Friday, March 28, 2014

"Saving Mr. Banks" (2013)

2013 seemed to have a lot of whitewashing of reality for the sake of story. That in and of itself isn’t a bad thing. Reality and history often inspire great tales that communicate profound truths. The problem is that Hollywood is enamored with the “true story” construct.

It isn’t any more a case of “based on the true story” or the even better phrased “inspired by true events.” They feel the need to tell us we are watching something that really happened, as if that somehow makes their story—while presumably less creative—more impressive. So, amidst a slew of movies based of history (“12 Years,” “Philomena,” American Hustle,” etc.) we got films like “Captain Phillips” and “Wolf of Wall Street” that twisted their stories to make them more compelling. Taking people who, by all accounts were not people we would normally root for, and twisting their story for the sake of creating an audience.

Coincidentally, Tom Hanks played two whitewashed characters this year. The second was Walt Disney in “Saving Mr. Banks.”

The film itself, and the story it tells, are quite good. We have the inspiring story of an author coming to terms with her own life, sharing a beloved story on a greater scale, collaborating with others to reach and inspire more people, etc. etc. But the whole process is somehow more inspiring when we think that it all really happened.

The sad truth is that it didn’t. Not in the way the Disney Company wants us to think it did. Travers hated the result of her collaboration with Disney and never let them adapt any more of her books. Travers and Disney were both far more flawed than this story represents.

But what are we to do? Reality is almost always more messy than the purely good or purely bad examples we want it to represent. People are less heroic and often even less villainous than would best serve the stories we want to tell. The problem lies in when we use the illusion of history to make our stories have more impact. “Inspired by” and “based on” are great approaches that are losing their impact as our culture becomes less and less concerned with reality. It is indeed a frustrating state we find ourselves in, when people will doubt realities right in front of their noses while accepting as fact anything they are told.

Mary Poppins would not approve.

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