It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
McNamara agreed to talk with Morris for an hour or so, supposedly for a TV special. He eventually spent 20 hours peering into Morris' "Interrotron," a video device that allows Morris and his subjects to look into each other's eyes while also looking directly into the camera lens. Whether this invention results in better interviews is impossible to say, but it does have the uncanny result that the person on the screen never breaks eye contact with the audience.
McNamara was 85 when the interviews were conducted -- a fit and alert 85, still skiing the slopes at Aspen. Guided sometimes by Morris, sometimes taking the lead, he talks introspectively about his life, his thoughts about Vietnam, and, taking Morris where he would never have thought to go, of his role in planning the firebombing of Japan, including a raid on Tokyo that claimed 100,000 lives. He speaks concisely and forcibly, rarely searching for a word, and he is not reciting boilerplate and old sound bites; there is the uncanny sensation that he is thinking as he speaks.
His thoughts are organized as "11 Lessons From the Life of Robert McNamara," as extrapolated by Morris, and one wonders how the current planners of the war in Iraq would respond to lessons No. 1 and 2 ("Empathize with your enemy" and "Rationality will not save us"), or for that matter No. 6 ("Get the data"), No. 7 ("Belief and seeing are both often wrong") and No. 8 ("Be prepared to reexamine your reasoning"). I cannot imagine the circumstances under which Donald Rumsfeld, the current Secretary of Defense, would not want to see this film about his predecessor, having recycled and even improved upon McNamara's mistakes.
McNamara recalls the days of the Cuban Missile Crisis, when the world came to the brink of nuclear war (he holds up two fingers, almost touching, to show how close -- "this close"). He recalls a meeting, years later, with Fidel Castro, who told him he was prepared to accept the destruction of Cuba if that's what the war would mean. He recalls two telegrams to Kennedy from Khrushchev, one more conciliatory, one perhaps dictated by Kremlin hard-liners, and says that JFK decided to answer the first and ignore the second. (Not quite true, as Fred Kaplan documents in an article at Slate.com.) The movie makes it clear that no one was thinking very clearly, and that the world avoided war as much by luck as by wisdom.