Capote is often overshadowed and lauded for its greatness based on Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s performance as the titular author. And while this acclaim is well-granted as it’s difficult not to completely lose Hoffman in his transformation, the film itself also investigates the difficulties in keeping humanity and individual pursuit of greatness separate.
Capote’s novel, In Cold Blood, is an eerily ironic blend of beautiful narrative and the stark madness that disrupts humanity. It’s a story of loneliness and isolation. It’s a tale of tragedy, the loss of life, and the destruction of innocence. It changed how non-fiction is written and fostered a destructive connection between the author and his subjects.
Truman Capote never topped the fame he earned with In Cold Blood. And much of this is prophesied in Capote, in the way that it illustrates humanity and sympathy as a tool for social capital. The man who was described as “Truman becoming more in love with Truman” is inspired by the events is Kansas but shattered by his encounter with the crippled, Perry Smith, a man whose violence culminates from a past not-so-different from Capote’s, but with a handful of wrong turns, or a few pieces of ill advice.
It’s here that the author struggles to separate his subjects from his work.
It’s also here that Capote begs the question as to the definition of truth in non-fiction and to whose benefit the truth results. The sentimental characterizing of Smith is nearly present throughout the novel until the reader finds that he, in fact, is the one who initiated the killing, but the fairness here is questionable. It’s possible that Smith was an endearing person. An educated man, Smith is by far the least feral of the two – besides the whole murder thing. However, it’s also possible that Capote was skewed by something he saw within Perry and painted a flattering portrait out of projection. Or perhaps he was merely influenced by a burgeoning sexual attraction that is merely glossed over in the film. The same could be said for his portrayal of the less-flattering portrayal of Dick Hickock, the potential rapist of the two.
Hearst’s sentiment that his newspaper could create the war debunks the idea that Capote was the first to veer from the heart of journalism – moving from reporting to subjective writing – but his success with such a prosaic non-fiction forces us to wonder how accurate accounts are when fame and fortune are at stake.
Perhaps this is what ultimately produced Jayson Blair and Pulitzer Prize winner Sari Horowitz.
Perhaps notoriety and the ability to craft history and guide the future is more appealing than accuracy and objectivity. And perhaps we should bask in the irony that the film is an adaptation of other people’s adaptations. A prosaic, well-acted, and well-written non-fiction-driven film about a man who wrote about non-fiction.
And despite this irony, we’re left wondering how accurate – albeit a phenomenal – impersonation we are given.