Watching the movie Frost / Nixon last night left me with a question. How did the writer produce such an entertaining, suspenseful story for an audience that already knows the ending?
I don't think I need to put in a spoiler warning before saying that the real Richard Nixon was confronted by the real David Frost in a series of television interviews and ended up giving a more complete apology and admission of error than he gave to anyone else. That's history. What room is left for suspense?
And yet Frost / Nixon works as a story. Superbly well, in my opinion. We all know the bare bones of where we are going. But we don't know how we're going to get there. And we don't know what effect the journey is going to have on the characters.
Stories tend to have an outer journey and an inner one. The outer journey is the obvious quest. A knight attempting to recover the Holy Grail, for example. Or Frost attempting to make a successful television program and boost his career in America.
The inner journey is often a byproduct of the outer one. It is the fact that in seeking the Grail, the knight comes to a deeper understanding, a greater wisdom. Perhaps the outer quest is a failure - the Grail is not located. But the inner quest may still provide a victory.
What is the inner journey for Frost? That is something the history books do not so obviously tell. And that is the real substance of this story.
I'd wanted to watch Frost / Nixon to figure out how the writers would tackle this problem. I hadn't expected to enjoy it so much or to find it quite so compelling. If you are looking for a thoughtful, beautifully textured movie to get out on DVD, this one comes highly recommended.