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In the battle of truth vs. fiction that has colored this year’s awards race, truth loses out.
The question is, does it really matter?
Let’s start with the accusations.
The King’s Speech was excoriated by Slate’s Christopher Hitchens, who said it failed to present the royal family’s full sympathy toward Hitler and his appeasers, calling it “a gross falsification of history.” Screenwriter David Seidler, a descendant of Holocaust survivors, rebuked Hitchens yet failed to squelch doubt.
The Social Network might have its own distortions, overlooking the fact that real-life protagonist Mark Zuckerberg had a girlfriend at Harvard whom he still dates — unlike the film’s loner. Zuckerberg’s Feb. 5 appearance on Saturday Night Live added grist to criticism that his portrayal as a devious misfit was unfair.
As for 127 Hours, the real Aron Ralston told THR he never leaped into an underground pool with two girls, unlike James Franco in the memorable scene. “In canyon country, it’s almost never safe,” he said.
Meanwhile, ballet dancers have pummeled Black Swan for Natalie Portman’s port de bras, not to mention reports her digitized head was placed on a real dancer’s body.
Then there’s Alice Ward, boxer “Irish” Micky Ward’s mother (played by Melissa Leo), who wasn’t anywhere near the ring during her son’s championship bout — but miraculously shows up there in The Fighter. “That’s the biggest fiction in the whole film,” Leo says. “[Director David O. Russell] felt it was very important that she be there.”
For years, films based on real stories have been pilloried for altering the truth, from Alan Parker’s Midnight Express and its depiction of Turkish prisons to Oliver Stone’s JFK. Similarly, A Beautiful Mind was criticized for omitting allegations that its hero, John Nash, was anti-Semitic. Just like today, many claimed those stories were spread by rival campaigners.
But does the truth really matter? Should we worry about facts like these if they’re incidental to the main story?
The British royal family’s supposed Nazi sympathies seem as irrelevant to Speech as Alice’s whereabouts in Fighter. Social is more problematic, but Zuckerberg is a contemporary public figure who merits debate; if he couldn’t take it, he wouldn’t have appeared beside Jesse Eisenberg on SNL.
In fact, one could argue that the strength of these movies is that they take a distinct point of view and argue it all the way. Great art seeks a deeper truth, and if facts get bent, so what?
It never bothered John Ford. As he famously said, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”
THE FACTS OF LIFE: 10 Famous Movie Mistakes
Krakatoa, East of Java (1969)
Krakatoa is west of Java.
One Million Years B.C. (1966)
The movie’s dinosaurs died around 65 million years B.C.
Kingdom of Heaven (2005)
The Muslims bow to the setting sun, exposing their rear ends to Mecca.
William Wallace’s love interest, Princess Isabella, was actually born c.1295, about eight years before Wallace died.
The Passion of the Christ (2004)
Remember Jesus’ crown of thorns? Historian Garry Wills says thorns don’t grow in Jerusalem; he probably wore acanthus leaves.
Emperor Commodus didn’t murder his dad, Marcus Aurelius. He died of chicken pox.
Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007)
Queen Elizabeth I was 55 in 1588; Cate Blanchett was 36 in 2007.
The Patriot (2000)
Think Mel Gibson vanquished the British at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse? Sorry, the Brits won.
Did Salieri murder Mozart? No, it was either the flu or one of 117 other causes, historians say.
Marie Antoinette (2006)
The film says her husband was afraid of sex. Au contraire: Historian Simone Bertiere says the problem was Louis XVI’s bracquemart assez considerable.
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