There is little doubt that since the end of the Cold War, the dominant political climate in the world has been defined by fear. We call them terrorists, because their principal weapon is terror. The attackers seek to control the attacked by making them afraid. The attacked have by and large taken up the same weapons and tried to make the attackers afraid. It’s a vicious cycle, and over time, those fear-weapons turn inward, and everyone is afraid of everyone else, even their neighbors, and everyone is trying to make everyone else, even their neighbors, feel afraid.
[T]Error is a documentary that follows one of those fearful fear-mongers, a man who works as an informant for the FBI. He goes by many names as part of his cover, and prior to being an informant, he was both in prison and a member of the Black Panther party during the Civil Right’s Movement in the 60s. His prior conviction makes it difficult for him to find other work, and his original sentence was alleviated because he agreed to work for the FBI. This man is a spy, but he’s nothing like James Bond. He’s an overweight, poor, elderly African American Muslim man who has no other option than to do what the FBI asks.
His target in this documentary is a young Muslim man in Pittsburg who the FBI thinks is capable of turning radical and joining Al Quaeda. This man frequently rants against America on Facebook and in YouTube videos, reads up on radical Islam and military tactics, and frequents a gun range where he practices with an high-powered automatic rifle. Our spy befriends him in hopes of getting him to confess that he’d like to join Al Quaeda.
[T]Error is a fine documentary in that its aim is to explore and discover this world of FBI informants and their targets. The filmmakers began following the spy because they found him interesting. They discovered more about his life as they filmed. Then, at a key point in their documentation, a second path opened up to them in the story, and they had the wisdom to follow it. What they discover complicates everything they had documented before. [T]Error is an open film, and it invites discussion.
That’s not to say it isn’t also pointed. The film certainly has an opinion on what it depicts. The “big bad” in the film throughout is the FBI. The FBI is a nameless, faceless, always shadowed entity that manipulates and controls the lives of both the spy and his target. The film is highly critical of this method of (arguable) entrapment that the FBI uses to capture these suspected, possible terrorists. Issues of free speech, due process, religious freedom, and justice abound.
Overall, I found the film deeply disheartening, because it so well captures the repercussions of this climate of fear that we’ve allowed to persist for the last two decades. Look at what we’re doing to ourselves. Furthermore, [T]Error makes clear the limits of human justice. No matter our good intentions—and I really do believe the intentions of the FBI, and therefore, us, the people whom they work for—we are sinful, and all our attempts to promote good and stop evil in the world are tainted by this sin. We want to save, and yet we condemn the innocent. Come, Lord Jesus, and bring your truly just kingdom to earth.