Quantcast
Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts

Q&A: Morris on Donald Rumsfeld doc: ‘It’s a horror movie’
First Published Apr 08 2014 09:16 am • Last Updated Apr 11 2014 09:42 am

New York • Errol Morris spent more than 30 hours interviewing Donald Rumsfeld. He sifted through thousands of memos — "snowflakes," Rumsfeld called them — from the former secretary of defense and architect of the Iraq war.

Yet at the conclusion of so much investigation into the mind of Rumsfeld, Morris says he’s left with nothing but the grin of a Cheshire Cat. He calls his latest, thickly ironic documentary, "The Unknown Known," a "fable" about a man stuck "in some Looney Tunes world of his own devising."

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

"The Unknown Known," which opens in theaters Friday, April 11, is in stark contrast to Morris’ Oscar-winning documentary "The Fog of War," about another wartime secretary of defense, Robert McNamara. Whereas McNamara was remorseful about the Vietnam War, Rumsfeld’s views on Iraq and Abu Ghraib are largely unchanged.

In a recent interview over coffee, Morris was still clearly rattled and mystified by Rumsfeld.

Some have said your film fails to reveal more about Rumsfeld.

It doesn’t matter what the question is. It’s never, under any circumstances, going to be answered. I came to a conclusion about all of this — it’s my hunch — that he’s not hiding anything. He’s hiding the fact that he’s hiding nothing. To me it’s a horror movie.

His evasive replies can often be witty and almost comical.

They’re comical except that they involve war, the terrible loss of life, the destabilization of entire areas of the world. Both Iraq and Vietnam for me — I came of age during the Vietnam War — and not to minimize the death and destruction, but part of it for me was the destruction of an idea about America.

Though you’ve done considerable research, this is — like many of your movies — a first-person film. You seem to believe strongly in the power of the interview to unlock mysteries.

It can be, in part — and this has always fascinated me — an interior monologue. It’s not quite interior because it’s being spoken. A friend of mine years ago said to me, "You can’t trust anyone who doesn’t talk a lot because how else would you know what they’re thinking?" Well, maybe that’s true, maybe it isn’t. But how people describe themselves is a powerful way in. It’s a powerful way in to figuring out how they see the world, who they are.


story continues below
story continues below

In the 1970s, you interviewed Ed Gein, the inspiration for "Psycho," at a psychiatric hospital in Wisconsin, and you made your first film about a pet cemetery. What drew you to such subjects?

My father, who was a doctor, died when I was very, very young. I was not even 3 years old when he died. I don’t remember him. Everybody would tell me stories about my father. There were pictures of my father everywhere around the house. Many of the stories were contradictory. There’s a mystery, a really powerful mystery about someone you can’t remember but who was such a central part of your life. I think there were a lot of ingredients there. Concern with the past. My project on Ed Gein was and still will be [titled] "Digging Up the Past."

You seem to have an obsessive nature.

I have these twin obsessions, I’ll fess up: pursuit of truth and the avoidance of truth. A lot of people have said, "Why bother examining this? It’s over and done with." I don’t agree with that sentiment at all. I think it’s really important to examine it. There’s probably more to be learned from untruth than truth, from false belief than from true belief. Maybe there’s more to be learned from nonsense than from non-nonsense.

How would you compare "The Fog of War" and "The Unknown Known"?

[Rumsfeld] gave me a lot of his time. He probably would have given me even more. He’s charming. I like him. And yet in the end, there’s this "but …" that hangs at the end. In the end, I’m left frustrated, dissatisfied and I would have to confess angry. He should be able to do better, and the fact that he was not, given every opportunity to do it, is really frightening. If people want to think of this as my failure to properly interview Donald Rumsfeld, I would say it’s Donald Rumsfeld’s failure to be properly interviewed by me.

Your final question to Rumsfeld is why he granted the interviews. He laughs and says he doesn’t know. Why do you think he did?

In the end, I think it’s vanity. Total self-confidence. You could call it a kind of fearlessness. I spent 20 hours with Robert McNamara, who was far less cooperative than Rumsfeld, far more difficult. But I was dealing with such a different kind of man, really couldn’t be any more unlike Rumsfeld. A man reflective and regretful. A man trying in some way to reckon with his past. And then on the other hand, with Rumsfeld, a man who reckons with nothing.

You’ve interviewed all manner of disturbed individuals, but does Rumsfeld haunt you more than others? Or is that a poor way of putting it?

No, it’s a good way of putting it. I think he does.



Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment


About Reader Comments


Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Videos
Jobs
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Access your e-Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.