Students Remember Hollywood Fiction, Not Historical Fact

Show of hands: how many of you believe that Tom Cruise’s character, Captain Nathan Algren, from the movie ‘The Last Samurai,’ is based on a real historical figure?


Capt. Nathan Algren and the story of ‘The Last Samurai’ is based on a series of historical events that took place in Japan from the mid-1860s to 1870s. During this time period, known as the Meiji Restoration, many Europeans were involved in the Westernization of Japan, while a French captain named Jules Brunet fought alongside samurai during the Boshin War in 1868. Instead, ‘The Last Samurai’ uses historical events, characters and details to present a story involving one character – Cruise’s Capt. Algren.

But if you thought Algren could be found in a history textbook, you’re not alone — a new study shows that students “tend to substitute Hollywood fiction for historical fact in their minds.”

Essentially, people retain the information they see after they watch a film, despite evidence that proves the movie is contradictory to history, according to researchers at Washington University in St. Louis. The film stays with students, whether it’s right or wrong. According to the article:

“Students who watched such film clips had about 50 percent greater correct recall of facts a week later, as opposed to students who just read a text. But when the film’s information contradicted the text, students often wrongly recalled the misinformation up to half the time. Many students expressed their wrong information confidently, and sometimes even misattributed the source of their information as coming from the text, rather than from the film.”

However, the study found that when a film portrays history accurately, students remember both the plot of the film and the information from their textbook reading. So, the closer the movie is to fact, the more likely students will incorporate it into their overall learning of the subject.

Related Film Facts:
Capt. Algren is not the only historical figure Tom has played. He was the star of ‘Born on the Fourth of July,’ based on the true story of Ron Kovic, a Vietnam War veteran who became an outspoken anti-war activist after suffering from paralyzation and post-traumatic stress disorder.

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