The Fiction of Historical Hollywood

The extent of my religious training growing up was the film ‘The Ten Commandments,’ released in 1956 and starring Charlton Heston as Moses. According to my family, this was pretty well as it happened. I have seen it since and think it’s one of the worst movies ever made. While biblical history and ‘history’ aren’t the same, how they are portrayed by Hollywood is consistent.

As a kid I loved ‘The Great Escape’ until I learned that American involvement in the Allied escape from German POW Camp Stalag Luft III was non-existent. ‘Argo,’ an Academy Award winner, made a hero out of a CIA agent who had nothing to do with getting six Americans out of Iran during the Iranian hostage crisis.

The other day I saw the film ‘Dunkirk,’ which was based on the rescue of over 300,000 Allied troops who were caught on the beach at Dunkirk and were at the mercy of Nazi Germany. But Nazi Germany was never mentioned. Instead, these stranded young soldiers were facing The Enemy.

If I’m a young person who knows little history – this is the case with most young people today – I’d leave that movie knowing as little as when I went in. The director of ‘Dunkirk’ who also made ‘Batman Begins’ said in an interview that historical context was “not relevant to today’s audiences.”

Unfortunately, he is right. Today’s audiences were schooled in a vacuum of history and don’t want to be saddled with new (for them) information about Churchill, Hitler, World War II, what have you. This is why the modern historical movie is thrilling, action-packed adventure with no context whatsoever where it’s The Good Guys against The Enemy. Like ‘Batman Begins.’ Still, said director should stick with super heroes.

If you want to know what happened at Dunkirk or any other event from World War II, read a book. Maybe even two. Read Sir Martin Gilbert. Read William L. Shirer. Listen to the wartime speeches made by Winston Churchill.

In short, educate yourself which seems to be something the schools have abandoned.

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