I recently saw the movie Inherit the Wind. Inherit the Wind is a movie based on a play which was based loosely on the Scopes “Monkey” Trial in Dayton Tennessee, in which a man went on trial for teaching about the evolution of humans from other animals.
I say loosely because all of the characters’ names are changed except for the single bit part of a boy named Howard and offstage characters like Charles Darwin. Even the town’s name is changed to Hillsborough. No matter how many lines and scenes got taken from the trial’s transcript, the play is a work of fiction with some characters invented completely. My upcoming book Ben and Larry in Cumberland will mention the Scopes trial, but won’t say much about Inherit the Wind, the play or the film. After all, the last thing I want to do is confuse readers with three different parallel universes.
The main issue that relates the trial to my book’s focus, the Cumberland Trail, is Dayton’s flagging coal industry. Coal doesn’t even figure into the movie or the play, which makes sense. Inspired by the House Un-American Activities committee, the movie is about the right to hold differing opinions, or as the movie puts it “The Right to be Wrong.”
What strikes me about the play and movie is not their relation to the era in which they were written and produced: The fifties and early sixties. When movies dealt with serious issues back then, they did so with optimism and full conviction. Inherit the Wind has characters making powerful speeches about science, education and open-mindedness. More recent movies about serious issues like Crash and Syriana have been more cynical. I do not know which approach is better.