The Unknown Known

WHY IS THIS MAN SMILING?

unknownknownIn The Fog of War (2003), Errol Morris put former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara in front of a camera and he revealed himself as a person living in a perpetual gray zone. The same feat is accomplished here with Donald Rumsfeld, George W. Bush’s Pentagon chief for five years. Once again, this is essentially one man talking (which is fascinating enough), but Morris also illustrates “Rummy’s” words and history with archive footage, reenactments and brilliant graphics. Focus lies on the Iraq War, but by examining Rumsfeld’s earlier career a red line emerges – mistakes made in the past continue to be made by those who refuse to learn. Rumsfeld has charisma to spare, but his smirks and empty playing with words only add to the sense that he’s digging his own grave before our eyes.

2014-U.S. 103 min. Color. Produced by Amanda Branson Gill, Robert Fernandez, Errol Morris. Directed by Errol Morris. Music: Danny Elfman.

Last word: “I don’t know how many people have asked me if I have read Orwell on language and politics, which, as it turns out, I have. Orwell was fascinated by how language could be used to obscure an argument, confuse an argument, debase an argument. But the idea in Orwell was always that someone in control was using it to manipulate others, to trick others. Here, I often think that language is being used not just simply to trick others but also, in Rumsfeld’s case, to trick oneself. Near the end of the movie, he’s talking as though he can fix everything that’s gone wrong if he can just come up with the correct terminology. Maybe it’s going to require the redefinition of a few dozen words or so, but in the end he can make it look just fine – just through a little redistricting of terminology and definitions.” (Morris, Esquire)

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