[Viewpoint]Tell me no liesI watched “Catch Me If You Can” again last week. Protagonist Frank, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, is a genius in telling lies and disguising his identity in various ways.
He was only a high school student, but he disguised himself as a pilot, a medical doctor and a lawyer as he pleased. And he laughed at the people who were deceived by his trick. The movie was inspired by the true life story of Frank W. Abagnale.
He actually traveled around 26 countries in the Americas and Europe for five years, starting at the age of 16, disguising himself in various professions and issuing fraudulent checks worth $2.5 million.
In the beginning, no banks were willing to accept fraudulent checks issued by young Frank.
But he found out that banks gave special treatment to airline pilots and made up his mind that he would be a pilot.
However, instead of enrolling in an aviation school, Frank chose the easy way: disguising himself as one by wearing a tailor-made pilot’s uniform. Fraudulent checks issued by Frank started to circulate through a female bank clerk whom Frank had deceived.
It was the prelude to a grand drama of deception.
Once he got a taste for cheating, Frank started to make more and more bold deceptions. He became a medical doctor at a children’s hospital by forging a certificate from Harvard Medical School. He even disguised himself as a lawyer to trick a woman into marrying him.
He traveled through 20 countries, cheating and changing his identity. He was arrested in 1969 in France and served prison terms in France, Sweden and the United States.
After five years of imprisonment, he was released on parole on condition that he would work for the check fraud department of the FBI under the custody of his pursuer, Carl.
That was like a looking glass reality, a cheater teaching the cheated how to cheat.
On the other hand, there is a movie “Jakob, the Liar,” in which Robin Williams performed the role of Jakob.
While walking around the ghetto in Poland under Nazi German occupation, Jakob was stopped by a German officer on charges of violating curfew, and sent to the military barracks. There, he heard a radio news report about the approach of the Red Army to Poland. Miraculously, Jakob was released and became the first Jew to leave that German military quarter alive. Both this and the radio broadcast filled him with hope.
The next day, Jakob started to spread the “message of hope” to the people in the ghetto.
The message that the Red Army had defeated the German army near the border and was approaching Poland spread fast from person to person and gave the Jews in the ghetto the hope and courage to live.
People started to believe Jakob owned a radio that relayed the message of hope. Of course, Jakob had no such radio, but he could not tell people that. He knew, more than anybody else, that Jews in the ghetto were waiting and longing for a new message of hope that could be relayed to them through Jakob’s non-existent radio.
Hence, Jakob’s lies began. He gave people in the ghetto hope that their lives could be saved by relaying the false news that the allied forces were marching onward, defeating the Nazis.
Both Frank and Jakob deceived people. But even a child can tell the difference between the lie told by Frank and the one by Jakob.
We cannot expect to live in a world where no one lies. But what should we call this world where it is hard to find one of Jakob’s lies, but Frank’s lies are everywhere?
So, should we disguise our lies like Frank did in the movie?
Reality is confusing, indeed.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Chung Jin-hong