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April 21, 2014 - Image 7

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 2014-04-21

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The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

Monday, April 21, 2014 - 7A

'Orphan Black' succeeds

Don tha don.
Necessary bias in
Errol Morris film

Daily Arts Writer
Black" begins with an English lady
sitting down for a nice cup of tea -
but don't get too
comfortable just
Above all, Orphan
"Orphan Black" Black
is notorious for
two things: 1) Season
its lead actress's Premiere
brilliant perfor- Saturdays
mance (perfor- at 9 p.m.
mances?) as a
legion of eccen- BBCAmerica
tric clones and
2) that relentlessly action-packed
pace. When Sarah Manning rush-
es breathlessly into a diner and
orders a cup of tea, you know it's
probably goingto end with a shoot-
"Orphan Black" is an unpredict-
able amalgam of genres, managing
to simultaneously be acop drama,
a Shakespearean tragedy, a crime
caper and an involved (and often
confusing) sci-fi mystery. Take
all these wildly varying plot-
lines and factor in the breakneck
speed of the plot, and you've got
a show pretty much destined to
be a hot mess. These elements
certainly shouldn't work so well
together, but the variations have
the same DNA (we're sticking
with the clone metaphor here)
and somehow create a cohesive
whole that defies all science and
logic. "Orphan Black" juggles
its sci-fi and personal drama
with sophistication and panache
thanks to one unifying element -
the wonderful Tatiana Maslany.
Maslany ("The Vow") follows
up on last season's outstanding
performance, and treats viewers
to five incredibly detailed and
unique characters in this episode
alone. Watching her, it's easy to
forget that it's only one actress
playing these roles. Maslany uses
every trick in her toolkit, employ-
ing incredibly specific body

Documentarian takes
on Donald Rumsfeld
in'The Unknown
Daily Arts Writer
There are known knowns (the
things we know we know). There
are known unknowns (the things
we know we
don't know). /
And there
are unknown e
unknowns (the Unknown
things we don't
know we don't Known
"The Michigan
Unknown Theater
Known," the RADiUS-TWC
latest film from
ian Errol Morris ("The Thin Blue
Line"), seeks to uncover these
unknown unknowns (the title
references a typo made by for-
mer United States Secretary of
Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, in a
memo he sent during his tenure).
The film revolves around inter-
view sessions with Morris and
Rumsfeld, and takes a closer look
at the personal and professional
lives of one of the most influential
people in American politics over
the last 40 years.
The film covers a vast assort-
ment of topics - Vietnam, Nixon,
Ford, Reagan, Bush One, Bush
Two, Iraq and others - and
assumes its audience has a consid-
erable amount of foreknowledge
of these topics. What stands out
most, though, is Rumsfeld himself
- his character and personality
(and the fact that the only lesson
he takes away from the Vietnam
War is that "some thingswork out,
and some things don't").
There's one point during the
interviews where Rumsfeld refers

to former Deputy Prime Minis-
ter of Iraq, Tariq Aziz. Rumsfeld
incredulously explains how Aziz
seems to be a completely normal,
rational, logical person; he can't
understand why Aziz supported a
malicious regime. Morris lets that
sentiment simmer for a moment..
The point is obvious: Throughout
the interview, Rumsfeld shows
himself to be an intelligent, ratio-
nal, friendly person - so why did
he make the decisions he made?
Why did he play a critical role ina
violent invasion based on false pre-
tenses, which led to the deaths of at
least a hundred thousand people?
The answer is in Rumsfeld's
own psyche, where you'll find not
an explanation or justification, but
rather a void, an apparent lack of
empathy for the innocent. At one
point, Rumsfeld recalls a failed
assassination attempt against Sad-
dam Hussein (this comes imme-
diately after he declares that the
United States does not assassinate
other world leaders). He recounts
how they initially believed one of
the bodies to be Hussein; as Rums-
feld clarifies that it in fact was not,
he cracks a smile and begins to
These characteristics, which
are at best disturbing and at worst
psychopathic, complement a bar-
rage of falsehoods that Rumsfeld
presents to the audience. While
Morris exposes these contradic-
tions in his film, the purported lies
Rumsfeld told the American public
leading up to and during the Iraq
War were much harder to regulate.
As Rumsfeld states multiple
times in the film, "The absence
of evidence is not evidence of
absence." This is essentially his
rationale for the second Bush
administration's steadfast com-
mitment to the position that Iraq
had weapons of mass destruction
in 2003, despite no hard evidence
supporting this claim.
One thingcan't be denied about
Rumsfeld: He's a master of lan-
guage. He understands that the

Prince has been hiding out in the cast of "Orphan Black."

discourse about atopic is absolute-
ly vital to public perception and to
what people will view as appro-
priate action. Morris emphasizes
this, frequently placing Rumsfeld's
words on screen, along with their
dictionary definitions.
Though the chronicle of Rums-
feld's almost unbelievable career is
the meat of the film, Morris's cre-
ative contributions, which serve as
a delightful seasoning, shouldn't
be overlooked. Much of the con-
tent of "The Unknown Known" is
derived from memos that Rums-
feld sent during his time in office;
in a move that would make any
postmodernist proud, Morris
often places these memos under
the microscope of the camera
The film incorporates breath-
taking bird's-eye shots of the infi-
nite ocean and of a paradoxically
beautiful swamp. He wasn't alone
in the artistic creation of the film,
of course. Composer Danny Elf-
man ("Corpse Bride") provides
a haunting score, without which
the film wouldn't leave its unique
impression as both a documen-
tary and a horror film.
"The Unknown Known" is
thought-provoking, biased, rel-
evant and entertaining - a doc-
umentary of the highest order.
Its bias shows itself in Morris's
interviewing style, which places
himself as judge during the inter-
viewee's trial, but Rumsfeld knew
this would be the case before
he agreed to the interviews. It's
therefore shocking - for a man
whose every move is cunning
and calculated - that Rumsfeld
agreed to a film that casts him in
such a negative light.
"The Unknown Known" may
not reveal every dirty little secret
of Rumsfeld's politics, but it does
its best to expose those unknown
unknowns - what we didn't know
we didn't know. The questions that
remain then are, what do we want
to know, and what do we deserve
to know?

movements, accents (for a non-
Englishwoman, her variations in
British dialects are spectacular)
and truly transforms into each of
the clones. She is a believable les-
bian scientist, frustrated mother,
evil executive and mad woman
on the run, and even as the action
races on, she remains consistent-
ly grounded and engaging.
But while Maslany is great,
"Orphan Black" continues to
face the same problems that
plagued its first season. The sup-
porting characters that Maslany
does not play are still just as one-
dimensional and dull as ever. Some
(Beth's former lover Paul) are
probably beyond saving, but oth-
ers (like Cosima's girlfriend Del-
phine) could benefit from a little
more character development. It's
hard to be attached to characters
when they seem to exist solely as
pawns for the clone characters,
but if Felix (the fantastic Jordan
Gavaris, "Unnatural History") is
any indication, "Orphan Black" is
certainly capable of creating inter-
esting and relevant characters that
aren't played by Maslany.
Another problem is born from
- the pacing. Sure,"Orphan Black"
is exciting and fun to watch, but
during this episode, I found myself
craving the slower moments that
characterized some of the ear-
lier episodes of season one. (One
favorite: Allison singing along to
"Bitch" by Meredith Brooks in her
car, which seems insignificant but

somehow tells so much about who
she is as a person). When Sarah sat
down for tea in the beginning of
the episode, a part of me cheered,
hoping she'd take a few moments
to digest the news of her daugh-
ter being kidnapped and come up
with a plan. But "Orphan Black"
doesn't take time for plans - like
Sarah, it's always on the run. Two
minutes later, Sarah is smashing a
wall with a fire extinguisher. By
the end of the episode she's sneak-
ing into a banquet with Delphine,
dressed in Cosima's dreads and a
California accent. As awesome as
this kinetic energy is, it would be
nice to pause once in a while and
give viewers a chance to catch
up with the characters and the
show's complex mysteries.
Still, judging by this first epi-
sode, the upcoming season of
"Orphan Black" will be engaging
and madcap fun. The whirlwind
nature of the show means that it
is always fresh and surprising, and
the twists and turns of this epi-
sode only anticipate more of that to
come. Though Cosima's sickness is
barely touched upon in the pre-
miere, it's aticking time bomb that
could lead into the introduction
of a new clone character (a can-
cer patient named Jennifer who
is expected to debut in the coming
weeks) and yet another opportuni-
ty for Maslany to show off her act-
ing chops. Though the big picture
elements may be slow to develop,
it's worth the twisty and nonstop
action to get to the payoff.

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