Movies and the truth

One of my personal heroes is the filmmaker Errol Morris.  As you know, Dear Reader, I love movies.  I learned early on that movies could have a tremendous effect on my own life.  With Errol Morris’ The Thin Blue Line, though, I learned that movies could affect a person’s freedom.  With the help of my parents, Morris, and my experience at the University of Wisconsin, I learned that there is really nothing more important than the pursuit of truth.  And that there is a truth.  One of my favorite quotations of all time is from Errol Morris:

Truth is not relative, it’s not subjective.  It may be elusive or hidden.  People may wish to disregard it.  But there is such a thing as truth.  And the pursuit of truth: Trying to figure out what has really happened; trying to figure out how things really are.  

I try very hard to keep that in mind with all that I do.

Aaron and I have been seeing movies together since 2006.  [As a semi-interesting aside, the first movie we saw together we saw as co-workers and friends, with our respective spouses.  It was The Break-Up.]  In that four-plus years, when watching a movie, Aaron has never commented to me on how much he was enjoying a film.  That changed today when we saw Fair Game.  At about the fifteen minute mark, Aaron turned to me and said, “This is a really good movie.”  And I could not have agreed more.

I have read that a viewer should be able to tell in the first ten minutes of a movie whether or not she will like the film.  In my experience, this is mostly true.  In Fair Game, though, it may have taken me only five minutes. 

Fair Game tells the story of Plame-gate.  Whether or not the film gets the truth right is not something I am qualified to say.  Whether it is true or not, the film is clear about one thing: there is a truth.  There either was a sale of yellowcake uranium or there was not.  There either was a nuclear program in place in Iraq in 2002 or there was not.  The movie tells the story of intelligence officers searching very hard for the truth — using their intellect, resources and knowledge of history to make the most informed recommendations and conclusions that they can.  And those officers meet with higher ups who have an entirely different agenda.  Reasoned research and conclusions run head into conclusions made based on guesswork, fear and what I can only call wishful thinking.  The movie is about what happens when you decide what is true and then make the evidence fit that truth.  The movie is about the danger that is inherent in relying on sources you do not know, information that is unsupported and people who operate in a pay grade that is apparently reserved for public relations and spin, as opposed to truth.

While the movie is definitely an indictment of the Bush administration, which I believe is deserved, it is not that simplistic.  There is an outstanding scene in which Valerie Plame and Joe Wilson host a dinner party on the eve of America’s invasion of Iraq.  There is heated discussion on whether Iraq has WMDs or is seeking to acquire supplies to build nuclear weapons.  The most knowledge people on this subject seated at the table are Plame – foremost – and Wilson.  They sit largely silent while the others shout out their opinions.  The problem, of course, is not that the guests have opinions on the subject; the problem is that the opinions are based solely on the information they hear on the news.  And this is true on both “sides.”  One guest repeats the assertion that Iraq has acquired aluminum tubes used in some sort of nuclear centrifuge thingee.  Another guest shouts about how Hussein is not a threat.  From the film’s perspective, neither of these assertions are true.  All the while, though, Plame sits silently.  She knows an incredible amount of information about the topic, but the truth resides securely inside of her.  She says nothing until she suggests dessert and coffee.

The movie was so compelling to me because of its understanding that there is a truth.  And, as Joe Wilson says, shouting something louder and louder does not make it true.  It is true because it is true — whether it is spoken or not.  Plame did not speak because it was her job to keep quiet and breaking that silence was not in her nature.  As is revealed as the film progresses, Plame (the film character, anyway) is a woman of her word and nothing is more important to her than that.  Despite the fact that she lies for a living.  As she says to an Iraqi-American she sends into Iraq to obtain information, it is critical to remember why you are lying, and critical to always remember the truth.

The film is as much about the quest for truth as it is a character study of Plame and Wilson.  Again, whether Plame or Wilson are – in reality – the same as those portrayed in the film isn’t really important from a narrative perspective.  [It would, of course, be important to know in the pursuit of truth.]  These are two incredibly richly drawn characters.  Both are incredibly knowledgeable in their fields and both seem firecely committed to their country.  The similarities seem to end there. Plame is tight-lipped, quiet, competent, rational, strong.  Wilson is loudly passionate, quick-tempered and eager to seek the lime-light.  It is quite a marriage.

I hope this post doesn’t come off as entirely contradictory.  I write about the importance of truth, and then suggest that it doesn’t matter whether the film reflects reality.  I stated that Plame’s character is devoted to the truth, and yet her life is made up of lies.  I think the movie is so good because it advocates that there is a truth, whether or not its story is true.  It really made me want to go out there and read as much as I can about what happened.  And that includes Plame’s book, as well as others.  From gathering as much information as I can, I hope to find the truth.

2 Responses to “Movies and the truth”


  1. 1 kateandgracie November 28, 2010 at 12:09 am

    I hate being the first to comment, but I have so much more to say. I loved how the CIA offices were essentially crap, how parenthood was actually an element of their lives (as opposed to a pretty aside) and how, at bottom, our hero was a civil servant as, Aaron said, like we are. I know we’re not heroes, but we work hard, have our own opinions, and give our best and most honest, reasoned, thoughtful recommendations to the State.

  2. 2 Raoser November 28, 2010 at 12:10 pm

    I’m so glad you reviewed this one. I can’t wait to see it- maybe I’ll step out and do that tonight!


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