Sunday 15 April 2012

Fiction vs Based on a True Story

I read a column in the Globe and Mail talking about the cathartic effect of sad stories.  We read or watch sad fiction and often walk away feeling better.  We feel sympathetic to the characters but feel better about our own lives or resolved for improvement.  However, when the story is real, such as the murder of little Tori Stafford or the torture of women in the Middle East, we don’t get the inspirational effect.  Often, it makes the world seem more frightening and out of control.  It is only when the “real” story is packaged in an inspirational framework that we can start to feel better.  Hence those five magic words: based on a true story.

I’m one of those people who actually have trouble when I know the story is true (or based on something true).  I’ve been refusing to watch the little dramatic re-enactments of the tragic last moments of doomed passengers aboard the Titanic.  While I’m curious about some of the research and quite enjoyed some of the stories about people dealing with the tragedy, I don’t like getting involved in someone’s life and knowing they’re going to die.

My husband likes to amuse himself by coming up with backstories for the nameless victims in action films so that I’ll feel bad about them, too.  The bad guys will kill a guard and he’ll start talking about how the guy secretly wanted to be a painter and had all these folios stashed in a storage locker that his family will never know about.

This is probably the main reason I don’t like horror films.  You know the people you’re getting involved with are going to die.  That’s the reason they’re on screen.

Ironically, I can deal with quite violent films as long as I believe there’s a reason for it.  I love the movie 300, even though it’s every bit as gory as Sin City by the same director.  Sin City is one I won’t watch again because the violence doesn’t go anywhere.  In 300, they’re defending their home against an invading army.  They die just the same but it’s a meaningful death.  (I’ll be honest and admit that the lovely scenery of Gerard Butler and the other Spartans in a few strategically placed strips of leather also factors into my enjoyment.)

Further irony.  The battle of the Spartans at Thermopylae is historically based, at least as much as the inspirational miniseries that begin with “based on a true story”.  Whereas Sin City is entirely fictional.  Meaning is important.  Life doesn’t often have meaning.  Bad things happen to good people.  Worthy people get trampled down by events and can’t get back up.  Bad people prosper at others’ expense.

That’s why we have stories.  To keep our hopes up that maybe, sometimes, if we really believe, things will work out.  To misquote JMS, there will be good guys, there will be bad guys and the bad guys will make a satisfying thump when they hit the floor.

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