Love a Little Drama

The 85th Academy Awards on February 24, 2013 capped off not only a record year for the box office, but also a record year in the battle between documentary and docudrama. With the recent release of Academy Award-winning movies such as “Argo,” “Lincoln” and “Zero Dark Thirty,” moviegoers everywhere have been left trying to decipher where the line between fact and fiction has gone. Perhaps the most controversial of all the Best Picture nominees this year is “Zero Dark Thirty,” a film about the hunt for, and ultimate capture of, Osama bin Laden. It showcased the methods used by the CIA to discover Bin Laden’s whereabouts, particularly the use of torture while interrogating suspects for leads. That was probably the largest dramatic spin of any movie this year—or so the CIA and other prominent members of the government claim. There are intense arguments over whether or not the torture was as large a factor as the movie portrayed it to be. In fact, the uncertainty over fact or fiction regarding “Zero Dark Thirty” has colored many peoples’ opinions regarding the overall quality of the film—and its credentials to be Oscar-worthy. Personally, I feel that without drama, the movies aren’t the movies. Lack of a compelling storyline or a dramatic climax turn historical movies from stories of the past into running newsreels of facts about important events. We go into these docudramas knowing exactly what is going to happen—Osama bin Laden will be caught, the hostages will return home safely and Lincoln’s proposed 13th Amendment will be passed to free the slaves. Those aren’t spoilers; they’re historical events. So, let the line between fact and fiction in films be blurred. After all, isn’t that what makes movies so enjoyable? “Zero Dark Thirty” director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal have stood strongly beside their film according in CNN’s article “Senior Senators Slam ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ Torture Scenes,” releasing a statement saying: “We depicted a variety of controversial practices and intelligence methods that were used in the name of finding Bin Laden. The film shows that no single method was necessarily responsible for solving the manhunt, nor can any single scene taken in isolation fairly capture the totality of efforts the film dramatizes.” But the question still remains: just how true are the torture methods depicted in the movies? The same article states that acting CIA director Michael Morell had sent a public letter to all CIA employees, in which he clearly stands behind his agency, with the explanation that the film “takes significant artistic license,” and that “Zero Dark Thirty” “creates the strong impression that the enhanced interrogation techniques that were part of our former detention and interrogation program were the key to finding Bin Laden.” In that same letter, he goes on to publicly state “that impression is false…The truth is that multiple streams of intelligence led CIA analysts to conclude that Bin Laden was hiding in Abbottabad.” However, Mr. Morell himself says that the film takes artistic license—as all movies have the right to do. Isn’t that how everyone should be treating historically inaccurate movies? Take “Argo,” directed by Ben Affleck, for example. Many scenes, including the climax in which Iranian security guards are chasing a taxiing plane full of disguised Americans, were dramatized in order to create a movie fit for Hollywood. Although the scene was fictitious, it served its purpose well enough to help the film win Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Another example of fiction mixing with fact in a historical film is during the pivotal voting scene in the movie “Lincoln,” directed by Steven Spielberg. Many historians argue that some congressmen voting for the 13th Amendment to the Constitution in the scene actually voted against it, and vice-versa; the facts were manipulated to make it more of a nail-biting scene. It is easy to forget that docudramas are movies. Although based on factual events, they are meant to entertain. Dramatizing events, twisting storylines and downplaying facts add to a film’s value. With that in mind, we should recognize that docudramas are not made to educate us, but to amuse us. We should watch them for pleasure, rather than for citations. Cam Mesinger is a Junior from North Andover, MA.