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The Unknown Known (2013)

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Former United States Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, discusses his career in Washington D.C. from his days as a congressman in the early 1960s to planning the invasion of Iraq in 2003.


Errol Morris


Errol Morris
2 wins & 9 nominations. See more awards »





Cast overview:
Donald Rumsfeld ... Self
Errol Morris ... Self - Interviewer (voice)


Former United States Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, discusses his career in Washington D.C. from his days as a congressman in the early 1960s to planning the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

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What you didn't know you didn't know. See more »

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated PG-13 for some disturbing images and brief nudity | See all certifications »

Did You Know?


This same director also made Fog of War, a similar film that featured an extensive interview with Vietnam-era Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara. Both films were highly critical of their lead subjects management of war. See more »

Crazy Credits

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Written by Irving Berlin
Performed by Tennessee Ernie Ford
Courtesy of Capitol Records Nashville under license from Universal Music Enterprises
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User Reviews

Rumsfeld remains an unknown known
29 August 2014 | by robert-temple-1See all my reviews

I have rarely been so perplexed by a documentary film as by this one. It is 102 minutes long, and for much of that time Donald Rumsfeld is talking to the director/interviewer Errol Morris. However, despite that, I now feel that I know less about Donald Rumsfeld than I did before I saw the film. I almost preferred him as an unknown unknown to what he now is, an unknown known. Rumsfeld manages to talk endlessly in what appears to be a very candid way, without ever really saying anything. A few salient facts do emerge, but only a few. The most surprising one to me was the revelation that he and George Bush Senior evidently detest one another, although Rumsfeld thinks very highly indeed of 'W'. I also did not realize until I saw this film that Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney are so close, and worked together for so many years, that they are like brothers. However, a slight trace of vanity appeared throughout the film as Rumsfeld was always very careful to describe Cheney on several occasions as 'my deputy'. Just in case little brother got any big ideas about forgetting who was the older brother, I suppose. Cheney was indeed Rumsfeld's deputy for a long time in office. When Cheney became Vice President, it was Cheney who recommended to George W. that Rumsfeld be made Secretary of Defence. So yes, some facts did emerge, and they are interesting. As for Rumsfeld himself, he remains an enigma in the highest degree. I was surprised to discover how astonishingly intelligent Rumsfeld was. One does not normally expect to find that in a public figure. But the most interesting aspect of Rumsfeld's personality is that a sense of ironical whimsicality seems to pervade everything he says, thinks, and does. Those grins that he makes are not normal grins, they are grins at the ironical whimsicality of situations and events. They are an invitation to those watching him to share his sense of irony and delight. Rumsfeld's grins do not say, as most grins do: 'Hello, I'm very friendly,' they say instead: 'Isn't that wonderfully whimsical, and don't you want to grin with me about it?' In other words, Rumsfeld is not like other men. I had no idea that Rumsfeld had commenced working in the executive branch of the Government during the Kennedy Administration, having previously been a congressman. This film says nothing whatever of his business activities, and does not mention his launching of the agricultural chemical spray Roundup upon the world, which in some opinions was an act more serious than the Iraq War, and may cause more deaths (deaths which cannot be defended on any 'just cause' basis, as the cause was only making money). No one could appear to cooperate more in making a film about himself than Donald Rumsfeld did, but the feeling afterwards is that he is a master at appearing to be transparent while all the while surrounding himself in a cloud of ink like an octopus. People often joke about eating Chinese food (in a bad Chinese restaurant), when they consume a lot but feel hungry immediately afterwards. Well! Where is the real meat on Rumsfeld, or is he all grissle? Nor is there any fat to chew on, only snowflakes. This man is a mystery, truly he is.

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Release Date:

16 January 2014 (Italy) See more »

Also Known As:

The Unknown Known See more »


Box Office

Opening Weekend USA:

$64,315, 6 April 2014

Gross USA:


Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

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Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Dolby Digital



Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
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