The Echo Of Wormwood


America’s prime serious documentarian is Errol Morris, a man who does not merely recount events to a timeline but who brings a profound artistic sensibility to the gradual unfolding of truth. From ‘The Thin Blue Line’ and ‘The Fog of War’ to ‘Standard Operating Procedure’, the story of Abu Ghraib, Morris’s films are mood pieces shrouded in layers of moral ambiguity, and thus reflect life as it is experienced now more than ever. He has spent a lifetime combining his investigative skills with his interest in photography, atmospheres and visuals to create haunting narratives that linger on in the mind.

‘Wormwood’ may lift him out of the intellectual ghetto and bring him his largest audience because it is on Netflix, a better longform platform for his brand of storytelling. Even so, newcomers will be surprised to discover that Morris is less interested in closure than in opening wider debates. With six episodes ‘Wormwood’ requires a deal of curiosity and patience, but the reward, especially in the final episode, is well worth the journey. Morris uses recreations, clips, news footage and interviews to reach the core of a narrative that incorporates Hamlet, LSD, brainwashing, executions and the rewriting of political history.

‘Wormwood’ is the story of Eric Olson’s 64-year investigation into his father’s fatal fall from a New York hotel room window. An army scientist at the height of the Cold War, Frank Olson’s death opened up questions about the US’s hidden role in the world from the 1950s onwards, but it is becoming increasingly relevant to the events of the present day.

Frank Olsen’s death is repeated and changed and repeated, with Peter Sarsgaard playing Frank in moving recreations, and Eric, his real-life son, intelligent, thoughtful and obsessed, explaining what happened since.

One of the key moments of this lengthy, slowly-unfolding meditation on the manipulation of truth comes when Frank’s widow and children are suddenly invited to the White House to receive an official apology from the POTUS. Blinded somewhat by their extraordinary trip to the Oval Office, they later come to realise that they have once more been bamboozled by the state, which stage-managed the trip to determine that the truth will never get out, because the implications of what it exposes are so far-reaching.

The story has a strange echo today, after the parents of Harry Dunn, the boy killed by Anne Sacoolas, the wife of a US intelligence officer who claimed diplomatic immunity and fled the UK, were suddenly taken to meet Donald Trump. At the White House it seemed the POTUS and his team were keen to pull a reality TV-style stunt on them by brokering a meeting in front of the press with the woman who killed their child (media coverage of which in the US has been overshadowed by the impeachment inquiry.)

Far from being starstruck, the Dunn family resolutely refused to meet their son’s killer, who was in the next room, holding to the position that they would only sit down with Sacoolas with lawyers and other mediators present. They came away deeply unimpressed by Trump’s stunt, and in doing so differed from the Olsen family, whose meeting with Gerald Ford in 1975 led them to believe it was the end of their lost loved one’s journey. The Dunn’s case, and where it goes next, will doubtless be followed by Morris with interest.

‘For me,’ Morris says, ‘truth is about the relationship between language and the world: a correspondence idea of truth.’

The story of ‘Wormwood’ may begin in 1953, but its legacy will continue.

12 comments on “The Echo Of Wormwood”

  1. John Howard says:

    Thanks for the nod in this direction admin. Not heard of him before but will definitely look out for this one.

    Hmmm, 1953, what a good year.

  2. Peter Dixon says:

    Lots of Hornswoggle going on all over Trump’s bizarre machinations.

    The US points to its Constitution as the best way to run a free World economy.

    Ronnie Reagan, Dubya Bush, Trump….why does the world’s biggest democracy allow people with clear mental problems get anywhere near the POTUS job?

    Is there an Illuminati conspiracy? An elite group of rich industrialists who prefer to have an insane puppet in charge?

    Or maybe its just that anyone sane stays well away from the whole poisoned chalice.

    Its really not a good place to be in when the chosen, who are clearly not up to the job, are supported by cleverer people in order to attain or retain power.

  3. admin says:

    In two new books about Cambridge Analytica it’s suggested that the company helped fix the POTUS campaign in order to promote Trump TV, not win a presidency!

  4. Brooke says:

    That may have been what people were told, but CA was in the business of getting Rep. elected. One person who used extensively is/was Cruz, who was front runner until T came along.

  5. Peter Tromans says:

    Peter, undoubtedly there are groups that promote stupid and corrupt politicians for their own advantage. However, there’s also a strange quality in the electorate that attracts us to liars and supposedly strong men who offer foolishly easy answers.

  6. Cornelia Appleyard says:

    ‘ a strange quality in the electorate that attracts us to liars and supposedly strong men who offer foolishly easy answers’

    Some people like to believe that they can have everything they want if they put the correct person in charge.
    Some politicians will tell their audience whatever they want to hear, which can vary from day to day.

    As Groucho Marx said ‘These are my principles. If yoy don’t like them, I have others.’

  7. Brooke says:

    @ Peter and Peter: Strange quality in electorate…yes, but understandable. Reading Hosking’s Trust, which claims that trust is basis for most human interactions; we need to trust (in gods, tribe authorities, trading system, etc.) to reduce anxiety, risk, fear. etc. But all trust systems have inherent dangers. Hosking is insightful about how thin and weak layers of trust are in 21c because institutions are distant and removed from individual contact, thus operating to their own ends while exploiting trust relationships–think financial crisis, facebook, etc. The latter is a master at exploiting tribal/community trust. Hoskin’s work is not a complete answer but good analysis. We’re not stupid–just confused, as more tools like CA and Admin’s data analysts combine to keep us in this state..

  8. John Griffin says:

    I would have thought exploitation of trust and attention distraction were also the stock-in-trade of crime writers, as well as the powerful!
    My experience of politicians in general (close up in the 70s and early 80s) was that mendacity is a given for most, and that trust should be limited and conditional. We are now not dealing with politicians as much as media confections, and as we drift into disconnected relationships with each other and the truth, the capacity for deceit has become almost insuperable for those who still have a moral compass. Witness the revelation of the Panama Papers, showing how our elites were squirreling away their wealth and avoiding tax; nothing happened, simply nothing. Ministers do things that would lead them to resign in shame until recently, then blithely continue – or in the case of Priti Patel, get a top job.
    Moral compass? Morass, more like.

  9. Helen Martin says:

    Of possible interest: Eastern Canada doesn’t care that Mr. Trudeau lied back in Feb. and lost his Justice Minister as a result. Western Canada scattered their votes around (except in Alberta which went Conservative – it’s the oil you know) and Jodi Wilson-Raybold (the victim of Mr. Trudeau’s lies) kept her Vancouver seat as an Independent. The Greens managed to add one to their two seats so they now have three in the House. Next time there will be more because we were busy punishing Mr. Trudeau this time.

  10. Wayne Mook says:

    I see he’s said he is ruling out a coalition, so Helen what id Tru-to-do? What now for the Canada Cons?

    Our head Con is still pushing for his Halloween leaving do It’s odd the leavers were the ones that mainly blocked May and now they have switched and the remainers have gone the other way. Moggy seems to be one of the biggest culprits and has gone a lot quieter of late. it’s all still a horrible mess and the real negotiations haven’t even started yet.


  11. Helen Martin says:

    He’s definitely not making any move toward a coalition and commentators I’ve heard say that his coalition is strong enough (he needs 15 votes beyond his caucus) that he should be able to draw enough votes from other parties – the NDP and Green would vote for any public benefit bill (pharmacare for example) and even the Bloc would vote to protect him from any further investigation into the SNC-Lavellin issue so they may be right. The Conservatives have a history of stabbing their leaders in the back and they are going to fill that charming role of screaming and yelling at anything that costs money and shrieking for tax reductions. They will also claim that anything that hampers the oil industry is anti-western prejudice. I heard an industry spokesman talking about oil production as if they can keep on producing until the underground has been sucked dry. The only reason Trudeau and his Liberals are in as strong a position as they are is that so many of us didn’t want the Conservatives back. I hope he realizes that Mr. Singh and the Greens will get a lot more votes next time around and the Conservatives may be relegated to being merely a regional party. On the other hand voters have very short memories so who knows what 4 years will bring. You have my most sincere sympathy.

  12. Wayne Mook says:

    The short memories are very short here too. But I’m optimistic for the future Helen. It will be interesting to see what happens if Trump really does tear up the NAFTA agreement as threatened, to yourselves, Mexico and the US. For champions of free trade the right in the west really are intent on isolation.


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