Unknown Known: Great Docu from Errol Morris

Explaining his work, the great Oscar-winning documentarian Errol Morris stated in October 2013:

In May of 2011, I sat in a conference room in Washington, D.C. The walls were papered with citations by presidents from Richard M. Nixon to George W. Bush, evidence of a life in power. In front of me was Donald Rumsfeld, a man who had helped persuade the country to go to war with Iraq, a war I strongly opposed. I was there to persuade him to let me make a film about him.

Excerpts from an interview with Morris

There’s a man named Albert Bitterling who tells a story about two sailors who are looking out over the ocean, and one sailor says to the other: “You know, there’s a whole lot of water out there.” And the other sailor says, “Yeah, and that’s just the top of it.”

The water is an expression of the unknown. You are looking out at this shimmering surface of the water, and wondering: What is underneath all that?  That is the mystery I have investigated so many times in my films — what is going on in people’s heads? And what I usually find is self-deception, self-importance and self-satisfaction — phantasmagorical thinking. I spent 33 hours with Donald Rumsfeld.

To say that I came into this movie without strong ideas about Rumsfeld and his policies would be fraudulent and disingenuous, at best. I was very much against the Iraq war, and I still am—I think it was a terrible mistake. But I believe I made this film in the spirit of inquiry, with a genuine desire to investigate, a desire to find out something that I might not have known before.

The Fog of War raises the question: “Is McNamara really sorry? And does being sorry make a whit of difference when we’re talking about the deaths of millions of people?” There is no such doubt about Rumsfeld. He’s unapologetic. He would like us to think that the Bush administration did the best they could in a stressful moment in our history. But more than that, he doesn’t want to show weakness, or to second-guess himself. The movie I have made with Rumsfeld is vastly different from The Fog of War.  It is a character study of a very different kind of character: it is about a mind that appears to be open but may in fact be locked up like a safe.

 For me, The Unknown Known is a deeper movie. It asks: “Do we, as people or as a country, really know who we are and what we’re doing? Or are we all trapped inside a set of ideas, inside an image of ourselves, that prevents us from seeing the truth until it’s too late?”