The World According to Dick Cheney, a documentary by R. J. Cutler, debuted last night on Showtime, and its one of those movies that shocks without surprising you. It's focus is solely on Dick Cheney, and he sits in front of the camera saying all the same bullshit he has ever said about torture, weapons of mass destruction, Iraq, etcetera, except this time he truly does seem alone, even ostracized. The narrative is one of decline and disconnection, even though Dick Cheney does not seem to care. In fact he has ossified into his own statue, and that statue seems to relish the seclusion, reaping what he has sewn.
The relationship between George Bush Jr. and Dick Cheney is the main narrative line. After some backstory about drunk-driving in Wyoming, flunking out at Yale, and then getting his shit together, the story truly gets going in 2000, when things are great. Even though they don't win the popular vote, Dick Cheney and George Bush Jr. win the electoral college, and therefore the Whitehouse. And then 911 happens and suddenly Dick Cheney is commanding rooms of people with his stealthy, stoic manner, his decision-making capabilities. He and Don Rumsfeld have a good time selling the Iraq War to congress, and Dick Cheney even tricks Dick Armey into giving his very emotional blessing to the invasion. But then of course comes those pesky insurgents, and the fact that there's no WMDs, and then some torture photos, and then Dick Cheney, while Attorney General Ashcroft is sick in the hospital, tries to sneak past George Bush Jr. a very complicated and probably evil legislative maneuver involving wiretapping anyone the government sees fit to wiretapping. George Bush Jr. has an awakening after someone from the Justice Department lets him in on the fact that Dick Cheney is gaslighting him. From then (2006) on, Cheney is shut out. There's a scene narrated by a journalist in which Dick Cheney tries to convince Bush and his cabinet to invade North Korea, and Dick Cheney is ignored. The room turns on him. It's all over.
But here he sits in front of us in Cutler's documentary, saying he's not really worried about anything except flyfishing. He just got through his heart transplant surgery. I felt sorry for him, for Christ's sake. Don't ask me why. Something about his overt stubbornness, and the look on his face of total command of his own emotions and yet no one gives a shit any more. He reminded me of Stevens, the stoic, stealthy, hyper-controlled butler in Kazuo Ishiguro's novel The Remains of the Day. Stevens is a servant who has delusions of grandeur that his service to his master is what will save him from himself, that his life of martyrdom will bring meaning to his last days. In the novel it doesn't work out like that, and in The World According to Dick Cheney it doesn't work out like Dick Cheney wants, even though he is trying his damnedest not to care. He's all alone, making excuses, fingerpointing in a way that I think he thinks is not fingerpointing, even though it is. He's blaming everyone else in a weird, whispered tone, because in his mind his martyrdom was beyond heroic and beyond necessary. He made the Big Decisions George Bush Jr. didn't have the balls to make. In his political cosmos, he is the hero in a world that does not recognize heroes.
And that's probably one of the saddest things you can be.