Who says we can't handle the truth?
The following story is true. It actually happened. I was attending an early screening of the new Sofia Coppola-directed film, "Marie Antoinette," in which Kirsten Dunst portrays the ill-fated French queen.
Before the lights went down, two attractive and engaging young women introduced themselves and began peppering me with questions about my job. One of them was there as a journalist for her campus television station. The other young woman was her friend, but no less curious about a career in journalism.
The college sophomores asked incisive questions, and I was left with a favorable impression, not only about their demeanor but about their intelligence.
Coppola's movie, which opens Friday, covers a specific period in the young queen's life that stops short of her imprisonment and subsequent execution.
When the final credits rolled and the house lights went on, the college students leaned toward me and whispered:
"What happened next? Did everything turn out OK for her?"
I laughed. I joked that everything turned out just great for the queen of France, right up to the point at which she was beheaded. Then I laughed again.
But they weren't laughing. Their eyes were wide and their mouths agape. They were in shock. I'd assumed that these clever coeds were pulling my leg. But their expressions did not change. There was no hint of irony.
"No, seriously, what happened to her?" one of them asked.
"She was guillotined," I responded, checking once again for a clue that they were making fun of the old bald guy.
"Why?" one of them asked.
"You know, the whole French Revolution thing," I said incredulously.
They both shook their heads in bewilderment. I didn't know what to say.
"Do you think this would be on the Internet?" one of the young women asked.
"I'm sure it is," I said.
They looked at each other and a sense of relief crossed their faces.
"We'll go right home and look it up."
OK, I know what you're thinking. You want to blame the educational system. And I wouldn't necessarily disagree with you. One need only watch in excruciating pain as a teenage cashier tries to calculate how much change to give you to know that something is terribly wrong with the education that many of our young are receiving.
But that's a whole other topic for another day.
I prefer to blame Hollywood.
How are the young to learn anything about history when the main source of their history education comes from movies?
Since the beginning of film, Hollywood has shown a complete disregard for the truth when it comes to movies based on historical fact. People who make movies like to lump all films under the "willing suspension of disbelief" umbrella, even though films based on real people or real historical events should be treated with more respect.
Those who make historical dramas like to say that their films are not documentaries and therefore should not be expected to rigidly follow the facts. I feel that if you're going to mess with the facts, then change the real names, dates and places to fictional names, dates and places and call the whole thing a drama.
"Marie Antoinette" is not the only film based on real events that will hit theaters in the coming weeks.
"Bobby" is a film about the death of Robert F. Kennedy.
"Fur" is a film about noted photographer Diane Arbus.
"Infamous" is another movie about author Truman Capote and the research and writing of his novel "In Cold Blood."
"The Last King of Scotland" is about late Ugandan dictator Idi Amin.
"The Queen" is an intimate portrait of Queen Elizabeth during the time of Princess Diana's tragic death. It includes private moments with the queen alone in her bedroom to which no filmmaker would ever be privy. It's pure speculation, but still may bring star Helen Mirren an Oscar.
Finally, there is "Flags of Our Fathers," Clint Eastwood's tribute to the men who fought and died on the Japanese island of Iwo Jima during World War II. It was the bloodiest battle of the war (nearly 7,000 Americans and 22,000 Japanese died) and was indelibly etched in our national consciousness by a single photograph by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal of five Marines and a Navy corpsman raising the American flag atop Mount Suribachi.
I had breakfast with Eastwood last week, and we discussed this practice of Hollywood playing fast and loose with the facts. Apparently, the four-time Oscar winner is as appalled by the practice as I am.
"Everything in this picture is true," the director said firmly.
You know something? I believe him. I trust him. Clint Eastwood wouldn't lie.
If only the rest of Hollywood were so dedicated to the telling the truth.