Fiction, I’ve read (somewhere) is the art of telling lies that present a greater truth. Fiction walks the tightrope between fantasy and reality. Good fiction shows repeating themes in different circumstances, often between made-up characters in made-up situations. The intricacies of these made-up characters or made-up situations can reflect the world we live in—our personal, individualized world that consists entirely of our own perceptions.
If a story can make us relate to someone who seems entirely different from us, digs past the lies to the deep truth, then that story is the opposite of escapism; it’s the reflector of truth.
How we tell a story is every bit as important as the story we tell. How we show that truth by weaving inaccuracies or flat-out lies is every bit as important.
In any fiction writing, we often leave out elements in order to get into the story. We probably don’t recount every morsel of food the character eats; we probably don’t relate every time our character takes a leak or walks through the kitchen. Unless those details are important to the character or story itself, those details aren’t nearly as important as the ones we choose to focus on.
I’m mulling this over after having seen Bohemian Rhapsody this weekend. Spoiler alert: It’s fantastic. I could extol it in all the same ways that about a bazillion other people have praised it, like in the user reviews on IMDB.
Now to say that I don’t see movies very often in the theater is an understatement. The last movie I saw in theater was The Shack. The one before that was Deadpool. It’s very likely that the one before that was Iron Man. The first one.
So it’s been a minute.
And it was so worth the wait. Bohemian Rhapsody was beautiful.
There were, of course, inaccuracies, some of which annoyed me until I realized the story the writers (producers? Directors?) were trying to tell.
In HBO’s Game of Thrones, there’s a scene in which Queen Cersei is comforting her son Joffrey. He has just suffered a stunning humiliation in front of a girl he wants to be all princely in front of.
Two things of note: 1) he’s a superb prick. 2) he ends up being relieved of his fancy-schmancy sword by a little girl and a broom handle. And then he’s attacked by the little girl’s dire wolf while he’s begging for mercy.
Afterward, his mother binds the bite, and she reframes the story that he fought off a vicious animal in an act of courage. Joffrey snaps at her, “But that isn’t what happened.” Cersei tells him that when he is king, the truth is what he will make it.
Critics have panned Bohemian Rhapsody because it glossed over Freddie Mercury’s rampant drug use and promiscuity. I would hazard a guess that anyone interested in this movie would already know about them; it’s pretty much mentioned any time Mercury’s name is brought up.
Was it really glossed over? Just because certain facts figure prominently in someone’s life doesn’t mean that they figure prominently in the story that the storyteller wants to tell. Drugs and promiscuity were addressed rather obliquely,and, yes, they did figure prominently in Mercury’s life, more so than the film implies.
The movie is about his dual nature: one of insecurity and the other of the flamboyance that hid it. The story focuses on the loves that surrounded those two natures and the complexities of those loves. Complicated love of his biological family, complicated love of the band who was also his family, his love for Mary, for Paul, for Jim, and most of all himself.
I think the simplest love he ever experienced was for the crowd that sang Queen’s songs back to him.
Freddie Mercury crafted his own narrative, from his name to his eventual diagnosis with AIDS. This too is what the movie was about. Mercury created his own truth, glossing over parts of it and flaunting others.
He decided what his truth would be.
The movie was stunning. Truly. I cannot wait to see it again.
Besides putting a Queen soundtrack soundly in the back of my mind, it made me wonder:
How do we craft our own narrative for our lives?
How many of us define ourselves by circumstance, losing ourselves and the right to define ourselves by not standing up, by not speaking out, by not doing the work that must be done?
How many of us hide instead of showing up mindfully, intentionally, and with resolute purpose?
How many times do we allow someone or something else to control the narrative of our lives?
If someone were to make a movie about our lives after our deaths, and we had no control over what story they told, what would that movie look like?
If we did have creative control, how would we tell our own stories? What would we omit or gloss over, and what would we lie about to tell a greater truth?