Showtime’s ‘American Rust’ is a melancholy drama set in a town in the Rust Belt of Pennsylvania. Taking viewers deep into the town’s dreary existence, the show builds ample atmosphere before delving into a murky killing, for which a young boy is blamed. The town’s chief of police, who has a romantic connection to the boy’s mother and is in charge of the investigation, then faces a dilemma that forms the show’s central plot. The story is a nuanced, small-town tale set in a hyper-realistic backdrop that seems tragically authentic. So how much of ‘American Rust’ is actually based on a true story? Let’s find out.
Is American Rust a True Story?
No, ‘American Rust’ is not based on a true story. The show is based on the 2009 novel of the same name by Philipp Meyer and was subsequently created for television by Dan Futterman. Set in the fictional town of Buell, Pennsylvania, the show and the novel are based in a town that is past its industrial heyday and now, like its residents, languishes in relative poverty. In the larger scale of the narrative, the town lies in the rural region known as “the Valley,” which consists of dilapidated towns that were formerly industrial powerhouses.
The idea for the show seemingly originated more than a decade ago with actor Jeff Daniels, who plays the central role of Del Harris, the town’s conflicted chief of police. Daniels has wanted to bring the novel to screen ever since he went to a reading in New York City by its author and was struck by how Meyer put the limelight on characters not often seen in popular media. The nuanced and authentic portrayal of everyday people seen in the novel was what drew in the actor, who was reminded of the people he knew from Michigan, where he spent a large part of his life.
Meyer, too, grew up in a blue-collar neighborhood of Baltimore and saw firsthand how large manufacturing industries like steel, auto, textile, which had flourished in earlier decades and supported a burgeoning middle-class, slowly declined. The people that worked in these industries faced a similar decline in fortunes, resulting in large-scale unemployment and general disillusionment. The theme of people being failed by the American Dream, especially blue-collar workers in the manufacturing sector, resonates strongly in Meyer’s novel and likely comes from his own observations and experiences.
Hence, the project finally began to come to fruition when Daniels enlisted Dan Futterman to pen a television adaptation of the novel. With a goal to capture the everyday life of rural Pennsylvania, the writer used Meyer’s novel to create the foundation of the show and then branched off into new storylines for some of the characters. In his work, as seen with the show’s central premise of the conflicted chief of police, Futterman works in one of the themes he keeps returning to in his work of whether someone can love a person and still continue to use them for their own selfish means.
‘American Rust’ is a fictional tale that nonetheless shines the light on a very real section of American society— blue-collar workers who have suffered because of the declining manufacturing sector. Amidst this backdrop, the show’s creator has weaved a nuanced plot and populated it with layered fictional characters, resulting in a show that feels surprisingly lifelike and effectively portrays the economic and social malaise that has struck the once legendary industrial towns of the Rust Belt.
Read More: Where is American Rust Filmed?