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Errol Morris on Donald Trump’s Takeaway From ‘Citizen Kane’

The documentarian discussed the president’s irony deficit on ‘The Big Picture’

Errol Morris Getty Images

Documentarian Errol Morris joined The Big Picture on Friday to discuss his new project, Wormwood, a Netflix mini-docuseries about Frank Olson, a 1950s CIA operative who died under mysterious circumstances. Morris also discussed the day he spent with Donald Trump more than a decade ago, when the two talked about Trump’s favorite movie, Citizen Kane, and why he identifies with the lead character.

Read the story below, and listen to the full podcast here. This transcript has been edited and condensed.

Sean Fennessey: How was your experience with the sitting president when you interviewed him?

Errol Morris: This may come as no surprise; I’m a connoisseur of irony. Here I am in the greenroom — Iggy Pop, Jessye Norman the opera singer, Walter Cronkite, Mikhail Gorbachev, and, for the pièce de résistance, Donald Trump. What a show!

Fennessey: What did you learn that day?

Morris: Trump complained because we took Gorbachev [back for an interview] before him. [Whispering.] Didn’t know he was gonna become president. We’re there to talk about favorite movies … because this is for the Oscars. And I try to shoot as much as possible with certain people because I thought, “Hmm, maybe there is a little film that could be made out of all of this.” So the piece I used in the Academy Awards film was Donald Trump talking about King Kong taking over New York, but we also talked about Citizen Kane.

So he’s talking about Citizen Kane, and it’s kind of amazing. I’m not even sure I know what to make of it, and I have to be perfectly honest that my feelings about Donald Trump are clouded by what you might call his current role as president of the United States. So he starts to tell me about Charles Foster Kane, who he identifies with. And what was Charles Foster Kane’s real problem? Was his problem that he was a megalomaniac? Not so much. Was his problem that he treated people around him miserably? Nah! What was his problem? According to Donald Trump, his problem was the woman he married. So at the very end of this clip, I asked Donald Trump, “Would you have any advice for Charles Foster Kane?” And he says, “Yeah! Get yourself a different woman.”

Fennessey: That’s an extraordinary moment.

Morris: Is that what I took away from Citizen Kane? Not so much. I saw maybe a different film than Donald Trump.

Fennessey: He really underlines some lack of awareness of the irony that you’re talking about, too.

Morris: There are certain people that I think suffer — I wanted to have this in some psychiatric dictionary — from “irony deficit disorder”: the absolute inability to see irony when it’s really stuck right in front of your face. Donald Trump suffers from irony deficit disorder.