Weaving together archival film footage, clips from classic movies, and on-location interviews, documentarian Adam Curtis tells three stories about the consequences of suppressing both national and individual memories.
"On the Desperate Edge of Now," lacks the focus and thematic unity the last two episodes display, but manages to create an eerie, unsettling mood as it switches between interviews of American soldiers recalling the carnage they witnessed and took part in, citizens of the Third Reich downplaying the mixture of pride and shame they feel about the Nazi party, their children's' sense of suspicion and outrage when they try to uncover their country's recent past, and the Nuremberg trials participants' recollection of a kangaroo court in a bombed-out city that was nearly hijacked by an indignant Herman Goering, who tried to tell everyone why fascism arose, even while the lawyers and judges tried to shut him up.
"You Have Used Me As a Fish," the series most fascinating episode, lets the audience in on the absurd, and chilling, experiments the CIA funded in mind control. Interview subjects try to explain how sensible it seemed at the time to believe that China and the Soviet Union had perfected methods of programming people like computers. Associates, and victims, of Dr. Ewen Cameron describe his government-funded method of electrocuting people until they lost their memories, and then trying to reprogram them while they slept, and CIA agents recall bizarre, ghoulish schemes to create assassins, sleeper agents, and recover the supposedly suppressed memories of defectors.
"The Attic" focuses on how British Prime Minster Margaret Thatcher spearheaded the "conservative revolution" by re-interpreting Winston Churchill's appeals to the memory of an imperial Great Britain. Interviews with her colleagues reveal how she seemed unaware that Churchill's version of history had been carefully edited for his own plans, and how her doubly-distorted view of history not only rallied the populace, but also revived domestic terrorism and replayed an economic meltdown.
Adam Curtis' trademark narration, filled with subtle irony and underplayed astonishment, is, as usual, complemented by a hodge-podge of historical film clips, frequently creating playful, chilling, and absurd associations. In The Living Dead, his usual obscure fragments from the BBC's film archives are bolstered by clips from German vampire movies, American Cold-War thrillers, and British ghost stories. The past, he tells us through this weird montage, is best not forgotten, lest it reassert itself on an amnesiac population.
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