If you’ve heard of Errol Morris, then you likely know that he’s one of the great documentarians of all time, and one of our greatest living filmmakers working in any genre.
To say that Morris is an unconventional filmmaker is a severe understatement, and his latest, titled Wormwood, is arguably his most ambitious work yet. It’s been released as a miniseries on Netflix, with the company probably correctly assuming people would be much more likely to watch a six-part series rather than one 258-minute movie, which is really what it is. The movie examines the death of an Army scientist in the 1950s, whose apparent jump from the 13th story of a New York hotel was, according to the government, induced by his being part of a CIA experiment involving the use of LSD.
But this is an Errol Morris movie, where reality is never straightforward. Morris is as much a detective as he is a filmmaker, often tackling stories where the truth is hazy at best, and unknowable, at worst. And while he does try to sift through the facts to uncover the actual truth, as when one of his films literally got a man off death row, he’s also fascinated by people who are obsessed with their own versions of the truth, and he’ll follow those threads as far as they can go.
In Wormwood, his subject is the son of the dead scientist, who’s spent decades making the mental journey from believing his father simply committed suicide, to believing the story about the LSD experiment, to believing that something far more nefarious happened. Interviews with the man are interspersed with scripted sequences showing us the scientist’s last days, as we see two, or three, or maybe four versions of what really might have taken place in the hotel that night. But what are we supposed to believe? Each revelation causes us to reevaluate what we’ve seen, and we have to decide if this new information builds a real case, or causes the whole thing to fall apart.
And that’s how it is with Errol Morris. The truth is out there, somewhere-- but who has it, and whether we’ll ever really know it… those are other questions altogether.