If you haven’t seen Gravity yet, maybe you should. Starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, this epic sci-fi depicts an astronaut on her first mission (you go girl!) which goes terribly awry, and leaves this woman (Bullock) alone with her partner (who is played by Clooney) up in space. It’s almost like being stranded alone on an island with your crush, except in Gravity you’re stuck in space. And it’s freaking scary. And immense. And really not romantic at all.
However, if you choose to go see this movie in the theatre or rent it later, I would take it with a grain of salt. Like most sci-fi films, this one is terribly inaccurate as far as astrophysics go.
Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, confronted the film’s glaring inaccuracies via Twitter a few days ago. He tweeted:
“The film #Gravity should be named ‘Zero Gravity’”
“Mysteries of #Gravity: How Hubble (350mi up) ISS (230mi up) & a Chinese Space Station are all in sight lines of one another.”
“Mysteries of #Gravity: Why Bullock’s hair, in otherwise convincing zero-G scenes, did not float freely on her head.”
“Mysteries of #Gravity: Nearly all satellites orbit Earth west to east yet all satellite debris portrayed orbited east to west.”
He tweeted several more times, in fact, pointing out problems with the film. Tyson did conclude with a final tweet that he enjoyed the movie very much. What can we take away from this? Perhaps that even though there are a lot of movies out there with factual inaccuracies, we can still enjoy them.
Here are 10 more movies that defied history and reality, either in subtle or huge ways.
1. Marie Antoinette
Marie Antoinette, one of my favorite Sofia Coppola films, is actually more or less historically accurate. Kirsten Dunst is an amazingly vapid and oblivious ruler of France. However, one of the main conflicts in the film centers around Marie and King Louis’ inability to have sex. It was rumored that King Louise XVI was homosexual, and in the film he is portrayed as being scared of sex. In reality, King Louis had a condition called phimosis, in which the foreskin of the penis cannot be fully retracted. After an operation, the couple conceived and probably had tons of sex.
Obviously, 300 is mythologically-based, and there is no way a group of 300 under-armed men fought for democracy against thousands of nations which used magic against them. Sparta was a “fascistic church-run warrior caste of slave owners who regularly enjoyed pederasty,” (Cracked). Essentially, 300 paints a really glorified version of Sparta that didn’t really exist.
A historical drama war film directed by and starring Mel Gibson, Braveheart is about William Wallace, a 13th century Scottish warrior who led the Scots into the First War of Scottish Independence against England. The truth is that the real William Wallace was a knight from a pretty noble family. His father, Malcolm, wasn’t actually killed by the English, but fought FOR the English in exchange for a political favor. Also, Wallace’s army did not wear kilts into battle.
Argo may have won best picture, but the political drama offended a great deal of Iranian viewers due to the inaccurate portrayal of their appearance and overall culture in the 70s. According to Policymic, “The perception that the film portrayed Iranians uniformly as both secular and religious roots –and ousted a dictatorial monarch, the shah of Iran, reviled as a corrupt and brutal puppet of Washington.” The movie actually insulted many Iranians who rightfully feel that Argo distorted history.
I will never let go of Titanic and its influence on me as a 90’s kid. I learned to never judge a ship based on its appearance (for all we know, it could be poorly designed and trap thousands of people while it sinks, I mean, look at what happened to some of Carnival’s cruise ships), marry a man who wears eyeliner better than me, and pose naked as inspiration for an artist (who KNOWS which ocean that will end up in). Titanic is most likely filled with factual inaccuracies, but one that really stands out to me is the use of flashlights. Everyone has a flashlight by the end of the movie, and those types weren’t even invented until 1922!
Do you know how much of my life I spent thinking the relationship between Pocahontas and John Smith actually exited?! Actually, not that long. Even though the internet didn’t exist when I was a kid, I went to the library and looked Pocahontas up and was extremely disappointed by what I found. Smith may have existed, but Pocahontas was only 10 years old around the time he made it over to North America. Also, Pocahontas II came out when I was 8 and I remember feeling very unsettled when I learned John Smith had died and Pocahontas was very “whatever” about the whole thing and moved on to love interest John Rolfe. I mean, what was that about?
7. Django Unchained
I love Quentin Tarantino. He is incredible and I have watched all of his films at least five times each. Django, his latest film, is a revenge fantasy set in antebellum 1858. All is well and good, except Django’s iconic round sunglasses which he wears throughout the film are actually not fashionably and historically accurate. Although sunglasses have been around since the 12th century, they weren’t introduced in the US until 1929.
Disney, here we go again. So, the animated movie is set somewhere in Arabia, and the animators did their best to make all the writing in the film look Arabic, but in one scene, Jafar and the Sultan read a scroll from left to right (equivalent to how we read English). However, Arabic is read from right to left, like Hebrew.
9. Tristan & Isolde
Tristan & Isolde was the first James Franco film I saw, and I remember my 10th grade English teacher putting up a Tristan & Isolde poster in our classroom. However, if you’re a true English buff (no offense, Ms. Monohan), you should know that when Isolde recites John Donne’s poem “The Good-Morrow” he is reading something that hasn’t even been written yet. “The Good Morrow” is a 17th century work, which is centuries later than the movie’s time period.
10. Robin Hood
Robin Hood is obviously a mythologized character, but his historical context is completely inaccurate. For instance, the writer shows the French King Philip Augustus trying to invade England, but this didn’t actually happen. He WAS trying to retake French soil from the English, which is a different story. Also, after Richard Lionheart’s death it was King John who sent English invaders into France, but the opposite happens in the movie, and the French didn’t invade England until 1216.
So there’s MY list. Any film buffs have any more examples of film fails?!