Is The Card Counter Based on a True Story?

Writer-director Paul Schrader is known for his stories which have a deft emotional touch and clever metaphors. His feature film ‘The Card Counter’ is a crime drama rooted in guilt and trauma and highlights the director’s keen eye for compelling stories which are inherently tales about human conscience. The movie revolves around William Tell (Oscar Isaac), a former military interrogator haunted by his past and addicted to gambling. He finds a chance at redemption through a young man’s quest for revenge. If you are curious to learn more about the inspiration behind ‘The Card Counter,’ here’s everything that you need to know!

Is The Card Counter Based on a True Story?

No, ‘The Card Counter’ is not based on a true story. The movie is developed from an original concept by Paul Schrader, who also penned the screenplay. Schrader was intrigued by people who regularly visit casinos and gamble on a daily basis. He found the activity zombie-like and wished to explore why someone would choose to live such a lifestyle. This led him to create a complex backstory for the main character influenced by real-world elements.

The most prominent of these real-world influences is the main character’s connection to the Abu Ghraib prison. Opened in the 1950s, the prison is infamous for the inhumane treatment of prisoners who were forced to live in excruciating conditions and were tortured. In the 1980s, it was used by Saddam Hussein and then for US political prisoners until it became defunct in 2014. In the movie, William is trained in techniques of torture by Major John Gordo (Willem Dafoe) at the Abu Ghraib prison. It also features some really disturbing sequences depicting torture.

In an interview with GQ, Schrader explained the reason behind his decision to include scenes of torture. “It’s a nightmare, so this is the torture of memory. And I needed something in the story to raise the stakes of everything because the viewer started to figure out the level at which this is working. I had no desire to compete with films that have done Abu Ghraib. But I needed to show the viewer this memory.” These scenes add a layer of humanity to William and help us connect with his feelings of guilt and remorse.

While the character, William Tell, wasn’t inspired by any real figures, Schrader revealed that he studied the life of Charles Graner while researching for the film. A former member of the US Army, Graner was convicted on the charges of prisoner abuse during his posting at the Abu Ghraib prison. “So I didn’t base it on him, per se, but the fact that there was such a person, gives you the kind of freedom to imagine it, as opposed to someone saying, ‘It could’ve never happened,'” Schrader said in the same interview.

Ultimately, ‘The Card Counter’ is a fictional story rooted in a piece of human history. It is an elaborate character study that uses gambling as a metaphor for a man who has committed unforgivable acts. His journey towards redemption makes the narrative emotionally resonant, while his past is a reflection of a dark corner of our society.

Read More: Where Was The Card Counter Filmed?