly (we’re a noisy bunch by default).
It should come as no surprise that we often talk about movies and this year was no different. Someone asked my opinion of Argo and that’s where the discussion got interesting. Some thought the film was incredible but I noted that, while I thought it was a really wonderful film, that it was tainted by the fact that it heavily misrepresented the actual story.
My father in particular was quite dismissive at this concept. If the movie was great, that was all that mattered. For me, the problem is that it’s being presented as a true story. As a work of fiction it’s a pretty incredible story. As a re-telling of the events that happened it’s a disaster. The main issue is that literally every single scene that gets you on the edge of your seat was a total fabrication. The actual story simply wasn’t that interesting.
So where’s the line and does it matter?
I’m not alone in this concern. I watched the impressive TV series, The Tudors, and loved every minute of it. However, it too ultimately was tarnished by twisting plot elements for no good effect or reason. There are entire websites devoted to its inaccuracies.
It’s one thing when Hollywood brushes something up or combines two characters into one to streamline the story. It’s entirely another thing when they just invent things out of whole cloth. The Tudors is rife with such imaginings. The issue there is that Henry the VIII‘s story is compelling enough without the need to change entire elements. This is the kind of show that gets you interested in learning more and then, when you do, you find out much of it was garbage. Boo.
The same is true of Argo but more so. At least The Tudors didn’t start off each episode saying it was based on a true story (though it clearly was). Argo used this moniker to give it added credibility and, in my view, if producers are leveraging that then they have an obligation to try to stick to the truth.
Imagine if, in the new film Lincoln, everything was entirely as it happened except that Mary Todd Lincoln was played by Taylor Swift and bedded half of Washington—because, hey, that’s more fun than watching an older, heavier, less attractive mother cry about her children. People would have cried foul and, in my opinion, rightly so.