Errol Morris is no admirer of former Trump administration svengali Steve Bannon, and so American Dharma, which I saw yesterday afternoon, casts significant doubt upon Bannon’s overthrow-the-deep-state, hooray-for-the-red-hats bullshit. But at the same time it does a curious thing — it presents Bannon as a half-mythical figure, a man of steel and conviction, tough-minded but thoughtful.
If you have a semi-developed brain and at least some analytical abilities, you’re going to recoil in quiet horror at what Bannon is advocating here, but at the same time you’re going to be half-impressed by the way he comes off as a cinematic figure, as a fellow who’s part of a fraternity of strong, square-jawed honey badgers (including Gregory Peck in Twelve O’Clock High, Alec Guinness in The Bridge on the River Kwai) who don’t give a shit but are determined to get the job done. Right-wingers may feel conflicted about American Dharma (as I do) but they’re not going to flat-out hate it. Because there’s something faintly attractive about the way Bannon is portrayed.
I agree almost entirely with Michael Moore‘s Fahrenheit 11/9, but American Dharma, troubling as it is, is a more transporting film, certainly in a visual sense.
“To call Donald Trump a man of the people…I don’t quite see it. Forgive me. I see something quite different. [American Dharma] is a horror movie. I’m not sure I know what evil is. I don’t really believe in evil-evil. Even ‘evil incarnate’ troubles me. I certainly believe in evil acts, which are all around us, constantly. I don’t know if you’ve seen my other films, but I’m endlessly fascinated by self-deception [and] cluelessness.
“[American Dharma] is certainly a story about a man who lives in a strange fantasy world. Early Christianity, John Ford movies, nationalist ideologies…an incoherent mess, in my opinion. It’s not clear to me that if you surround yourself with this shell of belief you don’t see the world any more. What [Bannon] talks about, what he believes is incoherent…it doesn’t really make sense. Bannon seems the most ridiculous, most absurd when he couples his claims, his populist claims, national populist claims with his defense of the Trump administration. [In my view] Trump does violence to the whole of idea of what populism might be.” — Errol Morris, director of American Dharma, an exploration of the mind and ideology of Steve Bannon, during a Toronto Film Festival q & a.