7 Oscar-Nominated 'True Story' Movies (Are Based On Lies)
The Oscars are Hollywood's annual celebration of itself, during which stars present each other with trophies to congratulate one another on their billion-dollar games of make-believe. As is typically the case, many of this year's Oscar contenders are based on "true stories," presumably because telling an important real-life story is often the best way to win a statue of a naked golden man who's armed with a sword for some inexplicable reason. And as is also typically the case, most of these movies were more than happy to sacrifice some of the more inconvenient details of the events they claim to be retelling for the sake of being more marketable. For instance ...
The Guy In The Revenant Didn't Have A Murdered Son, Just Wanted His Shit Back
A lot of fucked-up stories have come out about the production of The Revenant. There's Leonardo DiCaprio eating raw bison liver, insanely uncooperative weather, and reports of a 22-year-old actor being dragged naked on the cold ground. Which, to be fair, is still the least degrading thing a young actor has had to do to appear in a big Hollywood movie.
All of this has been in the service of telling a brutally realistic look at the life of Hugh Glass, a real frontiersman whose name was a few letters off from being one of Bart Simpson's prank phone call identities. The story finds Glass being attacked by a bear -- which, because Internet entertainment journalism is basically a slumber party game of broken telephone, was erroneously reported by some as the character being raped by the bear.
No, not that one.
As the movie presents it, two members of the hunting party stay behind with the injured Glass and his half-native teenage son. But rather than politely wait for Glass to die, they murder Glass's son and then bury the injured man alive while making Crazy Tom Hardy Face.
The same face he made when he thought the Bane voice was a good idea.
Fueled by bloodthirsty vengeance, Glass crawls out of the grave and travels across miles of punishing wilderness to destroy the men who killed his son, like a cross between Grizzly Adams and Charles Bronson.
It takes a Charles Bronson to kill a Charles Bronson.
The Real Story:
While the actual story of Hugh Glass is legitimately badass, there are a few huge differences between the historical events and the story told in The Revenant. For starters, there's no record that Glass even had a son, much less one who was murdered by his former compatriots. Plus, he looked less like Leonardo DiCaprio and more like if Kenny Rogers were a Mad Max villain.
Know when to (just) walk away, know when to run
Glass was left for dead, but the pair who buried him did so because they were afraid of being attacked by natives. And when Glass miraculously climbed out of his death hole and tracked down the guys who left him behind, he wasn't motivated by revenge -- he merely wanted his shit back.
Glass discovered that the pair had taken some of his stuff with them, including his coveted rifle. Once he tracked them down and got his gun back, he even forgave the younger of the two. But a man bursting out of the ground from the realm of the dead to track two dudes down for a rifle and an apology doesn't make for the most exciting film.
Bridge Of Spies -- The American POW Wasn't Tortured, Spent Most Of His Time Knitting
The pairing of Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks has given us a multitude of stories, ranging from one of the most exciting dramatizations of World War II heroism to the less-than-exciting tale of some guy living in a goddamned airport. This past year, the two teamed up again to give us Bridge Of Spies, a true Cold War drama about a captured Soviet spy and the American lawyer who defends him.
If a billowing flag and Tom Hanks' stony gaze don't say "America," then truly, nothing does.
Another key component of the story is the U-2 -- which is not a band that forces its music onto people's personal devices like reverse burglars, but rather an American spy plane that was shot down over the Soviet Union. The pilot of the plane, Gary Powers, was captured and imprisoned by the Russians. In the film, Powers is seen rotting away in a filthy jail, routinely tortured by interrogators who won't allow him to sleep until he gives up classified information.
"Not bleak enough. Can we CG the water to pee?"
This is purposefully contrasted with the clean American jail, in which the captive Soviet spy is gently awoken from a sound slumber by a soft-spoken guard like he's getting a wake-up call from the concierge at a Holiday Inn.
The Real Story:
For starters, Powers wasn't tortured. He was treated well by the Russian guards. He spent most of his time worrying that his wife was having an affair while he was stuck in a Russian jail. Also knitting. Seriously, he knit this rug while he was in Russian Spy Jail:
"Can I stay an extra week to finish my tea cozy? No? Fine ..."
Of course, if the movie kept cutting back to a POW quietly knitting a family heirloom and mistrusting his wife, it may have deflated the dramatic tension somewhat.
The Danish Girl Completely Rewrites A Lead Character's Sexual Orientation
The Danish Girl tells the story of artist Einar Wegener, who became Lili Elbe, one of the first recipients of sex reassignment surgery and a celebrated pioneer for the trans community. The movie presents Einar's predilection for crossdressing as something that begins as a fun game between he and his wife, Gerda. But as he commits to living as a woman, it kills their sex life and sends Gerda into the arms of Hans, a handsome childhood friend of Einar.
In the first draft he was named Mans, but they felt that was too on the nose.
The Real Story:
The historical consensus seems to be that Gerda was bisexual, with different historians insisting that Gerda "lived openly as a lesbian" and that "Lili and Gerda were very much on an adventure together." Consequently, the idea that Einar's sexual awakening caused any kind of rift in their marriage seems kind of laughable.
Rewriting Gerda's sexuality could simply be chalked up to the need to create dramatic tension -- although a review of the film in Variety suggests that maybe the film's producers didn't think that audiences would sit through a story with both transgender and bisexual elements, mentioning that Gerda's sexuality was "conspicuously omitted, so as not to complicate the film's politics."
Also, while The Danish Girl is advertised as being an "extraordinary true story" ...
... it's actually based on a novel of the same name, which was a fictionalized version of Einar/Lili's life. In the book, Gerda is renamed Greta and is an American widow with a "helpful twin," sort of like Danny DeVito in Twins. In case it is unclear, neither of those details are accurate. The book is also the source of the Hans character, whom from what we can tell never existed.
So yeah, The Danish Girl is about as "based on a true story" as Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.
Straight Outta Compton -- Dr. Dre's Constant Assaults On Women And A Founding N.W.A. Member Were Both Omitted
Straight Outta Compton is a biopic about the formation of the legendary rap group N.W.A. The film was overseen by both Ice Cube and Dr. Dre. It even features Cube's son, O'Shea Jackson Jr., in a genuinely good performance, instead of the whirlwind of clusterfuckedness that such nepotism usually delivers.
The Real Story:
Straight Outta Compton left out some key biopic-esque details, such as all the times Dr. Dre beat the shit out of women. These include his girlfriend and a TV journalist, whom he choked and tried to throw down a flight of stairs. It seems the latter incident was in an earlier draft of the script, but was eventually cut, possibly because the filmmakers didn't want a scene wherein their main character treats women like John McClane on the wing of a taxing jumbo jet. So many people called bullshit on this glossing over of a reality of documented abuse that even Apple (who recently acquired the unfortunately-named Beats by Dre) made a statement on the matter.
Also conspicuously absent from the movie is one of the goddamned members of N.W.A. Arabian Prince, a founding member of the group, left right before the album Straight Outta Compton came out, but he still contributed a track to the record and posed for the cover -- a fact that's glaringly apparent when comparing the five guys on the poster to the six guys on the album
But it's not like they show the cover in the mov--
A deleted scene explains him off as a hobo who photobombs the shoot.
Understandably, Arabian Prince was a little upset that he was out of existence like a Twilight Zone character, especially because the film depicts specific events that he was present for. That would be like if they made a movie about The Beatles and pretended that Pete Best didn't exist, which of course they would never do.
Steve Jobs -- Jobs Made More Money From Pixar Than From Apple, And His "Triumphant" Return Almost Destroyed The Company
Despite the fact that there have been a seemingly endless parade of Steve Jobs movies recently, this year's Steve Jobs, starring Michael Fassbender as the titular Wizard of Rich People Toys, offers a lot of new insight into the man. For instance, he was way more handsome than you realized.
He replaced original choice Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson after scheduling conflicts.
The movie is divided into three segments, each featuring a different product launch. We see the backstage shenanigans of Jobs, who spends most of his time denying his paternity of his daughter and yelling at people. The second segment of the movie takes place after Jobs was fired from Apple and was in the midst of launching the NeXT. While that computer was ultimately a failure, the movie tells us that this was all part of Jobs' Machiavellian scheme to create an OS that Apple would want to buy, thus setting the stage for his triumphant return to the company.
The Real Story:
Apple did acquire NeXT, but that wasn't part of any scheme by Jobs to return as CEO. In fact, once Jobs was bought out by Apple, he was awarded 1.5 million shares in the company, which he sold as soon as legally possible. Gently speaking, this is the kind of thing that makes a company look only somewhat more attractive than late-stage genital cancer, and it almost destroyed Apple.
He started the whole turtleneck thing for extra padding against attempted throat punches during board meetings.
And when Apple fired its CEO and offered the position to Jobs, he initially didn't accept it. For you see, in his time away from Apple, Jobs had become CEO of a little company called Pixar, which specializes in delighting children while simultaneously forcing adults into soul-crushing existential epiphanies. Despite the fact that the word "Pixar" is never uttered in the movie, at the time of Jobs' death, he had made more than twice as much from Pixar than he did from Apple. So in reality, Steve Jobs should have been the story about a giant asshole accidentally changing the face of family entertainment while ruining and saving the same tech company two or three times over.
Black Mass -- Whitey Bulger Was Tortured By The Government
Since Johnny Depp seemingly refuses any role that doesn't require a ridiculous costume and a silly voice, Black Mass was a perfect choice. It tells the true story of mob boss Whitey Bulger, but also allows for some heavy prosthetics and a ridiculous Boston accent that sounds like Tom Waits ate Ben Affleck.
It's a hundred times better if you imagine him as a gritty Hunter S. Thompson reboot.
In the film, Bulger masquerades as an FBI informant, exploiting the system for his own selfish gains. It's a pretty standard story, but Depp has gotten a lot of Oscar buzz, probably because people are just happy to see him playing a ridiculous character who isn't wearing goth makeup.
The Real Story:
While imprisoned in the 1950s, Whitey Bulger was in MKUltra, the CIA's top-secret, illegal mind-control program. Bulger was one of several inmates who volunteered for the program with the incentive of commuted sentences (Bulger and the other test subjects were told the experiments were attempting to find a cure for schizophrenia).
The hat refused to sign up, and is still in prison today.
For one reason or another, part of the government's project concerned administering large quantities of LSD to their test subjects. Bulger reacted badly to the acid, which even went so far as to give him suicidal thoughts.
Not only does this insane episode possibly explain why Bulger is so cartoonishly eccentric, it also kind of explains why he became a fucking underworld boogeyman. Think about it. If you went to prison, were promised less jail time for helping eradicate a serious illness, then secretly had your brain melted with acid, you would leave with a somewhat disenchanted view of the government and the criminal justice system. The movie only briefly mentions that Bulger was given LSD in prison.
Of course, showing Bulger in his youth would have meant fewer bald caps and false teeth, so it's possible that Depp rejected the idea outright.
The Walk -- After Crossing The Twin Towers, Philippe Petit Bailed On His Friends To Fuck A Groupie
The Walk tells the true story of how French high-wire artist Philippe Petit broke into the World Trade Center and walked on a wire between the twin towers back in the 1970s. While the movie wasn't a huge hit, its recreation of the towers will likely be up for some awards -- especially if the Academy finally creates a special category for Special Achievement in Making the Audience Scream Vertigo Puke Into Their Laps.
Three layout editors had to take sick days after trying to make this into a GIF.
The Real Story:
Petit's story was already covered in the Oscar-winning documentary Man On Wire, which includes some more salient details left out of The Walk. For example, The Walk ends with Philippe being released from jail and going to dinner with his friends, who all put themselves at considerable risk to help him pull off his daring stunt. Then his girlfriend leaves New York, telling him: "You accomplished your dream, now it's time for me to find mine."
Yeah, none of that shit happened. As Petit himself explains in the documentary, as soon as he got out of jail, a random girl in the gathered crowd grabbed him, saying that she wanted to be the first person to celebrate with him. He then found himself on a waterbed in a New York loft engaging in "pleasure of the flesh," which is a phrase here meaning "nailing a groupie."
"When your balls are big enough for you to tightrope-walk skyscrapers, you need to relax them now and then."
All those friends who had broken the law for him? Petit called and told them he was tied up giving interviews, and that he wouldn't be able to join them for their celebratory dinner. You may recognize this as the type of lie a terrible father tells his child to explain why he missed their birthday.
The Walk ends with a caption which tells us that Petit's friends returned to France, which is a somewhat gentle way of saying that they were fucking deported. Petit himself received a slap on the wrist and lives in New York to this day, where he presumably teaches future generations how to immediately destroy all their personal relationships in the wake of achieving a life goal.
J.M. McNab co-hosts the pop culture nostalgia podcast Rewatchability which can also be found on iTunes. Follow him on Twitter @Rewatchability.
It turns out that Hollywood is full of "true stories" loaded with bullshit, but you already knew that, so go ahead and get to reading 6 Horrifying Endings That 'True Story' Movies Left Out and 6 Movies Based On A True Story That Left Out Important Stuff.
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