Versions of Truth: Dealing with Half-truth, Lies, and Acts of Lying On-screen

Reproducing a short March 2012 article.

Acts of Lying On-Screen: A General Case

Lies and lying form part of our life, whether others lie to us or we ourselves lie to others. Many lies have gone into the make-up of our civilization, and the momentum of our life is the cumulative of truths, half-truths and lies of the living, the dead and ourselves.

How have half-truths and lies seeped into the make-up of our living civilization? They can/could pass as truths, and the next moment people (both the cheaters and the cheated) base their plans and policies of life (be it of individuals, families, societies, communities, nations, governments or inter-governments) on the fact sheet (made of truths, half-truths and lies) in front of them as policy makers and in front of them as public policy makers (their decisions affect us all).

Now, as half-truths and lies/lying are as if so naturalized into our life, their reflections are quite frequently seen in our literatures, arts and movies. Every lie has the possibility of passing as truth, and every act of lying as a genuine act, and as we (when lied to) cannot know for sure something is a lie or truth there is always the possibility of our taking a lie for truth; therefore, filmmakers find it quite tricky to deal with half-truths, lies and acts of lying.


As it is possible for every one of use to take somebody’s lie as truth, the filmmaker often does want to put us, the audience, together with one party of conflict in a film on whom a supposed FACT (not yet verified as truth, or not yet confirmed as half-truth or a lie) has been imposed by another party. For example, in a court room scene (whether in a film or in real life) an accused tells the us his/her version of the incidence, and we understand by doing that he/she is making a truth claim, but we can in no way be sure whether what he/she says is a truth or lie. Both parties try to persuade us, to make us believe what they say. We are played on, acted on. We are put hanging in uncertainties.

The movies which keep this uncertainty/suspense intact, while necessary, are successful. But how do the directors of such successful films manage to deal with lying and lies to keep this uncertainty/suspense till a vital point in the films?

In discussing such uncertainties/suspense, I have deliberately left out the kind of movies in which lies and lying are so obvious and the audience is in no way uncertain about what has happened and what is happening. Dealing with lies/lying is not the issue in such movies; what turns out in the end, and how it turns out is their issue, while in the former type of movies both dealing with lies/lying and what turns out in the end and how it happens are the issue.

Traditionally in films when somebody lies the filmmaker has him/her to lie by word of his/her mouth, and the camera captures him/her physically committing the act of lying. Such films are made in such ways for (i) the audience to be aware that somebody is lying, or (ii) it to be inferrable (if the film makes it a point to show) from the story and form cinematic conventions that somebody is lying. Such films cinematize the event, rather than having the good guy to tell what happened by words of his/her mouth, when the truth is told contrary to the narrative of the lying guy. Cinematization of the event is more convincing than verbal narrative because seeing is believing, while verbal narrative gives room for both belief and disbelief and much is dependent on how the narrative is presented.

Lincoln Lawyer (Brad Furman, 2011) parts ways with traditional films in dealing with half-truths, lies and the acts of lying. Brad Furman leaves the audience in uncertainties and suspense because we do not know for sure who is lying and who is telling the truth. The audience navigates through the labyrinthine network of truths, half-truths, acts of lying and frustrated acts of honesty/genuineness as criminal defense attorney Mickey Haller (Matthew McConaughey) investigates the crimes. Murder accused Louis Roulet tells his versions of the stories not by words of their mouths, but by cinematic means of showing (more convincingly) event happening for Mickey Haller to analyze and for the audience to believe. However, Mickey’s analytical ability and the sharpness of Frank Levin, his investigator, detect holes and disconnected joints in Louis’s fabricated story, which tells them that Louis has lied. After much analysis and investigation Mickey and Frank put together pieces of truths and Frank finally presents his version the murder event, not by words of his mouth but by the cinematic means of exposition, i.e. showing the even happening for the seers to watch for themselves and know what really happened.

Now this film has two contesting versions of truth in the cinematic form, each telling a different story of what happened at the same place and time. And unlike as it happens with traditional truth/lie contesting films, the audience at first does not know who is lying and they do not identify themselves with anybody for them to side with one and against another. Most movies put their audience in a position for them to takes sides before they know what has really happened. Such films take advantage of people’s subtle prejudice. However, films like Lincoln Lawyer break free from this convention.

Do you know any film in which there is a conspicuous struggle between truth and half-truth/lies and the act of lying determines the course of actions? How does the director have the characters to manage to convince other characters in the movie and the audience?


Candidates for Truth: Three Versions of the Same Event

Lincolan Lawyer is a complex crime film in which contesting versions of of the same event are all cinematized as the candidates for factuality. The versions are of Louis Roulet (Phillippe), the police (based on the report of Reggie Campo, a prostitute who complains Louis beat her brutally) and of the criminal defense attorney Mickey Haller. The version of Mickey does not form a solid, consecutive run like those of Louis’s and the police’s, but condenses as the investigation progresses and it thus pervades the whole body of the film.

Louis Roulet’s version of the truth

Brad Furman cinematizes all the versions as the candidates of factuality, of what actually happened, because cinematization is convincing, and this imitates how each proponents of a truth claim passtionately wants us to believe their story, and the law’s unbiassed treatment of all claims/stories until they are proved wrong or right. The convincing power of cinematization of such versions of truth comes from the cinematic convention of verbal narration of the liar’s story/version, while what’s presented as the truth is presented (both verbally and) cinematically to show the audience the event happening for them to see for themselves. Examples of such scenes are abundant.

Police’s version of truth

Basically, the current case agains Louis is that a prostitute called Reggie Campo has accused him of beating her protally. The versions of Louis and the police are diametrically opposite to each other, while both of them are convincing. There is still another case which bears some similarity with this–the murder of Donna Renteria. A Jesus Martinez (Michael Peña) had been landed in prison for life in this regard while Louis had quietly stepped out of the mess as if he was any other person who is not related to the case in any way. Now, Haller and Levin’s (Macy) investigation has confirmed that Louis murdered Donna Renteria. What initially seemed a similarity has now turned out to be a pattern in Louis’ crimes. After putting the pieces of information together Haller presents what might have actually happened (the third version) of another case.


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