Is Deliverance (1972) Based on a True Story?

‘Deliverance’ is a 1972 adventure drama that follows Lewis Medlock (Burt Reynolds), an outdoor enthusiast who takes his friends on a canoeing trip. Intent on seeing the Cahulawassee River before it is dammed and turned into a lake, Medlock and his three companions embark on a journey that turns more dangerous than they could have ever imagined.

Directed by John Boorman, ‘Deliverance’ has become a classic for its depiction of the horrors of the wilderness. The film’s visceral scenes tie together a remarkable narrative of adventure. Now, are you wondering if what ‘Deliverance’ depicts events that actually happened in real life? Then let’s take a look for ourselves!

Is Deliverance a True Story?

No, ‘Deliverance’ is not based on a true story. The survival thriller is adapted from a script based on James Dickey’s 1970 eponymous novel, which was not just his debut novel but also marked his shift from poet to author. Although Roman Polanski and Sam Peckinpah were considered to lead the project, John Boorman was ultimately selected. The director made significant changes to the script, which was also penned by Dickey.

Interestingly, Dickey claimed a few times that his novel was inspired by actual events that he experienced, but it appears that most people didn’t take his claims too seriously. Upon being told by the author that “it really happened” while referring to a death in the film, Burt Reynolds stated that he didn’t question him further. Furthermore, Dickey allegedly took Boorman aside and told him that everything in the book had actually happened to him. However, the director went on to say that nothing in the book really happened to Dickey.

Nonetheless, the canoe trip that inspired the book did happen with Dickey and his friend Lewis King, who later came on as technical advisor on the film. The two took a canoe trip together years ago, which Dickey enjoyed so much that he dedicated his novel ‘Deliverance’ to King. Though King doesn’t corroborate that the events of the novel (and subsequent film) did happen in real life, he did share once that Dickey likely drew reference from their encounter with a father and son during the canoeing trip.

There was a good amount of back and forth on the script, with Dickey proclaiming that he once again made modifications to the script after Boorman redid the original document. In the end, the writer said that both he and the director could claim equal credit for the script, which ended up being something that satisfied both of them, at least for a time. There were later reports that Dickey tried to get the film remade because he felt Boorman’s film wasn’t true to his novel.

Despite its made-up narrative, what makes the film especially hard-hitting is its authentic depiction of the nerve-wracking danger that the central characters go through. The grueling production process centered around a turbulent river, and many pivotal scenes were shot without special effects. In fact, Reynolds cracked his hip bone and coccyx while filming a scene in which Lewis goes over a waterfall, while actor Ned Beatty almost drowned in another sequence.

Thus, ‘Deliverance’ is based on a fictional story inspired by the author’s experiences and from a script subsequently embellished by the director. The film’s themes of overcoming adversity and how people react to extreme situations are perfectly depicted through the turbulent river and the characters that decide to follow it in their canoes. On a related note, the filming location also adds to the authenticity and stays faithful to the book’s North Georgia setting. Ultimately, ‘Deliverance’ is a masterfully told fictional tale that has the semblance of a true story.

Read More: Where Was Deliverance Filmed?