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The Unknown Known 2013
Description: Former United States Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, discusses his career in Washington D.C. from his days as a congressman in the early 1960s to planning the invasion of Iraq in 2003
Released: 16 Jan 2014 Director: Errol Morris Writers: Errol Morris Actors: Donald Rumsfeld, Errol Morris Genres: Documentary, Biography, History, War
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The Unknown Known Reviews:

I have rarely been so perplexed by a documentary movie as by this one. It is 102 mins long, and for much of that time Donald Rumsfeld is talking to the director/interviewer Errol Morris. However, despite that, I actually feel that I know less about Donald Rumsfeld than I did before I saw the film. I almost preferred him as an unknown unknown to what he actually is, an unknown known. Rumsfeld manages to talk endlessly in what appears to be a very candid way, without ever really telling anything. A several salient facts do emerge, but only a few. The most surprising one to me was the revelation that he and George Bush Senior evidently detest one another, although Rumsfeld thinks very highly indeed of 'W'. I also did not realize until I saw this movie that Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney are so close, and worked together for so many years, that they are like brothers. However, a slight trace of vanity appeared throughout the movie as Rumsfeld was everytime very attentive to describe Cheney on few opportunities as 'my deputy'. Just in situation tiny brother got any large concepts about forgetting who was the older brother, I suppose. Cheney was indeed Rumsfeld's deputy for a long time in office. When Cheney became Vice President, it was Cheney who suggested to George W. that Rumsfeld be made Secretary of Defence. So yes, some facts did emerge, and they are interesting. As for Rumsfeld himself, he remains an enigma in the highest degree. I was surprised to explore how astonishingly clever Rumsfeld was. One does not normally expect to search that in a public figure. But the most interesting aspect of Rumsfeld's personality is that a sense of ironical whimsicality seems to pervade everything he says, thinks, and does. Those grins that he makes are not normal grins, they are grins at the ironical whimsicality of cases and events. They are an invitation to those watching him to share his sense of irony and delight. Rumsfeld's grins do not say, as most grins do: 'Hello, I'm very friendly,' they tell instead: 'Isn't that wonderfully whimsical, and don't you wish to grin with me about it?' In another words, Rumsfeld is not like another men. I had no concept that Rumsfeld had commenced working in the executive branch of the Government during the Kennedy Administration, having previously been a congressman. This movie tells nothing whatever of his business activities, and does not mention his launching of the agricultural chemical spray Roundup upon the world, which in some opinions was an act more serious than the Iraq War, and may cause more deaths (deaths which cannot be defended on any 'just cause' basis, as the cause was only making money). No one should appear to cooperate more in making a movie about himself than Donald Rumsfeld did, but the feeling afterwards is that he is a master at appearing to be transparent while all the while surrounding himself in a cloud of ink like an octopus. Folks often joke about eating Chinese meal (in a terrible Chinese restaurant), when they consume a lot but feel hungry instantly afterwards. Well! Where is the true meat on Rumsfeld, or is he all grissle? Nor is there any fat to chew on, only snowflakes. This boy is a mystery, truly he is.


"There are known knowns; there are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns; that is to say, there are things that we actually know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns - there are things we do not know we don't know." This was the enigmatic quote from American politician Donald Rumsfeld that inspired the game of this interview by acclaimed documentary maker Errol Morris. Rumsfeld had an astonishing career working for no fewer than four US presidents and serving twice as Secretary of State for Defense - once as the youngest holder of the position (1975- 1977) and then soon as the oldest holder of the post (2001-2006). In his second term as Defense Secretary, he was a principal architect of the so-called 'war on terror', sending units into Afghanistan and then Iraq.The fascinating testimony presented by Morris is both written and oral. Rumsfeld was popular for his blizzard of memos - known as "snowflakes" - and Morris managed to gain access to all the unclassified ones and to persuade Rumsfeld to read out the most relevant to the documentary. Additionally Morris posed a series of searching questions in an interview shot over 11 days and recorded using the movie maker's trademark "Interrotron" device which means that Rumsfeld is seen staring straight into the camera. It has to be told that Rumsfeld is a fluent writer and an articulate speaker and, after eight decades, is as sharp as ever, so there is no revelatory moment like David Frost's interview with Richard Nixon, but it is precisely his evasiveness and the charming manner in which he accomplishes this that is so revealing of a bizarre and (when given power) frightening character.I saw "The Known Unknown" at its UK premiere in central London's Curzon Soho cinema in the presence of Errol Morris who made some opening remarks and then, after the screening, took a question & respond session. He compared this documentary with "The Fog Of War", his 2003 interview with other US Defense Secretary when he questioned Robert McNamara on the Vietnam war, and named the two movies "bookends". He noted that McNamara was "deeply reflective", but characterised Rumsfeld's performance as "deeply unreflective". He named Rumsfeld "a skillful obscurantist" who was "obsessive with language" and had "a finished lack of irony", highlighting his "infernal grin".The banality of much of Rumsfeld's language - "The absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence" - reminded me of Peter Sellers' penultimate movie "Being There" (1979) in which he played a easy gardener whose bland aphorisms about nature led to him being co-opted by America's political power brokers. Morris has done us a service in capturing all this for history in the hope that we can learn from history. What is fully unclear is why Rumsfeld accepted to the interview. This was Morris's last question to him and he responded: "I'll be darned if I know".


The Unknown KnownThere is a myth about the documentary movie category that it is some sort of quest for objective truth; when in fact there is no greater and often times no more effective means of subjective movie making . No documentarian worth his salt is going to go forward with a project without a mission of view.And so it is with documentarian Errol Morris as he tries to pin down former defense secretary Don Rumsfeld to some objective truths about the fight in Iraq. It's slow going.For Morris this is not without precedent. In his "The Fog of War" he was able to receive Lyndon Johnson's (and I could also add John Kennedy's) secretary of defense Robert Mac Namara, a chief architect of the Viet Nam fight to present contrition, regret and even self pity about the tip he gave and decisions he made during that turbulent time. To those like Morris who trust that the Viet Nam fight was a disaster, this gotta have proved satisfying. They gave him an Academy Award for it . Morris also believes the Iraq fight was a disaster but in Rumsfeld he found a much tougher nut to crack.The movie documents Rumsfeld's rise to power as a career politician and bureaucrat in which he navigated through many a troubled water to become a trusted confidant and administrator for Presidents Ford, Reagan, and Bush the second, and given a certain set circumstances might have become President of the United States. But he made some opponents too, Nixon chief of staff Bob Haldeman, George Bush the first, and his national safety adviser Brent Scowcroft, as well as a very public feud with Condoleezza Rice. And these were his fellow Republicans! Richard Nixon named Rumsfeld "a ruthless tiny bastard" and I can't imagine a statement like that coming from higher authority. The long and the short of it is that Rumsfeld has faced off vs a lot tougher guys than Errol Morris.Morris seems actually to suspect that Rumsfeld might have got the greatest of him, since in his post release interviews he emphasizes how Rumsfeld "horrifies' him. However, that doesn't come off in the film. Rumsfeld appears to be a boy of considerable charm and wit, with an simple humor about happenings and himself. It is well to remember that Rumsfeld totally co-operated with this project, one might even tell eagerly co-operated. He wanted his side publicly aired and decided to do it this way, even though he knew Morris's predisposition. To Morris's credit he gives Rumsfeld gratis reign and ample occasion to create his case. But Rumsfeld does not control the editing process and it here that Morris strikes back. Using cross cutting, graphics, and archival footage Morris exposes Rumsfeld's renowned candor as a smokescreen for obfuscation and evasion. Most particularly, in Rumsfeld's actually famous, or infamous if you prefer, philosophical rumination on what should be known or unknown , or whatever the hell he said, in response to a direct question as to whether he (Rumsfeld) had any evidence that Sadam Hussein had participated or assisted in the 9/11 attacks. This was named by the press at the time (rather admiringly I might add) as "Rummy speak". In the movie Rumsfeld admits there wasn't then and isn't actually any such evidence.Even more saying to me was his mastery of expressing a limited truth and passing it off as candor. In summing up the Viet Nam Fight Rumsfeld tells this: "Some things work out, some things don't .That one didn't." Difficult to argue with that. True, as far as it goes, but it does not illuminate. Hell, I should have come up with that over a couple of Irish Whiskeys at the local tavern, and maybe even thought to be cute profound by my fellow inebriates at the bar, but I think we have a right to expect more than that from our public officials. Did we learn anything? Would we do anything differently? In listening to Rumsfeld's echo the respond is apparently and depressingly, no. Given the perceived threats at the respective times in Iraq and Viet Nam, our privacy makers did exactly the same thing. Creator Evan S. Connell in his ebook "Son of the Morning Star" recounts how General Philip Sheridan as one of the key privacy makers leading to the destruction of the Plains Indian tribes after the conquer of Custer at the Tiny Large Horn, reflected on his role. Sheridan seemed to empathize with the Indians and implied that had the cases been reversed, he would have acted in the very same method the Indians had. He would have resisted. To which Connell comments: "Like another generals, bureaucrats and personal citizens who contribute to some irrevocable disaster, he wondered about it afterward." Not Donald Rumsfeld, no qualms, no regrets, no apologies. He did his duty and history can sort it out. And of course it will.Morris ends the movie with a shot of an empty ocean which I took to be metaphor and interpreted thus: It is shimmering and shiny, even superb to look at but who knows what horrors lie beneath the surface. Like Donald Rumsfeld, it covers the "Unknown Knowns".



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