Set to air on December 15th on Netflix, “Wormwood” is the true story of how the CIA plotted to keep its secrets safe through using LSD as a mind control drug. The experiments began in the early 1950’s and continued until they were completely halted in 1973. Conducted in a variety of locations that included hospitals, colleges, and prisons, the goal of the project was to use LSD to first weaken the mind and then follow up with interrogation and torture techniques to extract a confession.
The real, formal name of the project was MKUltra. The script for Wormwood is the real life story of Dr. Olsen played by Peter Sarsgaard who delves into the real reasons surrounding his father’s death. The trailer sets up the movie as the standard “us against them” narrative, and if it wasn’t real life we would look at the Errol Morris movie as just another formulaic attempt at revealing the secrets of the U.S. government.
However, under Morris’ direction, the six part series is anticipated to be one of his best works, combining documentary and non-fiction narrative styles. The works of Morris from several of his more popular films are well-known to documentary watchers, including A Brief History of Time about cosmologist Stephen Hawking and his most recent 2016 documentary, The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography. Based on the trailer we can expect to see a dark movie, both in lighting and the shadowy presence of the CIA. The darkness is revealed by the fact that it took Dr. Moore 60 years to put the pieces of the puzzle together. The movie may well illustrate the difficulty and time required to assemble the realities the government prefers to keep hidden.
The CIA has long been known to conduct secret operations and programs the elude the public eye for decades. Wormwood is another piece of evidence that supports the contention the U.S. government has many more secrets it chooses to hide from its citizens, even 50 years after the fact. One of the questions the series has to answer is whether or not the hidden secrets of the LSD experimentation are so egregious that they would offend modern cultural standards.
Morris emphasizes in the trailer that Dr. Moore’s father was an actual family man, slanting the narrative to how the CIA destroyed not only one person’s life, but an entire family. Imagine if you chose to spend virtually your entire life trying to discover the truth about how your father died, or in the case of Wormwood, how your father was killed. The journey of the discovery has the potential to be as attention getting as the revealed secrets.
Though Wormwood takes place in the 1950’s, it is clear that the importance of information, especially government information, has a high value. That makes it relevant for today, and creates a bridge that should have us asking what the U.S. government is involved in today where the value of information is significantly higher.