Director Adam Curtis has dedicated much of his career to testing the limits of experiential forms of art and media, best exemplified by his 2010 documentary It Felt Like a Kiss, which examines 20th-century politics through an intellectual montage of pop-cultural moments and texts, often wildly mixing high and low to impressionistic effect. However, Curtis isn’t merely a collage filmmaker and his new documentary, Bitter Lake, is a profound testament to harnessing newly formulated ambitions beyond merely proffering archival footage employed in new contexts.
Effectively, Curtis attempts to locate an operative binary for late-20th-century grand narratives as they pertain to the Western mythologies undergirding international diplomacy. Curtis arrives at the conclusion that leaders like Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and Tony Blair constructed a simplistic narrative of good and evil to reconcile complex and unknowable forces beyond domestic lines (feels like there’s a word, or words, missing here), such that nations like Afghanistan became locations to be pummeled and eradicated, given that the rhetoric being offered rendered their peoples as sub-human. Curtis makes these points very clearly in a voiceover that guides the film’s larger themes, and though he prefers to put these points very succinctly, the 138 minutes of footage and material surrounding them achieve much finer articulations, approaching a revisionist history of Western decadence that positions imperial rule as synonymous with cultural dominance.