Three Biopics with Unconventional Subjects

A biopic film offers something that neither a straight documentary nor a narrative drama can. It is a testament to a human life, a brief window in the passage of time through which we may look back and know another: a person who really lived, breathed, and felt as we do, and whose story we can share.

Choice subjects are often luminaries or innovators, heroes or villains, even iconoclasts. The history books are full of such names, and the screen, just so, is in no short supply.

But there is another type of biopic, and another type of subject. These people are rarely paragons in any particular field, but have lived their lives so strangely and sweetly, with such tenacity in the pursuit of their own vision, that they become heroes of a certain order…

Timothy Treadwell – Grizzly Man

Timothy Treadwell, the eponymous Grizzly Man, is a fascinating and tragic character, and Herzog earns his reputation in the incremental reveal of Treadwell’s darker side. For the first twenty-or-so minutes, we’re swept up what appears half lunacy and half joie de vivre, as Treadwell explains his love for these fearsome beasts, and is shown running with the pack, rough housing, and as was his way, living as close to a family member as it is humanly possible.

Then, in the second act, our child-like awe is shattered. It is revealed that Treadwell’s exodus is not wholly voluntary. He describes a life full of petty crime, failure, and inability to conform to the norms.

In the end, the trajectory of his character development mirrors the course of the events that shaped his life and ultimately ended it.

David Foster Wallace – The End of the Tour

This film is an oddity. Though the parts of Wallace and Lipsky are played by actors – Jason Seagal and Jessy Eiesenburhg – 90 percent of the dialogue is lifted straight from the tape recorder which documented the real journey these two writers took together.

For those not familiar with novelist David Foster Wallace, this film is an excellent introduction, as his anxieties and doubts on the subject of fame, success, and what it means to write, form the core focus of this unflinching examination of the human psyche.

Chad Batista

The upcoming documentary on Chad Batista is sure to tick all the right boxes. Much like the other people featured on this list, Chad lived his life without compromise, even if that sometimes meant causing distress to himself and those around him.

The film will chart this young player’s meteoric rise through the highly competitive background of professional competitive poker, where he managed to hold the top spot on what was effectively a world leaderboard. But there’s also his succumbing to alcoholism, and his untimely death at the age of 34. In the words of those that knew him, Batista had fire and a genuine love of the game, and his sharp tongue could win him loyal friends or make him deadly enemies.

What makes a compelling subject is indefinable, and can vary as much as one human being to the next. We think that these three films are great indications of how a biopic can be done right, though, and deserve your attention.

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