Mitch reivewed the Farnsworth Invention this week, and in that review he wondered
Can an ending still be true to the story if it isn’t actually true to the source material?
I think folks around here will already guess I think it CAN, and also that to a certain extent IT MUST. Oscar Wilde famously complained that the problem with life is that it has not sense of dramatic structure, or proportion, or timing. Art, said Wilde, was our chance to teach life its proper place. That being said, it still may be the case that in Sorkin may have gone too far in simplifying the ending -- not because it is false, but because it suggests that the audience is too dumb to understand complexity. Changing the ending of such a recent piece of history, he should also have been prepared for the backlash -- it is not like he is making 300.
HCDuvall, in the comments, is our Pull Quote of the Week. Here is what he said:
I think the creative impulses might be the same in film, to sum up in a dramatic. Witness the The Aviator, one of the many Scorsese films that makes me sit there and think that he should either cut the thing in half or make a Ken Burns length mini-series.
As for fiction and truth, I’m borrowing the phrase from a Sandman comic, but the power of fiction is that it can tell true things without being true. But another facet is that fiction can play with real people. It’s one thing to write a romance now that says Mary Boleyn left the court to her sister for true love and family, it’s another to make a movie about Jonathan Nash and skip over the abandoned wife and kid who he once told, more or less “I like the new one, he’s smarter” (a Beautiful Mind), for sheer dramatics. Which is a longwinded way of saying these endings may be true the story, but if the story isn’t true to life, then why are you telling it this way? If the story is meant to be saying something else, why not use “pure” fiction? I believe when based on facts it is important to be true—if the ending needs modified facts, the ending isn’t wrong, it’s the story you’re telling that’s broken. It’s like building a stagecoach out of car parts or something. Somebody’s being simpleminded, but it’s not necessarily the driver. It’s a disservice.
I'm not so much arguing against dramatic license, I hope, as contrived simplicity and I realize that Geoff is too, taking it from the audience pt of view. The thing about Wilde’s statement and it’s ilk, though, and this might just be a peeve of mine, is that when melding facts and truth with entertainment and art, that life is complex is the first to fall to “true endings” and commercial drives…People get a lot of their fact from fiction. I let Sorkin off the hook for that astronaut moon urban legend he included in the play (The version I heard had Neil Armstrong, which Sorkin didn’t use, and when I mentioned that to my viewing companion when I saw the play, she figured Sorkin probably had it righter than me—and we were both wrong).
I’ll finish off with another wordy example of things, to say that I know these things are harmless but it’s so easy to lose sight of how easy mixing is (and elsewhen I’d argue unnecessary). So there’s this place in New York hidden away in behind a big curtain, in the middle of the lobby of a swank midtown hotel. The place has vinyl fake wood walls, great burgers, cramped booths, and long lines. And last time I was there a tourist sits down next to my group, he’s an airline pilot, and he says whenever he’s in New York from Israel he gets a burger before he flies out. And the man says how before they built this hotel this divey place with beer pitchers below room service with $20 burgers was here and the owner wouldn’t sell out, so they built around him. Thing of it is, and I didn’t correct him, that’s bull. The place has been open maybe six years. It’s a great harmless story, but it’s marketing. Get in the habit of letting facts go to suit fiction and you can sell anything.