An Errol Morris film engages Rumsfeld through his memosRoundup
tags: Donald Rumsfeld, Fred Kaplan, Movie
Errol Morris recalls that when he first met Donald H. Rumsfeld, he asked that former defense secretary for President George W. Bush what he thought of “The Fog of War,” Mr. Morris’s 2003 Oscar-winning documentary about Robert S. McNamara, another towering Pentagon chief toppled by a misguided war.
Mr. Rumsfeld said that he disliked it because McNamara, who spent much of the film regretting past mistakes, had nothing to apologize for.
In short, a film about this man wasn’t likely to reveal any deep, dark secrets. Instead, Mr. Morris decided to focus on the memos that Mr. Rumsfeld wrote — “snowflakes,” they were called, because he blanketed his staff with thousands of them, like blizzards of white paper — as a Rosetta stone to his subject’s character.
The resulting film, “The Unknown Known,” which opens on Friday, is structured much like “The Fog of War.” For 96 minutes (cut down from 34 hours of conversation), Mr. Rumsfeld looks into the camera, answering, or finessing, questions about Iraq, his work for several presidents, the nature of truth and more.
Throughout the dialogue, Mr. Morris uses the memos as the opening wedges of inquiry. Several times, his camera pans vast stacks of file cabinets, while Danny Elfman’s score (like Philip Glass’s for “The Fog of War” but less minimalist, more celestial) cues a choir to chant ominously.
The goal, Mr. Morris said in a phone interview in late November, when the film was on the festival circuit, was “to tell history from the inside out, not from the outside in,” to explore “how Donald Rumsfeld sees himself and accounts for himself.”
Yet this technique has its limits when confronting a figure so practiced in evasion and so averse to introspection.
McNamara was 85 when “The Fog of War” was made, but he was still sharp, more than three decades beyond his own public disgrace, and eager to recite the lessons he’d since learned. He was deceptive, or at best forgetful, about the Vietnam War and the Cuban missile crisis, recounting his role as more dovish than the archives indicate. But the film was a fascinating, almost tragic portrait of a man still lost in the fog, grappling with his legacy.
No one could expect Mr. Rumsfeld, now 81, to engage in self-criticism, certainly not in front of a camera. Still, some of his replies are so vapid that it’s hard to tell whether he’s slippery or shallow.
Asked whether invading Iraq was a mistake, Mr. Rumsfeld plaintively says, “I guess time will tell.”
comments powered by Disqus
- Rubio Surges Into Second In New Hampshire
- Branstad Says Cruz Ran ‘Unethical’ Campaign
- Christie Highlights Santorum’s Endorsement of Rubio
- Portman Comes Out Against Trade Deal
- Megyn Kelly Gets a Book Deal
- A Big List of the Bad Things Clinton Has Done
- An Unambiguous Sign Sanders Won Last Night’s Debate
- Still Friends at the End
- Quote of the Day
- Trump Still Leads as Clinton Slips
- Clinton Can’t Shake Image as Wall Street’s Friend
- Maddow Doesn’t See Sanders Winning
- Why Does the Media Still Shield Chelsea Clinton?
- Bush Jokes His Mother May Have Abused Him
- Rubio Closes the Gap in New Hampshire
- Tourism spot for Colonial Williamsburg shocks some New Yorkers during Super Bowl 50 for use of 9/11 attack footage
- We asked 6 political scientists if Bernie Sanders would have a shot in a general election
- The price of oil has plummeted and with it Russia’s finances
- Legal scholars at Harvard debate Cruz’s eligibility to serve as president
- Has one of Sally Hemings’s siblings been neglected by history unfairly?
- Retired historian George Dennison remains on the payroll at the U. of Montana while faculty are cut
- The Atlantic profiles exciting ways to teach history
- LDS Church has gone from 0 to 4 historians specializing in women’s history
- American Historical Association protests Turkey’s crackdown on historians and other academics who signed a a petition critical of the Turkish government
- Israeli historian Yair Auron lays out details of a massacre in 1948