Frank Olson plunged from a 10th floor hotel window, but his son was never convinced it was suicide. In Wormwood he and Errol Morris try to unravel the truth behind what happened.
This six-part Netflix series explores every angle of the suspicious demise of Frank Olson, a family man and army scientist who apparently killed himself in 1953.
How Olsen came to plunge from the 10th-floor window of a New York hotel has obsessed his son Eric for more than 60 years and dominated his entire life.
Through present day interview’s, past interviews and brilliantly directed re-enactments, Morris slowly reveals this complex tale drawing parallels with Hamlet throughout: a son so obsessed with his father’s killing that all other life falls away as he drives himself mad in pursuit of the truth.
While stationed at Camp Detrick, Maryland, in the early 50s, Frank worked on biochemical weapons and a bizarre drug trial where he and many others were secretly given LSD and interrogated – throwing him into a paranoiad state and making him want to leave his job. It also lead the powers that be to be see him as a security risk to the CIA. Did he throw himself out of that window during a flashback or moment of hopelessness, or more likely, were more sinister forces at work?
Morris and Olson take their time over the details and the whole thing is given life by overlapping dramatic reconstructions in which Peter Sarsgaard masterfully plays Frank as an unhappy figure who’s feels like a failure for the damage his research into chemical weapons did when secretly used against the enemy in the Korean war.
It is shot beautifully with the 50s sequences looking like a Coen Brothers movie. The documentary segments often adopt unconventional, disorientng visual stylings, reminding the audience that all is not what it seems.
Eric’s need to know “what happened in that room” is the constant motif. Twenty years after his dad’s death, he sees in a newspaper that the CIA had been conducting experiments with LSD and that his father had been one of the subjects. His suicide starts to look more and more unlikely.
A reluctant Ford administration does its best to throw off interference, inviting a now adult Eric and his family to the Oval office to receive an official apology for non-specific mishandling of the situation. It is supposed to provide a full stop, but like everything else in this program it just raises more questions.
I don’t want to give too much away so all I’ll say is if you love quality true crime documentaries you MUST watch Wormwood – it’s a fucking masterpiece!!!
By Professor Bambi Dudeman Ladypants Jr. the 3rd from Leongatha