Pulled from fiction to fact

Cristian Ispir
2 min readDec 4, 2023

It appears that every other movie produced these days is inspired by true events, based on a true story or uses some kind of biographical referential apparatus to connect fact, fiction and history.

I’ve been ambivalent about the use of this technique which 20 years ago was but little used. One reason is that I’ve found, looking at my own response to and engagement with such films that there is a kind of an a priori emotional opening and receptiveness when I know, rather than experience, that what I’m about to see is not mere fiction. No matter how much fiction is designed to extract me from the patterns of the mundane, the ordinary and the familiar, I feel I’m nevertheless tempted back into it through the mechanism of early warning.

‘The story you’re about to see is based on reality’, but reality is exactly the opposite of what I signed up to do when I set myself up as a viewer of a work of artistic fiction. Why is that?

Maybe that’s the nature of myth. The disclosure of the inexhaustibleness of reality through patterns that connect me to things that matter to me. After all, even science fiction, the extreme end of fictionalised story telling, tells a story that is relevant. There is always a way of bringing a story home, of making it my own. Something to learn from, something to emotionally enter into symbolic resonance with for precisely the reason that it opens up a new perspective on myself and the world.

But maybe there is something else.

Perhaps the reason we find biographically grounded fiction so irresistible is that it facilitates a kind of story-telling that puts us in the driving seat of story telling itself. The meaningfulness of having witnessed the story about a real, shareable event or individual makes us more prone to tell that story to others. It makes it easier as well. It makes us complicit in mythmaking and goes to the heart of what gossip is from an anthropological perspective: a means of information exchange, helping individuals stay informed about the social dynamics and relationships within their community. It reinforces social bonds and group cohesion by creating a shared narrative.

True stories, even when fictionalised through the modern media of television and cinema, are a vehicle of social meaning-making, drawing us into a relationship with one another, with history and the world at large. After all, the wildest mythological stories, the ones least grounded in what we would call historical basis, have always sought to conscript history and fact so as to make them more relevant, more present and more impactful.