Monday, July 23, 2007

Truth is Overrated

I've been thinking a lot about the authenticity of fiction, and the Penelope Lively quote I cited a few weeks back:

Story is navigation; successful story is the triumphant progress down exactly the right paths, avoiding the dead ends, the unsatisfactory turns. Life, of course, is not at all like that. There is no shrewd navigator, just a person's own haphazard lurching from one decision to another. Which is why life so often seems to lack the authenticity of fiction.

As a woman who yesterday fell over a ledge, landed hard at the foot of concrete staircase, and has spent today at home packed on ice, there is plenty I could discuss about this from a personal perspective. I will, however, refrain, because I recently watched the movie Breach, which I enjoyed for the reasons I like most movies involving Russians and espionage, but I also found the things wrong with it so worthy of discussion.

Breach, you see, is BASED ON A TRUE STORY. As a result, the tension is subtle, pacing is slow, and various aspects of character don't make a lot of sense. The main character has a wife who is East German, which is incidental to the plot. Afterwards we were discussing the movie and I said, "I just don't get why she was East German." And then I remembered-- oh yeah, because she was. It's that simple. Why didn't the movie come with much of a climax? Because real life doesn't tend to take the shape of an arch. Why did some bits drag? Because that what days do. And so on-- I suspect the mini-climax this movie offered was fictional; it seemed implausible. There were other bits which suggested mere spice, and it was jarring to be knocked in and out of truth and fiction this way. I might have even felt manipulated, had they actually managed to do it well.

The movie lacked the authenticity of fiction. Forced to be based on truth, a fascinating story was stripped of liberties, bound, gagged, and wrapped up in a 110 minute package where it faltered. A better script might have saved the film, but its relationship to real events would have always been troubling. Life is stupid, for example people fall off ledges. And later we will tell the story, its very point being unreality, but in the realm of the unreal, the story doesn't function. The story is without context, like most things. Threads will fail to tie up neatly, and people will keep insisting upon being East German for no reason. And all of this mess isn't even truth, but just somebody's supposed version of it. At least with fiction you know what you're in for, and you can do with the story what you may.