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Documentary

Final questions

The Fog of War looks at how a true understanding of a situation, even if you have superb information gathering resources at your disposal, can prove elusive - often only emerging years later. In what ways does the film suggest politicians' grasp of reality can at best be partial?

The Fog of War raises important questions about how those that emerge victorious from conflicts enjoy the right to define the apportioning of blame afterwards. McNamara questions this, particularly in the context of the fire bombing of Japanese cities in World War Two. 

Robert Strange McNamara talks

Robert S. McNamara
Photo © Sony Pictures Classics

Your perspective

- To what extent do you feel McNamara is guilty for the terrible suffering that occurred during his time in power and what evidence is there in the film of his feeling of guilt or shame?

- Do you feel McNamara is a very detached person? In one telling instance he refers to people celebrating on the top of a bus in 1918 as ‘human beings’. Can you find other moments when he seems curiously out-of-touch with the events being described or shown?

- And, by contrast, what of his propensity for bursting into tears. In other words what is your impression of Robert S. McNamara?



Constructing interviews

Compare and contrast the ways in which 'to camera' interviews are organised in both films. Among the questions to address are:

  • How effective it is that Errol Morris uses a kind of camera rigged to show the interviewer on a screen, enabling the interviewee to stare straight at the screen and out at us, the audience. This machine is one that Morris has used before in his documentaries and is called an 'Interrotron'.
  • How effective is it that we do not see any use of 'cutaways' to disguise times in the interviews with McNamara where interviews had to be re-shot. In conventional interviews, there is often a cut away to the interviewee that disguises such manipulation of the recorded material. In The Fog of War the fact that interviews have been edited is plain to see each time there is a sudden jump in McNamara’s position.
  • How does Andrew Jarecki manage to establish recognisable settings for each of the people we see interviewed in Capturing the Friedmans. There is quite a cast of characters needed to explain the Friedman tale and there is always a danger law enforcement officers or victims will start to become indistinguishable. Filming them in clear-cut environments is one way of making them memorable however fleeting their appearances.



Use of montage

The Fog of War is heavily reliant on montage sequences. Choose one or more of the following:

  • Trace the use in The Fog of War of newspaper captions and highlighted words. How do these sequences work both to build McNamara up but also suggest the trajectory of his career?
  • The Fog of War contains at least two very rapid montages suggesting a growing military campaign.
  • The first of these relates to the fire bombing of Japanese cities and the second catalogues successive campaigns in Vietnam - many of them boasting American place names or the names of famous battles in the American War of Independence and the American Civil War. What is the impact of these two sequences?