Samuel Brace on the oversaturation of the biopic…
It’s that time of year again, fall is upon us, the nights are drawing in, the mornings becoming dim, and awards season is on the way. Now, I am a film fan, unabashedly so, I look forward to this time of year when movies become plentiful and my favourite actors and directors start to appear in droves. You can say what you like about awards for films, and everything you say may very well be right, that’s a topic for another time, but right now we need to talk about the films themselves and how my love for this time of year is quickly becoming enveloped by frustration and gloom. The superhero genre, this craze that is upon us, has been getting a lot of flack lately; I am as guilty of this as any. The main accusation thrown at it is over-saturation, and it’s a fair point to make, one that is hard to argue against, but there is another genre that is just culpable, the much heralded genre of the biopic, the genre that has infested awards seasons and fuelled my displeasure. Unfortunately, 2015 is shaping up to be no different.
There is a very real concern to be had here, but no one seems to be talking about it. No one is mentioning the fact that almost every ‘great’ film these days has to be about a real person, or real events. Originality, we know has disappeared from the industry, every film is a sequel, prequel or reboot, but the biopic, the story that already exists, a film that by definition is not original, is just as guilty of decimating the new idea as any franchise film. Biopic’s get a free pass on this, instead of being recognised as a very real problem, they are championed, crammed between October and December, smothered in awards and labelled ‘important’ — whatever that means. Awards, like them or loathe them, are wonderful publicity for a film. They do — rightly or wrongly — decide what we should be paying attention to. The masses know no different, they are told that these are the ‘great’ films of the year, but unfortunately any original ideas that do manage to make it to cinemas are pushed aside by the Biopic. An original tale such as Interstellar, a film that is outrageously ambitious, is pushed out by films like The Imitation Game, films labelled as ‘important’ and ‘great’ by nature, just because they are about a real person. Yes, the story of that film and of films like it, often revolve around important moments in history and are about people who should be cherished, but this doesn’t make the film automatically good or mean we should ignore the blatant affectation of the content at hand. These movies are often dull affairs, by the book drama’s with nothing new or exciting anywhere near them. The travesty is that these are the films we are told to adore, told that are worth our attention. There becomes no room for the new idea, the tale spawned from a creative’s imagination.
All of this isn’t to say that there can’t be great films that are Biopic’s, of course there can, just like there can be great superhero movies, but when year after year these type of movies are shoved down our throats, shoved by the dozen, there are going to be bad films among them by default. It’s not necessarily the directors/writers fault, they are told by society, by the hive mind culture we live in, that this is what is ‘important’, that this is what brings you prestige, recognition, awards. So of course they are going to make these films. I don’t know when it was that we became so enamoured with the biopic, the point in time where we raised it high above everything else, but the important thing is that we recognise it and then do something about it. Now, you may agree or disagree with some of this, or all of this, but if you find yourself nodding along, thinking “you know what? This is kind of true”, then don’t just sit by and let it happen. This problem won’t go away until we make it. We need to vote with our wallets and let the powers at be know that these films aren’t systemically important to us, that we yearn for something new, that just because your film is released in November and its hero was a victim 80 years ago, doesn’t make that film a good one.
This fever that we are all infected with, this saturation we are living through, a lot of it boils down to what the films actually contain in terms of themes. A biopic gets labelled as ‘important’ and awards worthy not just because it’s a tale based off real life but because they — more often than not — over the past number of years, have been based around one very core idea: the victim narrative. We as a populace are obsessed with the victim, the man or woman faced with insurmountable odds, beaten and battered by the evils of the world, only to then rise up virtuously and take back what’s theirs. The majority of film goers love this. They crave the downtrodden, the underdog, the victim. His or her plights affect us and because they are the victim, they are of course the good guy, we can relate to them and not feel bad for doing so. As a culture it has become very important to us to like our film characters, to see ourselves in them, but only the good of course. We have to relate to them or otherwise we don’t care, our narcissism won’t let us. The victim and their narrative are perfect for this. We can’t feel bad for liking someone like that, for seeing ourselves in someone like that, so his or her story is automatically heralded. Personally I don’t have to like the main character of a film or TV show. I can hate him, loathe him, and still find his story interesting. I don’t need to connect with the characters on-screen. Part of the reason why I go to the cinema is to escape, to see a tale that is not of my world, one which I know nothing about. Sure, as someone living in 2015 my narcissism is as abundant as anyone else’s but I don’t let it automatically affect the films I like.
There are many reasons why the Biopic has become rampant, why it’s problem exists in the world today, but perhaps the crux of the issue isn’t just the awards that are given to them, perhaps it’s us, and maybe it’s time we took some responsibility. Our obsession with what we can relate to, with the tangible, with the victim and the desperateness we feel to relate to our film characters, is just as responsible for all of this as anything else. This is a cultural problem but it’s one that can be fixed with a little awareness and a bellicose desire to enact change. We must never be afraid of voting with our wallets, or of refusing to accept that something is ‘great’ just because it’s a true story that is released in autumn and is based on the holier than thou victim narrative. Our narcissism knows no bounds in 2015, but I don’t think we are too far gone, surely we can separate ourselves from our fiction enough to see the problem before us. Yes, there are too many superhero films. But there are also unequivocally too many Biopics, and the over-saturation of this genre is just as damaging as the one populated by Spider-Man or his DC counterparts. Boycotting an entire genre seems drastic, and I’m not sure it’s the right response, but the severity of ones reaction equates to how strongly you feel about the problem. This is a big one, guys. So maybe we should do something. Shouldn’t we do something?