Archetypes: Film: Review: ‘True Story’ (2015)

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Fox Searchlight

On the surface, True Story is about the connection between a disgraced reporter and a man on trial for murdering four members of his family in the early aughts. Directed by Rupert Goold, the drama, at its core, is about the challenges and transformational potential of communication. Mercurial activities, such as conversation and writing, are the archetypal focal point.

One member of this odd couple is Michael Finkel (Jonah Hill), a well regarded feature-story writer at the New York Times. After he twists the truth by creating a composite character to help focus readers’ attention on his story’s political issues, the newspaper sacks him.

Back in his home state of Oregon, he has no luck getting assignments. However, through a reporter (Ethan Suplee), Finkel learns that there may be a journalistic opportunity tied to Christian Longo (James Franco), a local man who allegedly murdered his wife and three children.

Turns out, while on the lam in Mexico, that Longo had used the moniker Michael Finkel – Longo was a fan – and it’s a circumstance too fated for the journalist to pass up.

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Fox Searchlight

Finkel starts writing to Longo in jail. The two meet and, as part of a quid pro quo arrangement, Longo provides Finkel with story exclusivity and extensive diary-like notes and illustrations about his life. Finkel sees their bond as a way to get back into the writing game and, in fact, gets a publishing deal out of it (the film is based on Finkel’s book). Finkel also believes that, as a result of this new friendship, Longo will be in a better position to help himself as the trial date approaches.

Although Finkel doesn’t call this enterprise a do-over, clearly what’s involved is an opportunity for both men to redeem every aspect of their past deceits  – questionable reporting, assuming the identity of another, intentional false recollection of events. It’s as though we’re watching the convergence of spoken and written content intersecting at the crossroads to meet the devil.

Despite this chance for both men to transform their Mercurial activities, truth-telling is a challenge. Longo, looking at Death Row, doesn’t have much motivation to do the right thing. And Finkel, eager to reinstate himself as a professional scribe, wants a story that readers can’t put down. The only people with some degree of objectivity here are Finkel’s romantic partner (Felicity Jones) and a detective tied to Longo’s prosecution (Robert John Burke).

After the movie ends, what jumps out is something Finkel says early on, when he speaks to some intimidated interviewees for the story that gets him canned. “This is me – Mike Finkel from the New York Times,” he reassures them, eager for them to spill the ever elusive truth. The twist, as True Story reveals, is that defining “me” can be a similarly elusive enterprise.

Archetype: Deceiver. Liar. Communicator. Truth Teller. Reporter. Diarist.

Astrology Archetype: ☿ (Mercury)

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