You know the way we live in really fucked-up times, and it feels like we live in the most fucked-up times of all fucked-up times, but sometimes you read something about other fucked-up times and think, hey, maybe all times are fucked-up times, maybe there have never been non-fucked-up times, maybe everything has always been awful? You know that thing? That thing will get quite an outing with Netflix’s new docudrama Wormwood, a star-studded documentary-fiction hybrid from Oscar-winning filmmaker Errol Morris.
The six-part show looks at the 1953 death of Frank Olson, an army doctor involved in some weird, shadowy, underground experiments with the CIA. Olson was found dead one night under deeply mysterious circumstances, in the way people involved in secret CIA experiments often are. While his death was officially ruled a suicide, a lifelong investigation by his son Eric suggests it was anything but.
See, Olson was involved in Project MK Ultra, a CIA project that involved, among other things, secretly administering LSD to soldiers in attempts to control and restrict their behaviour, subjecting participants to extreme sleep deprivation and trying out new, innovative forms of torture in order to develop mind-control techniques. It sounds like the sort of thing your mate from uni who smoked way too much weed and lost his mind used to talk about all night, but it’s all true. Loads of material surrounding the project was destroyed, but
The show, Wormwood, combines documentary footage of people who were there at the time - Olson’s colleagues and family - with dramatic/fictionalised recreations of the events described, featuring an impressive cast. Peter Sarsgaard plays Olson himself, while Jimmi Simpson (from Westworld), Molly Parker (from House of Cards), Tim Blake Nelson (from O Brother, Where Art Thou?) and Stephen DeRosa (from Boardwalk Empire) are among those surrounding him.
Here’s a trailer:
Errol Morris is no slouch when it comes to these things. His 1988 doc The Thin Blue Line, about a wrongful execution, regularly tops lists of the greatest documentaries of all time. He won an Oscar in 2003 for The Fog of War. Most excitingly for your mate from uni with all the weed though, he also made the Apple advert with the hella stoned girl who lost her essay:
Wormwood will drop on Netflix on 15 December, but that mightn’t be the end of it - a recut feature-length version is potentially being submitted for Academy Award consideration next year.