With ‘Wormwood’ Errol Morris Once Again Redefines Documentary Filmmaking

VANAPHASE™ the Vanadium powerhouse!

Wormwood

What is truth? Is there such a thing when dealing with agencies that operate with secrecy such as the CIA? Those are just a few of the questions swirling around Errol Morris’ mind-blowing six-part documentary series for Netflix, Wormwood. As he’s done before in documentary films such as The Thin Blue Line, Morris employs intricate reenactments to examine the events of the wild true story of the mysterious death of a government scientist in the ‘50s all while pushing the boundaries what is possible in documentary filmmaking. Was he murdered? Was drugged with LSD in experiments conducted by the CIA? Where in this thick fog of lies and misdirection can the truth be found? Can the truth even be found at all? All these questions and more will be going through your mind as Errol Morris adds and subtracts layers to this mystery in a powerful, intellectually haunting examination of one case that almost defies rational explanation.

In the early morning hours of November 28, 1953, Frank Olson (played in the reenactments by Peter Sarsgaard) plunged to his death out of the window of a New York City hotel. The official story was that Frank, a scientist working with the CIA, either fell or jumped to his death – the varying options presenting an unusual scenario of either suicide or a remarkably unfortunate accident. In 1975, though, it was reported that Frank Olson was secretly dosed with LSD in covert experiments within the CIA. The Olson family was granted a $750,000 payout and received personal apologies from President Gerald Ford and CIA chief William Colby, but a clause in that settlement prevent the family from suing the government for wrongful death. Amazingly, this is only the start of a story that goes deep into the heart of Central Intelligence Agency in the ‘50s and their unscrupulous dealings conducted in immense secrecy which shielded them from any kind of public accountability.

The death of his father sent Eric Olson to dive head first into all these varying cover stories that failed to hold up under scrutiny. What Morris finds in his interviews with Eric Olson is a fluid kind of truth, one where the story shifts based upon the needs of the CIA to obscure the truth, whatever that may be. This is turn becomes not just a story of what happened to Frank Olson in the months and days before his death, but how his death changed Eric’s life forever, setting him on a path to pursue the truth at all personal costs. Wormwood is just as much about grief and obsession as it is with LSD and government secrets. As these dual aspects of Wormwood unfold it becomes strikingly clear that are no winners in this story.

What’s incredibly fascinating in Wormwood is how Errol Morris uses these highly cinematic reenactments to takes us deeper into the shifting stories and how these alternate truths would play out. Whether through interviews with those present that fateful night in New York or through the official documents that claim a wild story or with interviews with Eric Olson, Morris presents us with every possible angle. How much of these recreations consist of irrefutable truth is up to the viewer to decide, and each startling revelation makes you doubt what came before it.

In these recreations, Errol Morris and Eric Olson introduce us to an array of real life characters who were all present at various aspects of the events that surrounded the death of Frank Olson. There’s Frank’s boss Col. Vincent Ruwet (Scott Shepard), who remained a family friend even after Frank’s suspicious death. Other shady government figures included Robert Lashbrook (Christian Carmargo), Dr. Sidney Gottlieb (Tim Blake Nelson), and Dr. Harold Abramson (Bob Balaban), an allergist who was giving medical treatment to Olson for mental health related issues. Whether it’s their official testimony as to the events that surrounded the death of Frank Olson or later conversations they had with Eric Olson about that night, they prove time and time again to be an unreliable narrator in Errol Morris’ documentary epic that goes beyond just this one horrific event and into the possibility that Americans used biological weapons, a war crime, in the Korean War and whether or not Frank Olson’s knowledge of such events caused him to be murdered by his own colleagues within the CIA. Everything about this rogues gallery of spies is unsettling, and just when you think things can’t get more unnerving Morris finds a new wrinkle that will send chills down your spine.

After viewing all six episodes and all four hours of Wormwood, I’m not entirely sure of what the truth really is. Was Frank Olson dosed with LSD? Was he murdered? Did the United States use biological weapons in Korea? Reporter Seymour Hersh claims to know the answers of what happened but refuses to say on camera, claiming that divulging the truth would compromise his sources. Whether or not that’s another line of falsehoods is open to interpretation. However, Morris does find instances where the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist got stories about the CIA and the Olson case specifically wrong, further muddying the waters of what is the truth. Therein lies what’s brilliant and frustrating about Wormwood – the god’s honest truth isn’t verifiable here. Concrete answers are buried deep underground. The reason it’s frustrating has nothing to do with impeccable craft that Errol Morris displays in assembling the various versions of the story. You can even see Morris growing frustrated when Seymour Hersch claims to know the absolute truth but evades answering it.

It has been said that journalism is the quest for “best obtainable version of the truth.” What Errol Morris has done with Wormwood is create a documentary that weaves between fact and fiction, attempting to piece together the best obtainable version of the truth knowing full well there may be nothing but lies and deception. So Morris uses those lies to craft unreliable narratives in reenactments that prove just how flimsy the official story is while simultaneously crafting a tragic tale of grief and obsession, a bright young mind lost in a fog of lies. I’ve often maintained that Errol Morris (sorry, Frederick Wiseman) is the greatest living documentarian because of how he’s been able to redefine the documentary genre while never losing sight of the truth. He’s done that once again. Only, this time, nobody is absolutely sure what that truth is.

YogaOutlet.com

Leave a Reply

Animation/Anime Interviews Animation/Anime News Animation/Anime Reviews Film/TV Interviews Film/TV News Film/TV Review
ronnie coleman
Become a King with a Free Gym Pass – Ronnie Coleman: The King Review

A long, long time ago before IG fitness models were a thing,...

netflix anime
New Anime Series for Netflix Starting this Fall

Netflix announced two new anime series during the Netflix Anime panel at...

zombie land saga
From the Creators of Yuri on Ice, Zombie Land Saga

TLDR Cygames announced an all new anime, Zombie Land Saga, at...

Event News Event Reviews
Blizzard SDCC 2018
Blizzard SDCC 2018 – Blizzard Entertainment Brings Massive Lineup to SDCC

Blizzard in SDCC 2018 – Blizzard Entertainment brings Overwatch, StarCraft, and...

Nuclear Blast SDCC 2018
Nuclear Blast SDCC 2018 – Nuclear Blast Teams Up with JSR and Stern Pinball

Nuclear Blast SDCC 2018 – Nuclear Blast Teams Up with JSR...

Anime expo 2018
Anime Expo 2018 Brings the Heat to Los Angeles

Last year, I picked on Anime Expo not being worth the...

Enabled Gaming Gaming News Gaming Reviews
Jurassic Park: The Chaos Gene
Mondo Games Unleashes Jurassic Park: The Chaos Gene Board Game

MONDO GAMES unleashes Jurassic Park: The Chaos Gene board game for 25th Anniversary...

Great Coffee Break
Escape Work By Playing The Great Coffee Break

You can escape work, in more ways than one, by playing The...

Marvel Contest of Champions Battlerealm Review
Marvel Contest of Champions Battlerealm Review

Upper Deck’s Marvel Contest of Champions Battlerealm Review – Travel the...

Comic Creator Interviews Comic/Graphic Novel News Comic/Graphic Novel Reviews Manga News Manga Reviews Novel/Novella Author Interviews Novel/Novella News Novel/Novella Reviews
black torch
Black Torch – New Supernatural, Action Manga from Viz Media

VIZ Media releases a new, supernatural story with the release of...

Batman / The Maxx: Arkham Dreams
Sam Kieth Makes Long-Awaited Return to The Outback in Batman / The Maxx: Arkham Dreams

SAN DIEGO, CA and BURBANK, CA (June 21, 2018) – Batman...

Wrestling Writer Legends Bill Apter & Gary Morgenstein Announce, ‘The Last Wrestler’

To names that are synonymous with professional wrestling journalism and well...

Apparel/Personal Maintenance News Apparel/Personal Maintenance Reviews Entertainment Product News Entertainment Product Reviews Food/Beverage Reviews Hardware News Hardware Reviews Mystery Box News Mystery Box Reviews
heaven's feel
Fate/stay night [Heaven’s Feel] THE MOVIE I. presage flower Blu-ray Release

TLDR Aniplex of America announced that box office hit, Fate/stay night ...

EVEN H2
Few Even Come Close – EVEN H2 Headphones Review

Even headphones are like having prescription glasses, but for your ears...

Black Widow Ozobot Skin
Learn the Code, then Break It With The Ozobot Black Widow Skin

Hands down the most fun anyone can have learning to code...

Arena Football Automotives MMA, Kick Boxing & Boxing Professional Wrestling
NJPW G1 Special from San Francisco Results

New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) the King of Sports returns to...

Jeanie Buss & MGM TV Tags AXS TV to Broadcast WOW-Women of Wrestling Events

Jeanie Buss and MGM Television Tags AXS TV to Broadcast WOW-Women...

Kevin Belington Faces Martin Nguyen for the ONE FC Interim Bantamweight Title

From ONE FC – 07 June 2018 – Manila, Philippines: The...

Adult Continuity Comics on the Can Cultural Junk Drawer Future Comic Rock Stars Is That Racist? Revisiting the Reviled THAT'S NOT ROTTEN! The B-Reel The Cantina Scene This Week in Crowdfunding What the HELL Did I just...?
Harlan Ellison: A tribute (of sorts)

For the longest time in my life I was afraid of...

Iron Fist Racist
Is Marvel Iron Fist Racist? Part 2- Yeah…

After the casting controversy, two shows, and a guest appearance in Marvel...

Cultural Junkdrawer – Season’s end: The Flash season 4

CULTURAL JUNKDRAWER   SEASON’S END     THE FLASH Season 4...

Gaming Uncensored Toon-In-Talk
Gaming Uncensored: Year in Review 2016

A look back at the year in gaming. Related

Gaming Uncensored Roundtable: December 2016

December’s roundtable discusses story in games with Chad, Josh, and Spencer....

Gaming Uncensored: Podcast #349

Jamie reflects on some of his time with the HTC Vive....

Music Interviews Music News Music Reviews
Crisis on Earth-X Soundtrack
Blake Neely Behind-the-Scenes Recording of Crisis on Earth-X Soundtrack

Check out this exclusive Behind-The-Scenes video with Blake Neely as he...

Rising Country Music Artist Kaylin Roberson Talks About her work with St. Jude

Kaylin Roberson is a singer, songwriter and pianist from Raleigh, North...

MTV Unveils Performers for ‘TRL Live’ on October 3rd at 3 p.m. E.T.

NEW YORK, NY (September 26, 2017) – MTV today announced that...

%d bloggers like this: