Can fiction be better than the truth?

Posted: January 21, 2014 in Movies
Tags: , , , , ,

Saving-Mr.-Banks-PosterI’m not one to sing the praises of stretching the truth, particularly when it comes to blockbuster movies that tweak the facts to suit their own stories, hoping to dramatize a person’s life to make it “interesting.”

Real life is interesting, plain and simple.

But could there be a case where fiction is actually better than the truth? I haven’t found many examples, but I think an argument can be made for Saving Mr. Banks.

Saving Mr. Banks follows the story of P.L. Travers, creator of Mary Poppins, as she tries to decide if she’ll sell the rights to her stories to Walt Disney so he can make a movie based on her characters.

Travers wasn’t exactly easy to work with, as she — understandably — felt extremely protective of her characters and her world. A lot of the story was based around feelings and events from her childhood, so there was a strong, personal connection to the story.

The movie did a great job of portraying this in Travers, and Emma Thompson was brilliant at bringing this person to life on the big screen. The film also captured the vibe of the 1960s in America, and especially what it was like to work at Disney.

But, as per usual, not every detail was right. Some were small, some were changed in order to give the movie a plot, and some were there to throw a kinder light on some of the characters — especially Travers.

You can read about the nine major things Saving Mr. Banks got wrong if you’re unfamiliar with those facts already. But, basically, the main difference between real life and the story we saw on screen had to do with the final reaction from Travers.

She never danced. She never cried tears of happiness. And she certainly didn’t leave her relationship with Disney in a good place by the time Mary Poppins was released.

But is this a bad thing?

I don’t know the intimate details of the true story, but as far as I can tell, Travers was a difficult woman to work with. Mary Poppins is a timeless, classic movie, and I can see why people would want to know the story behind it. Those two facts are at odds with each other, and it makes sense that the studio would want to change a few things to make the ending give you the warm fuzzies when the credits roll.

And I’m okay with that. Can you imagine leaving the theatre having just seen Travers refusing to watch the movie, walking away from Disney with harsh words, and basically hating every part of the film once she finally did sit down to see it twenty years later?

That doesn’t exactly scream “good movie” to me.

So, yeah, they fibbed a few things for the sake of the story. I think it’s important to recognize the truth of Travers’ life, but I also think it’s important to just be happy with watching a beautifully written, wonderfully acted, and superbly shot movie. They were going to change details anyway, so I’m glad they changed the ones that ended up leaving us with the warm fuzzies.

Have you seen Saving Mr. Banks? What did you think of it?

  1. I haven’t seen this movie (yet). But in general terms I guess the makers had to come up with a story…it’s a kind of can of worms in many ways. On the one hand it’s irritating when a movie based on reality comes up with content that is not true – but on the other, real life seldom conforms to what is needed for art. There is a tension. And on the other (this metaphor is implying I am some sort of 3-handed alien here) I think that – perhaps paradoxically – movies of this kind have an opportunity to emphasise a very real and much deeper truth through allegory. There’s precedent…Herodotus did it to history…

    • Karen Rought says:

      I think you hit the nail on the head when you said they have the opportunity to hit a deeper truth. Real life isn’t always pretty, and it doesn’t always make for a happy ending. In this case, they chose to change the truth in order to give us that happy ending. And I’m okay with that. If they would’ve done anything differently, I think the movie would’ve been a disappointment.

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