Movies stretch the truth over the screen

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Annalisa Geger

The room is illuminated with the image of Clint Eastwood shooting down antagonistic characters in an 1880’s Western bar while I sit back and watch Unforgiven with a group of friends. As the faces of the people around me transform from pointed interest to abhorred grimaces, I wonder: how accurate is this portrayal of life in the West?
Obviously, the film has been Hollywoodized to fit the expectations of the audience—you can see this in how the dark red blood squirts unusually long distances from the characters’ bodies after they’ve been shot up, how parts of the buildings dramatically crash in on themselves after a man falls into it and that last climatic line the star-actor delivers right before he does something sensational. These shining, heart-stopping moments are what make a movie spectacular because those scenes tend to spark that excited feeling you get when you feel like you are experiencing something admirably real. But to what extent is this glossy version of what happened truly authentic?
Take, for example, the non-fiction drama film Unbroken directed by Angelina Jolie and starring Jack O’Connell as the hero Louis Zamperini. This is a modern day movie designed to capture the most realistic perspective from the view of Louis Zamperini and the events he witnessed from his life as a child to a prisoner in a World War II Japanese camp. Although the film was meant to be a morally transforming experience for the viewer, how accurate is this representation of Zamperini’s life and the lives of the other people living during this time period?
In Laura Hillenbrand’s best-seller “Unbroken,” she delves into a story of personal courage and survival, but the transition from Hillenbrand’s book to Jolie’s movie is incomplete, as it omits the second half of the story. In the book, one of the main themes of Zamperini’s life is how his journey in the war, plagued with brutality and suffering, eventually led him to God; however, the movie barely makes a dent in this turning point of his life. The film also fails to show viewers that Zamperini came home with a new, abusive personality along with a festering hatred and redemption for his captors in the prison camp. Eventually, his anger subsides into forgiveness as he finds faith in God. These are only two substantial points recognized in Hillenbrand’s book that did not make an appearance in the movie.
This incompletion, along with a few added dimensions, portrays an interesting yet inaccurate perception of the true story of Louis Zamperini, giving the audience an insufficient illusion as to what he was truly struggling with throughout the movie. Although the movie has to be set in a certain amount of time, the storyline loses some of the reality of what the characters were really going through when the producers condensed their lives into two and half hours of film.
Some of the better nonfiction books-to-movies are in stories that have been filmed as a mini-series  because the directors have more time to illuminate their stories. A great example can be seen in the Band of Brothers series directed by Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg, which is another WWII-originated film based on the nonfiction book by Stephen Ambrose. Through the directors’ decision to expand the time length of their film to 705 minutes instead of the standard 150 minute movie-time, the story embodies a more detailed and thorough analysis of the experiences that took place in the “Easy” Company, 101st Airborne Division. Band of Brothers is a story about a United States military regiment and the journey that individual soldiers undertook together in the course of the war, forging the unique friendship these men had developed through their life-threatening adventures. The mini-series does a great job painting a picture on-screen of what life was really like for combat soldiers on the battlefield in Europe in the 1940’s. It is, perhaps, one of the best war movies of this day because of the superb directing, acting, props and specifically the prolonged amount of time bestowed to make this story so great.
Because Hollywood has a twofold purpose: to convey an interesting story and to make a profit, the films lose some of the reality of that story. Since the job of a film company is to keep the audience in their seats, it’s not unrealistic at all that big film organizations would exaggerate the truth of a story to make the movie appear more interesting, or even to allow a plot change in order to spice things up. Although most of these things are unpreventable in the eyes of directors dying to put some extra money in their pockets, some of the authenticity of nonfiction stories are preserved if directors are willing to expand the time frame of their movies by making them into mini-series if it is in the benefit of the story.
By preserving the authenticity of a story, the audience is able to grasp a more complete and truthful understanding of reality. If the scripts continue to fray from the truth, however, the authenticity of future non-fiction accounts will lose some of its value as the entertainment prospects prevail over accuracy.