Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The "Argo" Question

Argo is one of the better films of 2012. As of this writing, it is in the top five films I have seen from that year. From a cinematic point of view, it is nearly everything you would hope for from a thriller. The design, the art direction, the camera work, and the direction itself are all top notch. Even that occasional problem of Affleck’s—his wooden performance style that conveys little to know emotion or character—in this case serves the story well.

This is a great suspense story, with every scene increasing the tension until the audience is ready to burst. It is also a great period piece. The film really does feel like it is embodying the time period that it is supposed to be representing.

The problem, if there is one, is in the “based on a true story” element. It is more of an interesting point to ponder than a problem really. We all understand that stories are designed to fulfill a purpose. In this case, the number one job is to entertain through suspense. However, there are also stories designed to communicate an event that really occurred, and this film presents itself as that as well; it is selling itself as a representation of historic fact. Or so we are allowed to believe. In actual fact, for those who care to learn more about the story, the filmmakers are careful to say that they have changed just about everything from the way it really happened.

Once again that is not bad, since they are being clear up front and honest about their process, but one gets the impression that people today are not going to do their homework and learn the truth.

So all of that to ask the question: how much license should films about history be allowed to take? If they are going to change just about everything, should storytellers simply make pure fiction, even if they are inspired by real events? Should “Argo” have been clearer about the fact that they were loosely interpreting the incident?

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