Errol Morris, in Five Takes
His films have won an Oscar and freed a man from life in prison, and now he’s made the most provocative movie yet about the Iraq war. A guided tour through the singular mind and occasionally madcap methods of Cambridge’s cinematic savant.
Take 5: Errol the Provocateur
Near the end of SOP, Sabrina Harman declares, “I just don’t know what I would’ve done different, put in the same situation.” She pauses slightly, then: “Looking back all the way up, I wouldn’t have joined the military….” The remorse is palpable, but there’s no apology, no jeremiad against her former superiors. Despite the initial criticism, Morris himself remains unapologetic for the film’s lack of closure. He’s content to ask his questions and let people tell their stories, just as he’s done throughout his career.
Morris: I can’t tell you how many people have come out of this movie and said, “Well, they didn’t apologize, they’re not sorry, and they’re bad people.” For me, it’s something very different. They’ve been destroyed by this. The entire failure of the Iraq war has been blamed on them. No, these people are not lily white. They were involved in stuff that was beastly. But the worst part of it was the stuff that was policy.
Hardie: Errol’s movies are about lifting the rock to see what’s underneath. They’re more about exposing ideas and allowing the viewers to make up their mind about what they’re seeing. Here, he just happens to be lifting the rock on Abu Ghraib.
Williams: With Mr. Death and The Fog of War, the best comments I ever got were “I saw the movie last night, and now it’s the third day later and I’m still discussing it with somebody.” That’s what I think is unique about Errol’s movies. It’s not like you come out and say, “Okay, where do you want to eat now?” It always brings up some topic of discussion. That’s what I imagine is his goal.
Kelikian: He loves controversy: He is engaged by it, and he engages it. Errol means his films to be controversial, because they’re never black and white—there’s always that gray area.
Morris: Every day we get the New York Times and the Boston Globe. It comes to the house, and you open it up, and you shudder for a whole variety of reasons. It’s an awareness that the world has gone to hell, at least for me, and one doesn’t really know what to do about it. I guess my solution to that, my very, very small partial solution to that, is I made this movie.