Movie of the Day – The Fog of War
May 20, 2011 4 Comments
Honestly, I am not sure why I had this particular documentary on my mind today. I didn’t discuss about politics today nor did I have some inkling of wanting to choose a documentary for today’s post. As I was skimming across my film collection, The Fog of War just leaped out to me today. I don’t know why I lingered on the documentary, but out of all the documentaries that I own, this is one is one of my favorites. I usually enjoy social documentaries, as the medium can be rather subjective and one-sided in what they aim to show. War documentaries are the biggest offender of subject matter and biased lean, sometimes though. The Fog of War is a different kind of documentary, as it is not really a war documentary, but a biographical documentary on the life and times of Robert McNamara, former Secretary of Defense. Now I am a fan of Errol Morris documentaries, in particular I have a fondness for “The Thin Blue Line” and “A Brief History of Time” which covered the life of Stephen Hawking. Both are brilliantly done documentaries and Morris has this gift of presenting a riveting story and compelling evidence and facts.
The Fog of War is mostly about Robert McNamara, from his early upbringings and to rise in the military world and to his eventual post as Secretary of Defense. McNamara talks and posits candidly about a number of topics, ranging from his early role as a military strategist in WWII, the brink of the Cuban Missile Crisis and finally about his involvement in the Vietnam War. Errol Morris brings his unique documentary style to frame McNamara in a very personal light. The documentary also covers his thoughts about the current state of warfare and the international security of the US. It is extremely rare to find someone who will talk so openly about decisions that he has made in his past life that some would find unfavorable.
I found this documentary completely mesmerizing. Errol Morris gave us such an intimate view on the life of a man who most people don’t even know exists. While this is a documentary that has central theme of war, to see and hear about how man raised through wars and his eventual handling of armed conflicts is fascinating. The intimate style of documentary gives us glimpses of emotions that otherwise might be lost in a traditional documentary. Robert McNamara opens his soul to his views about the state of warfare and what he believes were the right decisions.
McNamara is an interesting individual. You don’t see many historical figures, particularly military figures, admit that they made mistakes, that is not to say he outright admits mistakes, but rather defends his time as Secretary of Defense. The most intimate dialog takes places during the discussion of the Vietnam War and what some would call him as the architect of the war. McNamara’s brevity and insight into the side of combat, the diplomatic and strategy side, that is rarely seen to the public. His discussion about international relations during the Vietnam War shaped his views on the state of war, whether it made him humble or not is a moot point.
Overall this is a highly recommended documentary. Errol Morris crafts and presents to us an intimate view on the life of a complicated individual. I was surprise by how open McNamara was about his actions as Secretary of Defense and being open to discussing about the International Policy of the US. While the dialog that McNamara has with Morris and the audience is framed artistically with Morris’ use of visuals and archival footage to give us a visual sense of the subject matter. Phillip Glass also lends his musical styling to create some emotional tension and accompanying the story of Robert McNamara.