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An Invented Individual is a persona or imaginary person created by the protagonists who assumes a life of his own. Mr. Invisible soon becomes respected and popular and everybody's best friend. As pressure mounts his creators are forced to "kill" him, to the grief of all his admirers.
Trope previously named for Oscar Wilde's play, The Importance of Being Earnest, whose plot revolves around two of these: Algernon Moncrieff pretends he has a sickly friend in the country called Bunbury, in order to have an excuse to dash off at a moment's notice. His best friend Jack Worthing, meanwhile, has been pretending to be his own (nonexistent) rakehell younger brother Ernest (no "a," but still pronounced as "earnest") to allow him to indulge in the fleshpots of London whenever he visits the city. As Ernest he courts Algy's cousin Gwendolen, who claims to have always dreamt of marrying a man named "Ernest". Meanwhile, Algy pretends to be Ernest in order to woo Jack's nubile ward Cecily, who also is enraptured with the name. Hilarity Ensues. Just to top things off, the 2002 film adaptation ends with a funeral for the late but nonexistent Mr. Bunbury under the closing credits.
Anime and Manga
- In Urusei Yatsura, Ataru's classmates decide to humiliate him in public by sending him a note from a fictional girl asking for a date. Ataru, being girl-crazy, doesn't notice that the note is signed "Kumino Otoko" which, beside being a proper Japanese female name, can also be read as "Men of the Class". Ataru gets saved from the humiliation when his beloved Lum shows up in disguise as the non-existent Miss Kumino.
The English translation of the manga changed the name to "Shinobi Nobade" to have a pun that works in English. (Incidentally, the manga's version of this story was very different. Ataru's classmates were jealous of the amount of love letters Mendo gets, so they wrote a fake love letter from "Kumino Otoko" to Ataru which included many insults directed at Mendo. They didn't expect Mendo and Ataru to make a bet on whether or not Kumino Otoko was pretty, thus requiring someone to pretend to be Kumino Otoko.)
- Kodomo no Jikan has Rin pretend to be a young female teacher so she can court her teacher Aoki, who is understandably against going out with a fifth grader. When he asks for a picture, she sends one of her late mother. He sees the picture at her house and puts it together, but lets Rin think he just broke up with the female teacher.
- Daredevil made up an imaginary twin brother to use as a secret identity decoy until it became inconvenient. Then he killed off poor, funloving, Mike Murdock at the first inconvenience.
- In the Al Pacino film S1m0ne, Pacino played a bitter film director who created a beautiful fictional actress through an advanced computer/holographic technology. 'Simone' quickly became immensely popular, leaving her 'discoverer' behind in the dust and forcing him to kill her off... only to become a suspect in her disappearance and presumed murder.
- The 1994 film Blank Check involved Preston creating the identity of "Mr. Macintosh", a reclusive billionaire, so that Preston could do anything he desired with his newly acquired money.
- The Whoopi Goldberg movie The Associate is entirely based on such a ploy. When Laurel Ayres tries to get rid of her overly realistic inexistent associate, she is promptly suspected of murder.
- In North by Northwest, Cary Grant stumbles into the identity of CIA Agent George Kaplan. It turns out Kaplan does not exist; he's a phony agent who attracts attention away from real operatives.
- Andy Dufresne in The Shawshank Redemption creates the fake person "Randall Stevens" as a cover for his money laundering for the warden. When Andy breaks out of prison, he assumes Mr. Stevens's identity and takes all the money.
- The movie Wag the Dog had one of those. To make the entirely fake war in Albania more "real" Hollywood director Stanley Motss (Dustin Hoffman) creates the personality of a special operations soldier. A series of setbacks (including the fact that the person they used died before his staged return) forces them to explain his death. They even mount an elaborate viral memorial "meme" by throwing tennis shoes in trees.
- And "discover" an old Blues recording of a song that just happens to have the guy's name in it in such a way that it works perfectly as an anthem for the non-existent soldier.
- The 1934 Russian film Poruchik Kizhe (Lieutenant Kijé) is based on an old Russian anecdote about a play on words where adding two letters to the Russian word for lieutenant can be misread for what would translate to English as something like "Lieutenant Whatchamacallit". When the emperor publicly notes the existence of "Second Lieutenant Kijé" on a list of ensigns being promoted, whole stories are invented to avoid embarrassing him. When the emperor eventually demands to meet "General Kijé", he is sadly reported killed in battle. The film is known today for the orchestral suite of the music written by Sergei Prokofiev.
- Brazil: The Tuttle/Buttle confusion that kicks off the stygian story. It is a Shout-Out to the M* A* S* H episode, of all things.
- In the 1970's TV movie "Paper Man", a group of post-grad students create a fake person in the college computer to back up a mistakenly issued credit card. By the time they try to kill off the fake person, the fake person is apparently killing them off.
- Lt Kije, , where a bureaucratic error creates a fake soldier who rises through the ranks before eventually being "killed" in battle.
- Nineteen Eighty-Four: "Comrade Ogilvy" and, perhaps, Big Brother himself.
- Wag the Dog: "Schumann".
- In Gordon Korman's The War with Mr. Wizzle (part of the Macdonald Hall series), Bruno, Boots and company invent a student named Gavin Gunhold, a star athlete, straight-A student, hugely popular, and all-around great guy, to mess with Mr. Wizzle's mind -- everyone knows him, but he's never around. Wizzle is convinced he does, of course, because his beloved computer has a file on him - entered by the students.
- A Semester in the Life of a Garbage Bag: Gavin Gunhold returns as a dead Canadian poet who only wrote one poem. The protagonists end up having to claim that Gavin's still alive and writing, but this ends up morphing into a The Real Remington Steele situation. (Gordon Korman loves to use Gavin Gunhold like this in tons of books.)
- In Robert A. Heinlein's The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, the protagonists invent the persona of "Adam Selene" to run their revolution. "Adam" manages to turn up at all sorts of rallies, conventions, and even a few operas, and one person is even convinced that he once met him at an opera house. The Lunar Authority tries to track him down -- without success, naturally. He even gives a live, televised speech on one occasion. Of course, Adam Selene's true identity happens to be Mike, the sentient supercomputer who runs pretty much everything tied to the electronic grid in Luna City. He manages to be "present" in so many places by constantly monitoring the phone lines, and for his speech he created a digital avatar. In a further twist of irony, he's also the same supercomputer that the Authority's security branch relies on -- because only the main characters know he's sentient, no one else suspects a thing.
- The characterisation is so accurate too, that the only difference between the protagonist's own ideas for the character and the individual the man at the opera house describes is the hairstyle.
- The Alvin Fernald books did this once, when Alvin took a bet with a reporter to create an artificial person. Not an android, a person.
- In one Anatole France story that had an imaginary friend blamed for childish misdeeds end up as the scapegoat for local crime including seducing and impregnating a maid.
- In the Sweet Valley High spinoff series Sweet Valley Twins, Elizabeth and Jessica invent a triplet, "Jennifer," to confuse a new girl at school. In the main series, chubby and unpopular Lois Waller invents a boyfriend who then mysteriously appears...
- L.M. Montgomery's short story The Materialization of Cecil is about inventing a boyfriend and then feeling as though you've conjured up the real person who shares his name.
- Bimbos of the Death Sun: In Sharon McCrumb's fannish murder mystery, several fans created the imaginary persona of "Chip Livingstone", who became very popular. When they had to admit the deception, a wake was promptly declared to mourn the lost Livingstone.
- Poul Anderson's short story Sam Hall details the effects of an Ernest on a repressive autocratic government during a rebellion (the Ernest created by a rebel sympathizer within the government). At one point several high-ranking Party officials are sacked due to their personal relationships with the eponymous Ernest.
- In L Sprague De Camp's story "The Wheels of If" Allister Park, a New York lawyer from our world, is transported into the body of his counterpart in an Alternate History world, a bishop named Ib Scoglund. He concocts a plan to get himself home and manipulates the political opposition by disguising himself and infiltrating them... under the name "Allister Park". He finds the way to get home, but decides he's enjoying a better life in this world, so adopts the Scoglund identity permanently and holds a funeral for "Allister Park".
- In Elliot S! Maggin's Superman novels, Last Son of Krypton and Miracle Monday, Lex Luthor has enough personas to populate an entire imaginary country. He only has to contribute a few of the reports on them -- after he's spread a couple of fanciful reports about his larger than life creations, people start imagining their own. Clark Kent is also treated as an Ernest -- in Miracle Monday, when C.W. Saturn reveals Clark Kent to be Superman in disguise, the other characters mourn his death.
- Changeover, a satirical novel written by Diana Wynne Jones before she found her niche as a fantasy writer, is set in an African colony that's about to be granted self-government. The outgoing governor misunderstands a remark by one of his aides about plans to mark the changeover, and soon rumors are spreading far and wide about Mark Changeover, a mysterious figure who is probably some kind of terrorist. In the end, to save face for the governor, the country's incoming president agrees to be Mark Changeover, and seizes control of the nation in a bloodless coup the day before it was due to be handed over to him anyway.
- The Sherlock Holmes story "A Case of Identity" features one of literature's most vicious uses of an Ernest-type character. A young woman pleads with Holmes to find her bridegroom, who never showed at the church on their wedding day. Holmes, examining the situation, is disgusted to find that the so-called bridegroom is actually the girl's stepfather, who disguised himself to woo his stepdaughter and extract a promise of fidelity from her. This was to keep her from marrying for real, so that he and the girl's mother -- who was in on the plan -- wouldn't lose their control over the money she inherited from her biological father. He made her promise to wait for the fake groom no matter how long it took, then made him "disappear." Holmes was so pissed off at the stepfather that he chased him out of the apartment with a bull-whip.
Live Action TV
- M* A* S* H: One of the best examples seen on network television is the saga of "Captain Tuttle". Tuttle was Hawkeye's imaginary friend/scapegoat from childhood, who gained a commission in the Army and a position in the 4077th when Hawkeye needed to divert some attention from himself (to help a financially strapped orphanage). After a little judicious forgery and a couple of clever tricks, the entire camp (and the Army's paymaster!) were convinced Tuttle was a real person -- with many claiming to know him. Eventually Hawkeye and Trapper are forced to forge his official papers and eventually declare that he tragically died en route to an emergency field operation, jumping out of a helicopter with all the medical equipment he would need but forgetting the parachute. Hawkeye's on-the-spot eulogy for Tuttle is particularly brilliant (Frank complained that he should have given it, claiming that he knew him the best):
Hawkeye: We can all be comforted by the thought that he's not really gone - that there's a little Tuttle left in all of us. In fact, you might say that all of us together made up Tuttle.
- And for bonus meta points, the credits of the episode include the line "Captain Tuttle...As Himself."
- On Seinfeld, a co-worker thinks that Elaine's name is Suzie which Elaine goes along with. Eventually "Suzie" becomes her own woman and is promoted to the position Elaine was aspiring for, despite not actually existing. An annoyed Elaine follows Jerry's advice to kill Susie off, and tells her boss that she committed suicide. At her funeral Mr. Peterman reminisces about a passionate night he had with her. "It was pret-ty good." The service is interrupted by an enemy of Jerry who accuses him of murdering the imaginary woman to which he gleefully admits. George and Kramer's recurring alter egos, "Art Vandelay" and "Dr. van Nostrand", occasionally came close to this kind of thing.
- Friends has a co-worker of Chandler's believe that he's called Toby. He sabotages the man's attempt to get promoted to the same floor as Chandler as then he would be unable to keep up the deception, but this leads to a Fawlty Towers Plot with the man discovering that "Chandler Bing" was responsible for torpedoing his career. The episode ends with Chandler walking into his office to find the man trashing it and inviting "Toby" to help get revenge on Chandler - he shrugs and joins in.
- On Head of the Class, the class invented a student named "Randy McNally" after the map in the classroom.
- On Spenser For Hire, Spenser must investigate when a fictitious person invented by Rita and some old friends seems to have turned up dead.
- Hey, Dude!, "The Legend of Jed" featured a variant on this: the kids make up an imaginary employee, Jed, to keep Jake from losing his job, and try to Maintain the Lie until they can come up with a way to get rid of Jed. Mr. Ernst catches wise, however, and gets back at the kids by having a friend of his act as "Jed".
- One episode of Cheers has Norm create a fake alternate persona, "Anton Kreitzer" as a business partner so that he can forcefully get his workers to actually start working without changing his own personality. This ends up involving making a fake office for him (it leads into the alley) and even staging a conversation where Kreitzer yells at him while he defends the workers. At the end, one of them reveals that soon after the shouting session, he had gone into the office and discovered it to be fake. Just as it seems like he has everything worked out, he reveals his deduction that Norm is the fake personality. And the rest of the bar goes along with it:
Norm: I am Norm Peterson and I can prove it! (to bar) Afternoon, everybody!
- On The Brady Bunch, Jan has an imaginary boyfriend named George Glass. In a different episode, Bobby invents a secret admirer for Cindy and pays a friend to play the role.
- In the second Brady Movie, George Glass turns out to be a real person by crazy coincidence. IIRC, he had even made up a fake girlfriend named Jan Brady for exactly the same reasons so things work out pretty well for both George and Jan when they actually meet up and can suddenly prove their fake significant others exist.
- One episode of Remington Steele, which is itself about a fictitious detective whose identity is assumed by a conman, finds the detectives searching for a video game exec named George Kaplan (see North by Northwest example in Film.) They find that Kaplan does not exist, and was part of the company's scheme to avoid a takeover.
- Its Your Move: The band The Dregs of Humanity.
- In an episode of Community, Jeff gets caught out having created a class (Conspiracy Theories in US History) and a teacher (Professor Professorson). Played straight, subverted, deconstructed, and, as this is Community, ending with a convoluted nested series of ploys to teach the characters a lesson.
- Just Shoot Me had Barry Toastman, who replaced someone Finch fired just so that Finch could make him up so that he could get a Managerial parking spot. Subverted slightly that he only exists to a small group of people and Elliot finds out pretty quick and starts to try and prove his non-existence. Finch then quickly kills him off.
- From Babylon 5, the noted Centauri government minister Abrahamel Lincolni, who exists only in computer records and was created whole out of the cloth by Vir Cotto, was instrumental in setting up an underground railroad to ferry free Narn to safety after the Narn homeworld was conquered by the Centauri. When they find out about this scheme, all the human crewmembers on the Babylon station can't believe the Centauri actually fell for the ruse.
- In Coupling, there are several instances of people pretending to be other people, and having it blow up. The occasion that hews closest to this trope is when one of the girls talks about how she used to pretend to be twins when she went on vacation: "And I could get away with anything when I was my crazy sister Jane!" "But... you're Jane." "It kind of stuck. Long story."
- White Collar has a forger who spent decades perfecting a set of fake identities to the point where they can survive serious government scrutiny. Years ago he registered a number of non-existent births in various cities and then over the years he carefully manufactured official records for these individuals and inserted them into government archives. These identities have school records, employment and credit histories, driver licenses and even real passports issued in their name. They even pay all their taxes on time.
- Michael does this in an episode of Burn Notice, inventing a fake hostage who has gone missing, to throw the hostage-takers into a paranoid frenzy. Naturally, he has to keep constructing more and more lies about this person to distract them long enough to save the real hostages.
- In one episode of Big Bang Theory Sheldon becomes so worried that an excuse Leonard made to avoid watching Penny perform will be found out that he creates Leonard a fictional drug-addict cousin and at one point brings somebody in to act as him.
- Eastenders had a subplot in 2002 where Paul Trueman invents a fictional tenant called "Miss Webster" so he can order electrical goods in her name for him to sell on without them being traced to him. When the companies start asking to speak to Miss Webster, he has to pay off Janine to pose as her.
- In one episode of The Red Green Show, the members of Possum Lodge invent a person, Bernie Goodyear, to try to win a “Man of the Year” award. Things get out of hand when a rival lodge starts a smear campaign against Mr. Goodyear. There is even a woman who claims to have given birth to his child. Eventually, Red tells everyone the truth, but no one believes him.
- In Planescape: Torment, you can on multiple occasions refer to your 'friend' Adahn, and sometimes pretend to be him (such as when people ask your name. For instance, you can tell the Dustmen at the monument that Adahn is grieving over a recent death of a loved one, and they'll pray for him. Do this often enough, and Adahn will show up with the money he owes you. This is because the world is shaped by belief.
- On Dilbert, "Todd" is created by the employees to get an empty cubicle for storage. But when nobody at the company can locate him ("There is no Todd!"), Dilbert is sent to jail for his murder. Eventually, Todd is promoted above everyone, becomes a millionaire, and there's a law passed saying he can become a bigamist. ("That was a coup.")
A running gag is that many of the discussions about Todd could just as easily be religious debates.
Dogbert: People want to believe that Todd exists, so anything you say in Todd's name they'll tend to buy. You see, you can play Todd but you can never play Dogbert. Where is your Todd now?! Muahahahaha!
- Doug: In one episode, Doug wishes to go to a dance with Patti, but Connie asks him before he gets the chance to ask Patti. Afraid of hurting her feelings, Doug says he has to take care of his sick cousin, Melvin, who doesn't actually exist. Patti and Connie decide they're going to help him take care of Melvin as well, so Doug has to get help from Judy, who pretends to be Melvin. As usual, things don't go according to plan.
- The invention of a phantom student is a classic college prank. One physics class went so far as to have a graduate student flawlessly answer problem sets and test questions for their phantom -- all while including written taunts to the professor: "This is trivial nonsense. Surely you can do better!" Inventing a glamorous freshman girl, distributing bogus photos of her, and seeing how many people try to track her down has also been done at largely male technical colleges.
- George P. Burdell. In 1927 Georgia Tech student Ed Smith received two enrollment forms. For the next several years Smith did all schoolwork twice, altering it slightly, and attended all exams twice. Burdell received his bachelor's in 1930 and his master's some years later. During World War II his name appeared on various fronts and he was listed as a B-17 pilot, flying twelve missions from England. He's in three yearbooks, was registered for every single course in every semester when Georgia Tech computerized its registration, had his marriage announced in a paper in the 1950s, got a mention of his 50th anniversary in the 2000s, and MAD Magazine listed him on the board of directors for about twelve years.
- A Mr. Prawo Jazdy accumulated traffic fines all over Ireland for years, until a well-informed policeman realized that "prawo jazdy" was Polish for "driver's license".
- Johnny Klomberg. An icecream parlour offered free birthday icecream to local kids who registered their name, address and DOB. Two kids made up a fake friend with their own address. A few years pass, 'Johnny' turns eighteen and a reminder to sign up for the draft arrives. And it turns out the parlour hadn't given permission for its lists to be used, either. Whoops.
- In the introduction to the 1991 Illuminet Press Edition of the Principia Discordia, Kerry W. Thornley relates how he added the name Omar Khayyam Ravenhurst to the training rotas when he was in basic training. Apparently, it took several years before anyone figured it out, by which time Ravenhurst had his own records, bunk and accompanying pair of size six shoes.
- Nicolas Bourbaki was the collective pen name of a group of French mathematicians who wanted to rewrite the book on mathematics--literally. They were rather successful, and Bourbaki approach to mathematics, based on set theory, had a profound effect on the study of higher math in the 20th century. Until quite recently, only a few members of the group were known by name.
- The website of the German national legislature has a profile for the politician J. M. Mierscheid, detailing his rise from humble beginnings to his current position. In actuality, those humble beginnings actually appear to have been as a fictional person invented by politicians in the 1920s as a way of not paying restaurant bills. Over the years, various people have issued press releases and articles in his name so as to perpetuate him, to the extent that the authorities now play along.
- Dean Andrew, the lawyer hired to defend Lee Harvey Oswald before he was murdered, described a meeting with a "Clay Bertrand" who got him the job. Despite Andrew being a notorious fibber and later admitting the story was a lie, when Jim Garrison launched his investigation of the assassination, he latched onto the idea that the name was an alias of businessman Clay Shaw, pretty much entirely because of the first name and Shaw being homosexual. Oliver Stone's JFK takes the idea and runs with it, making many assassination buffs cry.
- When the comedian Ronnie Barker wanted to try writing for The Frost Report (the sketch show he was appearing in at the time), he decided to write under a pseudonym so that his sketches would be accepted on their merit. The ruse worked and 'Gerald Wiley' became one of the most highly regarded writers of the show. The cast and crew speculated as to who he really was (names such as Alan Ayckbourn and Tom Stoppard were suggested). Ronnie Barker kept up the pretense, occasionally criticizing the quality of the writing and at one point when Ronnie Corbett tried to buy the rights to one sketch, telling Corbett that the price 'Wiley' was asking was far too high.
- This is the origin of the term "John Doe" (and Jane Doe and other such variants) being used as a placeholder name for unidentified persons. According to English Common Law at least two witnesses were needed for criminal proceedings, so prosecutors would occasionally put the name on the books for unimportant trials.
- In 1943 a ruse was conducted to trick the Germans into believing the invasion of southern Europe would start with Greece instead of Sicily. In Operation Mincemeat, a homeless man's corpse was given the fictional identity of a Royal Marine named Major William Martin, his body was planted with fake documents detailing the planned invasion of Greece and he was dropped off the coast of German-allied Spain. The Germans were completely taken in and redirected vital military units from Sicily to Greece, ensuring the success of the Sicilian Invasion. The subterfuge was so cunning that "Major Martin's" body was planted with fake letters from his 'fiancée' as well as facsimile concert stubs and restaurant receipts. The story later became a book and a movie, under the name The Man Who Never Was.
- Take Up to Eleven later in the war with Operation Fortitude. The idea here was to fool the Germans into thinking the Invasion of Europe (D-Day) would happen at Calais and NOT Normandy. To this end the Allies invented an entire ARMY and put actual General George S. Patton in charge of it. The ruse worked very well as the Nazis kept A LOT of equipment away from Normandy and even thought NORMANDY was a ruse to distract them from the REAL invasion yet to come at Calais.
- A prank at Brown University several years ago played with this trope. A club dedicated to practical jokes (or something like that) picked a random freshman at the beginning of the year and began posting on school forums and message boards about how amazed and excited they were that he actually went to their school: "omg, can you believe it?", "I think I saw him in the lunchline!", "it's so cool, he goes here", etc, etc, etc. After only a month or two, practically everyone at the school knew the guy's name and face and that he was famous (though nobody was ever quite sure for what). The freshman target himself was probably the most confused by the whole thing until he finally ran into one of the perpetrators who explained what had been going on months later, but enjoyed the attention and minor acclaim for most of his time in college none-the-less.
- Joan Pujol Garcia, to the British, agent Garbo, and to the Nazi's Arabel was a WWII spy, well, sorta. You see he never did any 'real' espionage. With the aid of his British handler Tomás Harris he did is he made up an almost entirely fictitious spy ring which had 27 fake individuals and the only real person in the ring was Joan. Joan tried to get hired by the british, 3 times in fact. This didn't work so he went to the Nazis to (supposedly) work for them and became agent Arabel. He then gave the Nazis useful but publicly available information there by gaining there trust, and while there were some mistakes, they weren't noticed. And then he successfully became a what is known as walk-in (basically someone who goes to a country, embassy or the like and asks to be a spy for them) for the British. Before he successfully joined the British, they thought his his information was legit (they intercepted at least some of it) and they launched a spy hunt. Anyways he joined the Brits and they used him to feed the nazis information, as he hoped. Sometimes they needed to give the legit information for trust reasons. This obviously this was handled with care, for example one of his imaginary spies 'sent him' useful information, but due to an 'unfortunate and entirely coincidental' mail mishap, it arrived to late for the Nazis to use it. Agent Arabel even got an iron cross, second class (which requires the Führer's personal authorization) for his contribution to the war effort, which would have been been bestowed upon him personally by the Hitler himself, if it wouldn't have blown his cover. One of his fictitious members was to well placed, so they killed him, and put his name in the obituary of a British newspaper. He told the nazis of the 'tragedy', who then proceeded to send the imaginary widow flowers. Said imaginary spy was replaced his imaginary wife. His cover lasted so long that Hitler died not knowing his favored spy Agent Arabel, was a double agent, let alone never loyal from the start. You can read about this amazing tale including some of the fake spies several places, one of which is here https://www.mi5.gov.uk/output/agent-garbo.html
- Nat Tate, supposedly a famous artist who destroyed most of his work before killing himself, whose "biography" was written by William Boyd. In reality, Boyd seems to have just wanted to make fun of art critics. Only one editor at the book's launch party realized it was a hoax; he realized something was off when everyone except him claimed that yes, of course they were familiar with Tate and his work.
- Similar to the fictional student is the fake building once created on the UBC campus in Vancouver. Students in the psychology and sociology programs inserted a non-existent building into the campus maps and records; the hoax remained undetected until the next semester when instructors assigned classrooms in the fictitious building were unable to find it, despite the alleged location of the building being in clear view of the front of the campus' primary administrative building.
- best known for Prokofiev's suite for the film based on it