27 September, 2011

Movie Thoughts - "Based on True Events"

We've all seen movies that are based on real events. Serial killer movies shock us. Films about great leaders inspire us. Cinematic stories about standing against the institution or fighting against adversities give us the courage to take the day head on. But, have you ever looked at a movie that is based on a true event from purely a cinematic point of view. Can you?

Take Invictus for instance. There is no doubt that Mr. Nelson Mandela is a legend, an inspirational leader par none, and what he has done for not only Africa, but the entire World, cannot be replicated. So does the fact that Invictus is based on his life events make it a great film automatically? There is no doubt that the movie is inspirational, but on the whole purely from a film point of view, I felt it falls short of greatness that it should and could have reached.

On the other end of the same line are movies that are "sort" of based on real events. Blood Diamond is an amazing and from what I am made to believe truthful look at the diamond trade originating in Africa. As a film, I felt Blood Diamond was too commercialised. It featured and favoured mostly Leonardo DiCaprio's character missing out on the more important issues. But, I would still recommend the movie because as far as I know it's one of the few movies that gives the audience an inside look at the conditions around the trade.

So, my question to you is that are we, as human beings, able to differentiate a movie from its story? Can we look at a real life event based serial killer movie and purely evaluate it as a movie, or is it that our emotions are bound to interfere and make us appreciate the film even if it's not of the best quality just because of the content?

Now, for me it goes both way. Yes at times I have felt that a movie was not well made. Maybe it took an angle that I personally did not like, or maybe the acting was bad, or still it did not do justice to the story. But, in most cases i'm bound to fall for the emotions attached to the film. It's important to realise that there is nothing wrong in feeling this way. That for me is the whole point and power of cinema. It should evoke emotions into the hearts of the audience and make them think. It should make them realise that we don't live in a perfect world and bad things happen. Lastly, it should also give them the courage, by example, to stand up and fight for their rights.

Any movie that states it is "Based on True Events" almost immediately has my full attention. I admit that I am bound to have a certain fascination with the movie be whatever the story. "Based on Real Events" movies are also a great way to learn about the world. Had it not been for Zodiac I would never have known about the zodiac killer. Gandhi by Richard Attenborough probably thought me more about the great Indian leader than any text book. Bully was a shocking look at how teenagers of today think. In fact even Invictus informed me about a story that I was not aware of.

In conclusion, even if a "Based on True Events" movie is badly made, but it manages to inform, educate, or evoke emotion in the audience, then for me it is easy to look over the negatives of the film and still appreciate it.

What do you think?


  1. I think the best "based on true events" movies are often those which are fictional stories with an element of truth that make you want to go away and learn more about the subject.

    One of my favourite films in this vein is Shooting Dogs about the genocide in Rwanda. While the events portrayed didn't happen exactly as in the film there is enough to make you want to know more.

  2. Interesting point you raise. I think that the term can be overused by filmmakers, and is not as effective and attention-grabbing as it used to be. Take FARGO, for instance, which stated it was based on a true story: a complete lie. A lot is changed in film versions, often so much that the 'true story' element is almost completely eradicated in favour of fictional plot twists.

  3. Louise - I think your example is similar to mine of Blood Diamond. I agree with you that being fictional with a hint of real life events does make it interesting, but if a maker uses the "based on real life" tag to promote such a movie, I feel it would be wrong. Never heard of the movie you mentioned, so will keep an eye out for it.

    Tyler - You are so right. sometimes the details of how much of the movie is based on real life events is not known and can come across in the wrong way. Great point.

    Thanks for the comments.

  4. I'm quite confused on what's your argument. Pardon me but can you rephrase it?

  5. Hi, it's not an argument, just a question if we can judge a movie that is based on real events without getting emotional about it?

  6. I don't know that I have an answer for the question, but I thought it was interesting that I have the opposite bias - if a movie is marked as based on a true story, it's has to work *harder* to get my attention than if it was entirely made up. This is especially true of stories based on famous true events, where I know what's going to happen already and there's no chance for an out-of-nowhere surprise ending. It has to be a *really* good based-on-a-true-story movie to win me over... or I have to not know it is one going into it. :)

  7. Hannah, I actually think you have the same line of thought as me. My point was that when I see a trailer of a movie and it says "based on a true story" i automatically get interested in it. If i know of the story, just like you I expect it to be extra special. If I do not them obviously it is a learning experience. Thanks

  8. You raise a good question Raghav, I enjoyed reading your post.

    I think that it really depends on a lot of factors. I think that most biopics about very well-known characters will always take liberties with the facts to make the movie more interesting/engaging within the allotted time. I think that audiences are best placed to take the movie at face value and then if interested enough then to go and do their own research.

    Biopics are a great source of information to introduce you to someone that you don't know a lot about.

    Personally, before watching 'Walk the Line' I had only heard the name Johnny Cash and that he wore black a lot. That was it. But after watching the movie I was amazed and moved and wanted to learn much more about him. So I made the decision to try to read as much as I could so that now when I watch the movie I am in a better position to know what is factual and what as "adjusted" for the movie.

    I think that "based on a true story" films can be seen in two lights. One, purely as a film and judged solely on their merit. Two, as a stepping stone to learn more about a new subject matter.

    At the end of the day, it will be personal choice.

    1. Thanks for your comments Russell. You are right, true stories are a great form of information. I mean take Gandhi. I knew a lot about him from school books, but the movie focused on aspects I would have never known. Yes, it's good to go read afterwards and make sure what is fact and what was fictionalised.

  9. “…if a "Based on True Events" movie is badly made, but it manages to inform, educate, or evoke emotion in the audience, then for me it is easy to look over the negatives of the film and still appreciate it.” – That is one way of putting it. I always have some fascination for historical dramas and films. For one, these films give us a chance to know a thing or two about our history. Snippets of the past, even in the point of view of a filmmaker, are good enough to raise awareness.

  10. Thanks Wally. I feel the same way