Standard Operating Procedure (15)

Directed by Errol Morris
Screening at FACT (15th-18th August 2008)

Reviewed by Anthony Swords

As I stepped out of the Fact cinema, the bright summer sunshine was little consolation for the uneasy feeling Errol Morris’ brilliant film had left me with. Standard Operating Procedure is a grueling experience not simply because of its subject matter but because it will leave you with more questions than answers.

For anyone interested in cinema that will challenge you, this will not be a problem but it does not make the experience any easier.

Morris’ film is centered on ‘those infamous pictures’, as one soldier nonchalantly describes them, taken at the Abu Ghraib detention centre in the early days of the Second Gulf War. The film bombards the viewer with photo after photo of abuse and torture and the many interviews with those involved in this sad episode provide little consolation as to why they did what they did.

They portray themselves as confused and misled pawns that were merely ‘following orders’, doing what they were ordered or following ‘standard operating procedure’.

Morris’ camera, while remaining close to his subject, constantly switches framing as if trying to find a different perspective from which to see them.

Morris does this throughout the film as he confronts our perception of those responsible, our involvement in the war going on in Iraq and the concept of truth.

There are many examples of beautiful and strange images, the subject of which is often the brutal and violent scenes already described but seen in a new dramatized way.

Taken away from their original context of the front pages of daily newspapers and websites, the power of those images of abuse can be appreciated again within the cinema and it is precisely their unpolished, raw nature which is so frightening .

Away from these sources, Morris can coldly ask to us question our first instincts of disgust and horror with those responsible and question what is the wider implication of these images?

Or quite literally, as is revealed, what is the wider picture? The power of Morris’ film lies in his bravery to look beyond these pictures and ask what else is going on in such places as Abu Ghraib.

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