Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara (2003)

The various forms of media used in this documentary memorialize Robert S. McNamara’s discrete experience as Secretary of Defense under both President John F. Kennedy and President Lyndon B. Johnson. Like the Kennedy Administration, in 1961 McNamara was affirmed to the White House with the ambition of forming a greater America. His reputation became concurrently clear (as he seemed a knowledgable, tactful executive) and unclear (as he too appeared detached and egotistical). In attempt to comprehend the mortal and methodized predicament of the Vietnam War, film director Errol Morris holds an interview with the former Secretary of Defense (1916-2009). His documentary of the man is subsequently named The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara. The film is uniquely personal (as plenty of Morris’ films are). 

The archival footage of the Vietnam War experience shares perhaps as much film time as the footage of Morris’ interview with McNamara, yet it is the latter who is the dominant fascination of the film.  

Throughout the interview, I wavered upon whether I could sympathize with Robert S. McNamara as a human being. Nonetheless, did his involvement in the Vietnam War cause him to qualify as a monster, rather than a human being? Considerably many Americans regarded him as a major figure for blame. If he shares his personal account, will his actions and reactions be justified? Is this man at all worthy of clemency from this particularly black moment in American history, especially after the amount of time that has past? Has he been falsely accused?!--As the viewer, these were the questions that I asked before, during, and despite the viewing. 

In attempt to fathom Robert S. McNamara’s personality, I seemed to conjecture that he, at some point unknown to everyone other than him, checked out--socially, mentally. I myself digress on mostly every thought and more in my speech, therefore, I can possibly conceive the irregular ties of conversation humans tend to make. But I have to say “But...” in regards to Robert S. McNamara. He appears, to me, that for much of his life he has convinced himself to be exceptionally evasive in nature. Perchance the most candid statement he makes to Morris (followed by a reminiscent grin) is of the role of interviewee: Answer a question according to how you wish it were asked. Another statement in similar taste is his line, “We see what we want to believe”.  Essentially, I feel McNamara was living, breathing, speaking, and worst of all thinking crookedly. 

By some means, perhaps Errol Morris was unsure how to regard McNamara. Morris’ use of close ups and medium close ups can easily be regarded as an artistic expression of his desire to want to crack McNamara; to finally get to the truth of what happened and what was he thinking(?!) out of the man. I share in that desire. 

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