When we are young we read a lot of children’s stories, or have them read to us by our parents or at school. A lot of these stories are entertaining but they can also be used as a catalyst to teach young children about morals and values. For instance, a favourite of mine is Horton Hears a Who, by Doctor Seuss. This particular story is about equality and tolerance of difference, Horton says, “a persons a person no matter how small. We could have instead sat a young child down and told them all about the Holocaust, slavery and the many other unjust acts of discrimination around the world and why it is wrong – but a child wouldn’t understand and even they did, it would be cruel to expose a child to this kind of information. This is one reason why fiction is so important; it allows information and ideas to be accessible to a larger audience. The two films we have been studying this year, Born on the Forth of July and Gallipoli are both based on actual events. Why then weren’t these stories presented as a documentary?
So many other films do the same thing. Why? When we take real events and work them into a fiction or semi fiction story there are certain aspects of the events that can then be manipulated or emphasised to have a greater effect on the audience, but also to direct the audience towards an intended or dominant reading of the text. In the movie Born on the fourth of July, we follow the story of Ron Kovic from his innocent youth, to an extremely patriotic teenager, his time in Vietnam and then see his transformation into a protester of war. The movie stays very close to actual events except for two distinct adaptations.
While in Vietnam Kovic shoots down a fellow marine, Wilson. In the film he later confesses to the Wilson family of this. However this is scene has been invented. In this scene we see Kovic’s face through a close up camera shot, his anguish, pain and guilt of his mistake are evident. We are then transported into his memory of the event; the slow motion and daunting music create a funeral atmosphere. By being subjected to Kovic’s emotion so bluntly through the close up camera shot and then to see how he remembers the tragedy with such regret, a sense of Kovic’s conflict with himself is created and we cant help but to sympathise with him.
Further more, we then see the members of Wilson’s family, his mother and father and widowed wife and son. We see them separately, also through close up camera shots to emphasise their emotions, the horror of realisation at what Kovic is saying and then extreme pain of loosing their loved one. The extreme pain of loss is confirmed when Wilson’s wife says to Kovic, “I can never forgive you, maybe the lord can. ” The Wilson family cannot forgive Kovic however we admire his honesty.
By creating this scene we are exposed to some of the after effects of war, grief stricken families, this builds on the anti war theme. More so this scene also shows us that veterans of war are just as much victims as those that died because we have scene the conflict Kovic has with himself and our sympathy towards Kovic is strengthened. The other adaptation of the story is Kovic’s high school sweetheart, Donna. We meet Donna in Kovic’s childhood; their affection for each other is carried throughout their teenage years.
The high school prom is created to present to the audience the idea of ‘young love’ between Donna and Kovic, particularly Kovic’s feelings for her. It is evident when we see Kovic’s outburst of anger when he finds out Donna is going with someone else, due to a misunderstanding, and then confirmed as he runs through the rain on the night of the prom, purely so he can dance with Donna before he is dispatched. The music, especially the song ‘Moon River,’ heightens the dreamy, starry eyed, mood.
We meet Donna again when Kovic returns from Vietnam. Here she is epresentative of the uprising antiwar movement in America. In one scene Kovic tells Donna, “I made a promise to myself that I would come back and love you forever. “ However, it becomes clear that there will be no future for Donna and Kovic, perhaps because of the time in which Kovic was at war or because of the paralysis he returned with. Either way it is heartbreaking to see; the chronological structuring of the film and early development of Kovic’s feelings for Donna aids the strong emotional effect that this loss of love and loss of the future Kovic hoped for has on us.
Here we can see that by adding fictional sections to actual events the impact on the audience can be heightened because we are subjected to scenes, characters and conflict, which have been carefully crafted to have a direct impact on our emotions. The film Gallipoli shows much of the conditions and events that soldiers endured during world war one, but more so is a display of the nature of events which lead to warfare and hence the death of many young Australian men. Aspects such as propaganda, social pressure, mate ship and patriotism are criticized for wrongly influencing these men to join the war effort.
We are also presented with ideas about the lack of food, arms and poor medical treatment. At the end of the film we see the inevitable tragedy at Gallipoli, which we are most confronted with by the death of Archie Hamilton, the protagonist. His character was inspired by C. E. W. Bean’s Official History of Australia in the War of 1914–1918 describing Private Wilfred Harper during the attack at the Nek, “Wilfred… was last seen running forward like a schoolboy in a foot-race, with all the speed he could compass. “
However the effect of Archie’s death would not have been as powerful and therefore would not have worked as effectively to confirm the ideas about world war one if it were not for the development of Archie, despite being inspired from history is a fictional character, throughout the film. In the exposition we are introduced to Archie and his identity begins to take shape. We know Archie is a young Australian boy, this is established not only by the written code, ‘Western Australia 1915,’ by also by the wide-angle long shots of the country.
Immediately the dominant audience, Australians, begin to relate to Archie. This is reinforced by the display of other Australian values such as competitiveness when Archie, running on foot races back to the home gate against a man on horse back. Throughout this scene we hear the music Oxygene by Jean Michel Jarre, which appears in numerous other running scenes throughout the movie. Sections of this running scene are shown through long shot with the use of panning, this emphasis the incredible distance of Archie’s run and we admire his strength, determination and his physical pursuit.
Archie’s character continues to develop through the story in such a way that we continue to admire and care for him. The use of fictional genre means that Archie’s character can be constructed in such a way to achieve a maximum emotion attachment towards him. In this way his death at Gallipoli impacts our emotions and this pushes us to reflect on and alter our attitudes towards war, the aim of the film. Lastly, I am going to refer to Ray Bradbury’s short story The Pedestrian that is set in the future. Leonard Mead, the main character walks the streets at night in 2052, he’s done so for many years but the streets are always empty.
Everyone else is inside fixated on their T. Vs, or as Mr Mead puts it, “the tombs, ill lit by television light, where the people sat like the dead, the grey or multi-coloured lights touching their faces, but never really touching them. ” On this particular night, Mr Mead is stopped by a robotic police car and taken away to the psychiatric centre for research on regressive tendencies. This piece of writing, fiction as it is, is making a statement about technology and its effects on the individual and human society as a whole.
This text and many others much like it are extremely thought provoking. In this way we can see that fiction is an important part of our lives. Reading stories like this may prompt people to change their attitudes or even behaviours to help preserve our future. And then there’s the magic of fiction. Take the above story for example; we are transported into the future and bombarded with the strange situation Mr Mead finds himself in. Because of the third person limited point of view, we know what Mr Mead is thinking and feeling – we feel like we are him or at least that we are there with him.
His moonlit walk on a cold frosty night; the atmosphere, which he is experiencing, we experience through the tone of the text to be melancholy. Created by the long syntax and relentless metaphors and similes. This imagery can also work to draw us into this imaginary world so that we can see and feel as Mr Mead does, ‘crystal frost in the air; it cut the nose and made the lungs blaze like a Christmas tree inside. ” Fiction stories fire our imaginations whether we the writers or the readers. Fiction is enjoyable to read, that in itself is reason enough to say that it is not bunk.
Courtney from Study Moose
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