Errol Morris stages another title bout with a former US Secretary of Defense.
Errol Morris (USA, TIFF Docs)
Sunday, September 8, 6:45 p.m.
TIFF Bell Lightbox 1 (350 King Street West)
Tuesday, September 10, 9 a.m.
The Bloor Hot Docs Cinema (506 Bloor Street West)
A decade after he profiled former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, Errol Morris applies his mild interrogation techniques to Donald Rumsfeld. Though The Unknown Known‘s effect is often one of deja vu—Morris’s stylistic ticks, like slow-motion shots of objects moving through the air, are here in full force—this is still a vital attempt to pin down a notoriously slippery architect of post-9/11 American foreign policy.
The title is a play on Rumsfeld’s infamous declaration, when pressed to talk about whether it would be worthwhile for the U.S. to go to war with Iraq absent any proof that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction, that there were “known knowns,” “known unknowns,” and “unknown unknowns.” Morris makes a show of how this bit of euphemistic wordplay was characteristic of a man who sent staffers countless memos about dictionary definitions of terms, always eager to slip out whatever logical backdoor he could find. That much we already knew, but the film’s big contribution to the historical record might be in the way it reveals the extent to which Rumsfeld saw much of his work for the Department of Defense in the same light, as a game to be won on rhetorical grounds.