Life is not dramatically tidy. Intuitively we understand this, but the matter always gets complicated when it comes to movies based on real people and real events. Every year, it seems, some awards season favorites come under fire for how they supposedly altered or whitewashed the actual circumstances on which they were based, sometimes for perfectly legitimate reasons, and others times because it’s an easy audience. dark-ops relationships by competing films. Altering reality for dramatic reasons is endemic to the form; the only question is, how much rewriting of history is acceptable in the name of making a better movie?
Infinite Storm isn’t exactly based on a high-profile story or person, and it’s unlikely to get much attention during next year’s awards season. Still, he provides an interesting case study in asking this question about poetic license. Perhaps giving a fact-based story a more conventionally satisfying dramatic arc is the best way to please audiences. And maybe that’s at the same time a way to erase a lot of what’s idiosyncratically interesting about the real story in the first place.
This real-life story is set in the fall of 2010, when Pam Bales (Naomi Watts), an experienced search and rescue professional living in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, decides to go on a solo hike one day with a weather forecast. uncertain. The hike becomes more difficult when a severe storm blows, making the return trip difficult for even a seasoned hiker. And that return becomes even more complicated when Bales comes across a lonely man (Billy Howle), wearing shorts and sneakers, already hypothermic and probably unable to travel alone.
Director Malgorzata Szumowska and screenwriter Joshua Rollins kick off the story with calm, observant scenes capturing Bales’ methodical preparations for his trek. To his favorite, Infinite Storm works as a sort of procedural thriller about how survival in the wild depends on being prepared to Homework survive in the wild – or, in this case, be prepared to help other people survive in the wild as well.
It’s also a portrait of skill under pressure, which Watts accomplishes wonderfully. She’s been a terrific film actress since the first moment she had a showcase for American audiences, in David Lynch. Mulholland Drive, but she’s only gotten savvier over the years to play complicated, prickly women. Playing a role that could easily have been a holy saviour, Watts makes Bales frequently exasperated by the apparent surrender of the man she calls “John”. She amplifies the sensibility in Rollins’ script that, while yes, there was certainly a component of heroism in Bales’ rescue of John, he was also someone who was just doing his job – and every job has its times when you’re just bored of having to do it.
All of these things work in Infinite Storm‘s favor – and then there are the issues which are mostly extra-textual. Rollins constructs a backstory for Bales that involves a tragic incident that gradually unfolds in flashback, and in effect makes the day of Bales’ hike the anniversary of that incident. It’s an effective way to spin the narrative into a kind of redemption story for Bales…except there’s no evidence from any of the contemporary reporting on Bales’ rescue operation that the tragic incident in question never happened. And even if he did happen, tying him to the rescue seems orderly to the point of being exploitative. Infinite Storm has a lot to offer as a basic survival story; turning it into another Capital-T Trauma movie feels like someone is turning to the Screenwriting 101 manual rather than trusting the actual story.
Things blur again during the extended epilogue, which explores what happens after Bales and John descend from the mountain. Spoiler-free, it’s another departure from the actual events that likely has a more conventional level of audience appeasement, but removes something distinctive and memorable that actually happened.
Do filmmakers owe reality to the audience, when fiction is often more satisfying? Not necessarily. It’s reality, however, that usually delivers the unexpected – and it’s also worth wondering whether integrating reality into more readily consumable packaging removes much of the thorny unpredictability that makes stories stories worth telling.