Morgen also got his hands on hours of audio tape covertly recorded of the trial, which he dramatized with capture-motion animation. He wanted to make the story vivid for a new generation of viewers, but in doing so he ignored its context, causes, and consequences. As a result, Morgen made a documentary film about a historical political trial that is neither political nor historical.
Which is just what he intended to do. “The movie is more of a parable or fable for all times,” he says. “There’s a war going on, there’s opposition to the war, and there’s a government trying to silence the opposition. It’s an age-old story. Truth is not singular — we have different ways of seeing things. I was approaching this as mythology.” And objective truth and reality? “I just don’t understand that,” he says. “I’m trying to smash that sort of belief. That’s not where we’re going now.”
That might be a dangerous direction in which to go at a time when we’re invading countries for, as Michael Moore proclaimed at the 2002 Oscars, “fictitious reasons.” Truth then would belong to whoever gets the last edit, and history would become a director’s cut.
Brian De Palma would be up for making that cut. In Redacted (2007), he transfers the Rashomon effect to the Iraq War and the accompanying labyrinth of surveillance cameras, digital recorders, embedded journalists, and terrorist Web sites. At the heart of the film lies an atrocity — a rape and murder committed by US troops. But this reality comes framed by numerous filmed points of view — a mirrored box of narratives, with the official version “redacted” to remove incriminating elements and serve the purposes of power rather than truth.
Like nearly every other film about Iraq, Redacted was widely despised — more so than others perhaps because it blatantly blurred the line between “documentary” and “fiction.” But the high concept of finding the truth amid a maze of disconnected viewpoints evidently appeals to the public. How else to explain the success of VantagePoint (2008), in which an apparent assassination of the president gets rewound repeatedly from the perspective of various participants to reveal not so much a solution to the puzzle as increasingly preposterous scenarios? Vantage Point opened at the number-one spot at the box office in February, earning $24 million in its first weekend.
More modest in production and grosses, George A. Romero’s Diary of the Dead (2008), his fourth installment in the zombie epic he began in 1968 with Night of the Living Dead, goes deeper in its analysis of truth, reality, and the media. What the student filmmaker who is Dead’s protagonist confronts is not the real-life tragedy of Redacted, or The Blair Witch Project’s (1999) figment of idle post-adolescent imaginations, or Cloverfield’s (2008) 40-story special-effect standing in for post-9/11 trauma, or even the lumbering intestine-chomping zombies that have been Romero’s resilient metaphor for four decades. It is the Internet. Romero’s hero suspects the official media of covering up the true nature and extent of the living-dead disaster, so he films his own version, heedless of the risks, in order to set the world straight — and to attract 18,000 hits a minute to his Web site.