Wednesday, December 22, 2004

A completely true story

FBC readers may have noticed that I've been thinking a lot about the philosophy of fiction lately. I saw Finding Neverland yesterday (very good), and it began with the caption, "Inspired by true events". In this particular case, the movie was inspired by actual events, but suppose it hadn't. I don't think that would've been an act of deception on the part of the movie makers. Suppose that the prologue to Star Wars went like this:
The following is the true story of what occurred a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away... It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire. During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire's ultimate weapon, the DEATH STAR, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet. Pursued by the Empire's sinister agents, Princess Leia races home aboard her starship, custodian of the stolen plans that can save her people and restore freedom to the galaxy.
In that case, the "this is a true story" line is a part of the fiction. In a movie inspired by events, the "this is a true story" bit is intuitively *not* a part of the fiction. So what's the difference?


  1. My inclination is to say that it's a kind of framing, much as - whether seen as fictitious or not - the title screens (and the previews?) are not seen as part of the same fiction. As for what makes us understand that it's a frame that stands outside the story and in reality, such as saying "Based on a true story," my guess is shared conventions of movie watchers and makers. - Shari

  2. Yeah, the titles are outside of the fiction. If a voiceover by Kate Winslet (or whoever) said "This is the story of what happened to me, you may believe it or not, but every word is true," or whatever, that would be part of the fiction, but the titles are part of the thing that explain to us that Mr. Barrie is actually not Mr. Barrie, but rather Johnny Depp, and that all his clothes are costumes designed by this costume-maker, and that that horse you saw shot didn't really die. (Probably not in the same movie.) You gotta be truthful in the pre- and after- movie titles. During-movie explanatory titles, like "December 4, 2006", are different, and I think that's where the Star Wars scrolling titles fall, although the dividing line is a little vague.