The Unknown Known

A couple weeks ago, I went to the Chicago International Film Festival to see The Unknown Known,  a documentary film by director Errol Morris. The film centers around  Donald Rumsfeld, the former secretary of defense for several presidential terms in the White House, most controversially during the Iraq war.

The film is sliced between interviews with Rumsfeld, as he reads and discusses his “snowflakes”, the affectionate term for his internal White House memos and old press conference footage.

Words play a large part in this film with definitions both from Rumsfeld himself in his “snowflakes” or through Morris’ artistic use of definitions as Rumsfeld speaks.

Throughout the film, Mr. Rumsfeld repeatedly contradicted himself when pressed with questions about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. At one point Rumsfeld stated, that there was never any public confusion on  Saddam Hussein’s involvement on “The War On Terrorism,” Morris then cuts to a clip of Rumsfeld at a press conference immediately contradicting that statement by including Hussein with Iraq Terrorists. Even his definition of his phrase “unknown known” changes throughout the film.

The movie does a lot of this, comparing Rumsfeld’s memories and memos with old footage during the time. In a memo to former President of the United States, Geogre W. Bush, he writes ” ‘The absence of evidence isn’t the evidence of absence,” in regards to whether or not to invade Iraq for weapons of mass destruction.

In between this, Rumsfeld reflects on his life as a political figure, toward the end tearing up while speaking about a visit to Walter Reed Hospital and seeing wounded soldiers.

The movie provides glimpses into Rumfeld’s thought process and even a slight predication on the possibility of September 11th-like attack happening before it does.  What it doesn’t do, however, is give great insight into the man, often during interviews Rumsfeld plays the perfect political role, rarely admitting fault for his actions just merely justifying them. One can not tell whether or not Rumsfeld truly stands by his decisions or if he is far to stubborn to admit his was wrong. At the end of this film you leave with more questions than answers.


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