Standard Operating Procedure (2008, Errol Morris)

It’s Political Documentary Month! We will see how long that lasts. Katy asked if all Errol Morris’s films are about death (as far as I know they are) and commented that the square photos within a widescreen strip within our square TV across the room made her feel blind, so I brought up stylistic differences between Morris and Ken Burns, figuring we’re being punished for watching a theatrical feature in the same way we’d watch a television program. Afterwards, I showed her In The Loop, which I thought worked much better than S.O.P. on the TV screen. I was psyched to revisit it but she didn’t like at all, since it doesn’t count as satire on government if it’s exactly the way she imagines government works, and anyway it’s not funny.

S.O.P. was surprisingly tame. As one of the former prison guards points out, it’s not like they were beating prisoners or killing them, although that happens when the CIA bring in their own prisoner, a guy who they’re told “was never here.” Unfortunately for the CIA, photos of that incident leaked along with the rest – the ones with prisoners tied up in “stress positions” with panties on their heads, handcuffed into simulated sex scenarios and stacked in naked pyramids, all with Lynndie England flashing a thumbs-up in front. The prison holds a confusing number of military and government groups and private organizations – it would’ve taken a whole other movie to get it all straight. The guards certainly weren’t clear about it themselves. A side-effect of Morris’s technique here is that he’s made the opposite of The Road to Guantanamo, which was told from the prisoners’ point of view. This movie is an analysis of the photographs, of the circumstances behind them, but only from the guards’ points of view. The nameless prisoners, degraded and objectified in those photographs, remain anonymously dehumanized in the film, enigmatic vessels of suspicion (they are, after all, “enemy combatants”) and sympathy (for the torture/s.o.p. depicted).