After having a(nother) conversation with someone regarding the factuality of the movie Paranormal Activity, I thought I would put my thoughts on what movies mean when they use the phrase “based on true (or actual) events.”
I will first admit my own ignorance and/or gullibility, not to mention reliving the embarassment, of believing that the Blair Witch Project was real. Perhaps not in terms of watching exactly what happened to the “real” victims, but in terms of watching someone else act out what really happened. Though my memory is not what it once was, that could be the way I want to remember it.
Anyway, there are a number of factors I take into consideration when analyzing a movie. The first of which is how much can be believed. In the movie the Matrix, the character Morpheus tells Neo that what he thinks is the real world isn’t, but basically a computer program. Does Morpheus saying it make it real? Of course not. If his name in the movie was actually Laurence Fishburne, does that make it real? Of course not. Well the same holds true for “based on actual events” movies as well.
Just because the first thing the movie displays is some sort of paragraph explaining that the movie was made by “found footage” or was “based on true events” does not make it so. For one thing, the “found footage” scenario has happened often enough in movies now that it has its own genre, including movies such as the Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield, Paranormal Activity, and one of the first, Cannibal Holocaust. Found footage tends to help blur the lines of reality for the audience. In a world where we have to base our knowledge on what we experience and what other people tell us, it’s extremely important for us to recognize the difference between entertainment and education. This doesn’t mean that things can’t be learned from entertainment, but there should be a conscious realization that the purpose of the movie is to make money for the people involved in creating and distributing it.
For movies that say are “based on true events,” this is an easy phrase to use to get people to believe there is more truth than there really is. As an example, if I tell you that when I was a child I thought I saw a ghost that resembled Abraham Lincoln, and then someone makes a movie about people being terrorized by a ghost that looks like Abraham Lincoln, well technically the movie producers can say it is based on true events. It is only based on my perception of an interaction with a ghost that someone was able to take “artist’s privilege” with and make it more interesting. Doesn’t even make what I thought happened real, but because I thought it was real it is “based on actual events.”
For the record, the example I just used was made up for the following reason: I don’t believe in ghosts. I don’t think I would have ever thought that a movie monster would appear to be real to adults, but then again, religions, such as Christianity, utilize this same apparition in a benevolent way. If people thought about what a ghost is a little more clearly, then I believe it would be a lot easier to recognize fiction when we see or read it.
First of all, what is a ghost? In most people’s definition of a ghost, it is usually the essence of a human being who has died, and can act either in or out of character of that person, usually depending on how “evil” that person was or how gruesome of a death that person experienced. Movies tend to display this ghost as a transparent version of the person who died.
So let’s think about this version of ghosts. We know, or can prove, the degeneration of a person’s body. So the ghost we see is not the person as it is, otherwise it would look more like a zombie with less skin, eyes shrunken back, and definitely no brain. It should be knowledge to most people that a brain is required for the consciousness as welll as unaided mobility of a person. A ghost has none of these things.
The scary portions of the ghost are quite obviously necessary if the movie producer wants to have a desired effect of scaring you. Would a horror movie based on a ghost such as Casper succeed? Of course not, unless you are trying to scare children. So the only way for a movie producer to be able to scare adults is to use their fear, such as fear of death or a fear of helplessness which is usually the case with ghosts since you can’t just punch or shoot them. So obviously, a movie producer or writer, is going to use things in order to get the desired effect in an audience. And those that have strong fears or believe, usually due to religion though I’m not trying to knock religion in this article, that ghosts actually do exist will have stronger fear emotions kicking during these movies, and when relating them to others can sound more convincing in what they believe is the truth.
Unfortunately, television has a way of making these people sound more rational. They take advantage of people’s fears in a way to make ghosts sound real through the use of scientific instruments. Shows like Ghost Hunters use instruments that are supposed to be able to read paranormal activity. How does one actually measure paranormal activity? On these shows they usually utilize differences in temperature or the amount of electricity in the air. Differences in temperature can result for any number of reasons. For instance, it stands to assume that houses are not made perfectly considering they would need to be built by perfect beings and perfect materials, therefore it is reasonable to assume that certain houses, especially old ones, are drafty in certain areas. If that’s the case, then yes your thermometer will pick up cooler temps in certain parts of the house.
In the case of electricity in the air, we already know that everything from solids to gases are made of atoms which also contain electrons. Electrons are what electricity is made of and therefore it stands to assume that, although perhaps minimal, we are surrounded by electricity charges. Throw in the fact that our planet has a magnetic field around it and it’s easy to see why their instruments will pick up on “anamolies” in the amount of electricity in the air, just as it’s easy to understand the differences in temperature. But just as there used to be debate on whether or not the earth is flat or round, there could still be yet an even more rational explanation for the readings the Ghost Hunters instruments pick up. My more rational explanation is the deliberate misleading of their audience, otherwise they wouldn’t be able to get people to tune in each week.
Our emotions and perceived experiences also play a part. However, that doesn’t even make what we think happened is true. Have you ever thought somebody said something they didn’t say? How about saw something that either wasn’t there or not what you thought you saw? Most of you will say yes making our memories unreliable. So if our memories are unreliable, then what should we make of an experience we whole-heartedly believe as true? The person that I had the conversation with regarding this topic, had a ghost encounter. She held to the belief that what she saw was a ghost. I of course questioned her beliefs. The memory happened when she was 10 years old to begin with, which was over 25 years ago and happened at an age when we are unable to distinguish truth, especially when her emotions, mostly fear, were controlling her actions. So her belief that what she experienced was true, helped her to come to the conclusion that ghosts are real, even though rational people will be able to understand the unreliability of her memory.
Now us as human beings are in a predicament where not a single one of us knows what is real truth, making our inability to determine truth a regular occurence. Religion does play a part considering each religion relies on its adherents believing their particular religion is “true” while believing the rest are “false,” while they all rely on exaggerated or outright falsified stories. So this makes it reasonable to attribute a person’s beliefs on fiction being reality, to their belief that religious beliefs are truth. The question those people need to ask themselves though, is why do they believe something as true.
Why is it that just because a movie says it’s true, we believe it as true? Personally, I assume something is false until it’s proven true. More often than not, I’m right. It can be a confusing, depressing, and extremely difficult experience to deal with, but the question I ask myself is, “how reliable is the information I’m hearing, reading or seeing”? Human beings themselves are extremely unreliable, therefore any medium with which they use to communicate to the rest of us, is just as unreliable. In other words, don’t believe in ghosts until you have a rational reason to do so. Don’t believe someone else’s word for anything until you enough reason to do so. And never ever believe anything written by people who are no longer alive, unless it has been critically analyzed to be determined to be true. Ghost stories do not fit this category, therefore it’s usually in your best interest to keep those beliefs in the purely entertainment portion of your brain, where it can do little harm to how you live out the rest of your life and others, by not promoting that which you can’t prove.