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Remember the Duck Rabbit? That’s the famous image that, seen one way, looks like a duck but, seen from another angle, looks like a rabbit. The image has provided fodder for children’s books and also philosophers, its inherent ambiguity being catnip to both light fancy and epistemological lucubration.
I thought of that teasing graphic confection when I encountered “The Final Year,” Greg Barker’s HBO documentary about the last 12 months of the Obama Administration’s foreign policy. At first I thought it was intended to be a duck: a sympathetic portrait of its main characters: President Obama himself, of course, but also Secretary of State John Kerry, our ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, and Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes. But the more I watched, the more the rabbit theme intruded: the more, I mean, that it struck me as a devastating portrait of mandarin entitlement gone horribly wrong.
Greg - Barker - Editorializing - Camera - Principals
I am really uncertain what Greg Barker intended. He indulges in no editorializing. The camera follows the principals around the world and simply captures their speeches and conversations: Samantha Power and John Kerry, President Obama at the U.N., Obama on his final trip to Greece, Ben Rhodes padding about the White House and elsewhere. It’s all presented in a very straightforward way to outline the Obama Administration’s ambitions as well as its frustrations as world events—the mess in Syria, the unbelievable election of Donald Trump—unfold around them.
The main characters are given plenty of on-air time to explain what they hope to accomplish and also to describe the forces, domestic as well as international, that they see as frustrating their aims.
Portrait - Ben - Rhodes - Scenes - Reaction
The portrait of Ben Rhodes was particularly poignant. Two scenes stand out. One was his reaction to the news that, somehow, Donald Trump had won the 2016 election. Those with a robust appetite...
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