Based On Real People, Not Characters

Picture this.

You're watching a movie that you know for a fact is based on a true story.  You watch the story play out and think "Wow, so this is what really happened!"

Far from it, my friends.  While real life stories of success, crime and tragedy are always intriguing, it's actually pretty rare that real life events and people form a coherent and well structured movie.  And so filmmakers rearrange the characters so that they fit the bill: we need a good guy we can root for, a bad guy we want to see lose and a primal goal that we want to see achieved or brought to a satisfactory conclusion.  With films like "The People vs. Larry Flynt", "Blow" and "The Social Network" are all such movies based on true stories where the good guys aren't so good and the bad guys aren't all that bad but their portrayal had to be altered from reality to make for better structure.

Larry Flynt Poster
In "The People vs. Larry Flynt" the main character is Larry Flynt, notorious pornographer and founder of HUSTLER magazine.  This guy made a fortune producing and distributing graphic videos and photographs to the masses; he rose to the top of the porn industry and no doubt made a few enemies along the way, evidenced by an assassination attempt that left him paralyzed.  This guy is obviously the bad guy of our story, right?

Wrong.  He is the hero because we learn of his his humanity; his humble beginnings selling moonshine as a kid to feed his family, his ambitions of becoming greater than Hugh Hefner, and his tragedy of being shot.  Most of all he is the hero because he represents the fight for our first amendment rights and he is set against those who take a moral issue with his business.  His goal is to win his lawsuit and we want to see him win because he has been turned from a sleazy pornographer into a crusader for our U.S. constitution.

Blow Poster

"Blow" follows a similar trend where an otherwise despicable guy, George Jung, starts out as a big-time marijuana dealer in California during the 1960s and then rises to the top of the drug-dealing world by his unlikely connection to the cocaine cartel headed by Pablo Escobar in the late 1970s and early 1980s.  So why would we want to root for this kind of person?

First we see the man as a young boy, how his father loved and cared about him and how hard it was to see his family struggle financially.  In a way Geroge's real motivation is to be like his father only more successful.  When he serendipitously becomes one of the major suppliers of cocaine to the United States he is an ordinary guy in an extraordinary situation.  We picture ourselves in his shoes, how cool it would be and we naturally want him to win.  The bad guys are ironically the other drug dealers, who are not unlike our hero, and the U.S. government that we pledged allegiance to in school.  We essentially find ourselves rooting for the bad guy and we love it.


Social Network Poster

Finally, "The Social Network" has a main character who starts out as disliked by almost everyone; Mark Zuckerberg seems to take pride in his ability to insult his female classmates via the internet.  He is socially awkward and only comfortable when he's shut in his room by himself at his computer.  So why do we care if this guy succeeds or not?  It's because the movie demonstrates a different sort of hero:  not an ordinary guy who rises to power but rather an extraordinary guy who is a misunderstood genius (and haven't we all been misunderstood at one point or another in our lives?)

Mark Zuckerberg isn't what we typically think of as a hero but we can see his point of view as he struggles towards his goal of creating Facebook and winning his lawsuits.  The villains are the students suing him for stealing their idea and Mark's business partner, Sean Parker.  In the case of Sean Parker his portrayal by Justin Timberlake is wildly exaggerated; he never got with any interns, did coke or get into confrontations with Eduardo, co-founder of Facebook.  But in a movie like this you must have a rivalry because conflict is what makes a story interesting.

The real Mark Zuckerberg refused to cooperate with the filming of the movie and the real Sean Parker didn't raise any protest against his character in the film (but then, who can argue with being portrayed by a sex symbol?).  In any case we wind up rooting for Mark even though we perhaps should be praying that he get his comeuppance; he's just misunderstood like the rest of us.

Well, that's all for now.  Until next time, see you in the movies!


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