Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Wormwood (final episodes)

Errol Morris' Wormwood doesn't exactly develop and the documentary remains both literally and figuratively stalled.  (The room in which the protagonist, Eric Olson, harangues Errol Morris has a big clock on the wall always set to about 2:35 -- the time when Eric's father jumped, or was flung, from a 10th story window in a downtown New York hotel in 1953.)  In the last three episodes, nothing really new is revealed and the malaise merely deepens; the Stygian gloom gets gloomier and the ambiguities get more ambiguous. 

Proceedings reach their utmost delirium in the 4th episode when Eric Olson has his father's corpse exhumed so that the body can be examined by a forensic scientist for signs of wrongdoing.  Olson is a great talker and he dramatizes an awful dilemma -- he is trapped in a narrative that he is creating through his investigation but which is, ultimately, completely destructive to him.  The body is dug up (in 1993) after being interred for 40 years and examined and, of course, exactly as everyone expected, the corpse shows signs of violence unrelated to the fall from the window -- there is a big contusion above the mummy's eye, an indication that Olson was knocked unconscious before being shoveled out the window to his death on the pavement 10 stories below.  An important element of the film is Freudian -- the documentary demands that we regard Eric Olson as Hamlet, an unwilling, but obsessed son summoned by his father's ghost to work out the details of Frank Olson's demise.  (Eric Olson remarks that the corpse was well-preserved and that he touched his father's skull and looked at his penis -- this latter detail in furtherance of the film's oedipal theme.)  Later, Olson reviews CIA assassination manuals -- he notes that there are dozens of them extant -- and learns that the agency suggested that killing be accomplished by knocking the victim unconscious by a blow to the temple and, then, throwing the body out a window "75 or more feet above the ground."  Olson confronts William Colby, the CIA director, and persists in misguided and ruinous lawsuits.  (Colby apparently kills himself, although this is ambiguous).  His lawsuit is ultimately dismissed under the Federal Tort Claims act because the Judge concludes that Frank Olson was intentionally murdered -- paradoxically, the law affords relief only if the government's actions were negligent; intentional acts, such as murder, are protected by sovereign immunity.  At the outset, Frank Olson's family discussed the matter with the investigative journalist Seymour Hersh -- Hersch, who broke the My Lai massacre story, has sources in the CIA and he is able to immediately uncover the CIA

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