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