The Unknown Known @ The Ross

Donald Rumsfeld

Donald Rumsfeld

Reports that say there’s — that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things that we know that we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don’t know we don’t know.

Clever huh? That is former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld fielding questions about Iraq and weapons of mass destruction at a US Department of Defense News Briefing in February 2002. There are some things you just cannot curry any interest in, and that statement is one of those things. I want to go so far as to say Rumsfeld makes no sense but I won’t. Well, you have to take it apart, examine its pieces, and by the time you unravel the thing, you’re just as befuddled as when you attempted to understand it in the first place. Well, my dear listeners, there is another chance at Rumsfeld’s linguistic jumble thanks to Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker Errol Morris in his interview (or is it a conversation?) with Donald Rumsfeld in his newest documentary The Unknown Known. This documentary is to stand as a companion to The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert McNamara, for which Morris won the Academy Award for Best Documentary in 2003. McNamara is Rumsfeld’s predecessor.

Rumsfeld 2

You know, Rumsfeld has a sense of humor. He’s a likable guy. His former staff may disagree, however. He inundated them when in office with millions of snowflakes or memorandums as he calls them. He kind of reminds you of a distant uncle who promises quarters if you can answer his questions; except, he never pays up.

His personality puts you at ease; he’s even charming in some instances. No matter the questions thrown to him off camera by Morris, Rumsfeld smiles and tosses answers that he believes will suffice; and, he expects you to take him at his word. After all, the subjects are delicate; they cut to the psychological quick of the nation: Pearl Harbor, Vietnam, waterboarding used to torture prisoners, Guantanomo Bay, Iraq, Osama Bin Laden, are just a few. Rumsfeld talks about them as matter of fact consequences of war. Before you know it, the impulse to question or critique Rumsfeld’s views on war and politics and his ruthless approach to same, is crushed and quickly.

The Infamous Rumsfeld Snowflake

The Infamous Rumsfeld Snowflake

But the documentary is not that seamless. Some things slip, and Morris does nothing to catch them in the fall. Instead, he lets Rumsfeld talk … and … talk … and … talk, and if you listen … just listen … what spills onto the screen like marbles onto a hardwood floor is a man skilled in evasion and manipulation with no depth or groove; he’s like alcohol rubbed on skin but the nurse never returns to give you the needle to cure the problem. It’s just there; it evaporates.

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At the end of the day, however, Morris tells a satisfying story AND gives a history lesson about Donald Rumsfeld and his rise to power; but they’re “just the facts ma’am” because Rumsfeld never lets you into his head. Clever, huh? Donald Rumsfeld is the unknown known.

The Unknown Known plays through April 24 at the Ross Media Arts Center in Lincoln.

Also playing at The Ross through April 24 is The Grand Budapest Hotel.

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