Often when it comes to Errol Morris, the more you see, the less you know. Some documentarians aim to answer and resolve, but Morris is almost too content to leave us adrift in ambiguity, regardless of the political, moral, and epistemological repercussions. After a New York Film Festival screening of his last film, the Oscar-winning The Fog of War, the woman seated next to me was angry — violently, vocally angry — at what she perceived to be the film’s sympathetic treatment of Robert McNamara (or should I say, its failure to unequivocally indict him?). I wondered then: why the vitriol? Was it because she disagreed with the film, or because it challenged something she had previously thought she knew to be true? Uncertainty can be an upsetting thing.
Morris’s new film, Standard Operating Procedure, opens with a photograph of a sunset. Many photographs follow — of Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib humiliated, abused, and dead. What could be more certain, more concrete, than a photograph? In Standard Operating Procedure, Morris relentlessly presents photograph after photograph, some of them graphic — a few pornographic — most of them nauseating. I am not sure, ethically, how I feel about Morris displaying these photographs of people humiliated and tortured for our edification, and I can certainly admit this was the least pleasant filmgoing experience I have had in some time, yet the movie feels vital. Click here to read the rest of Chris Wisniewski’s review of Standard Operating Procedure.