In the new documentary, Cold Case Hammarskjöld, Director Mads Brügger (The Ambassador 2011) seeks to explore the truth behind a mysterious, 50 year-old plane crash, along with help from Swedish private investigator Goran Bjorkdahl. Part journalistic mystery, part conspiracy theory, this film invites you to explore the daring possibility that this time, the unproven theory just might be true.
In 1961, United Nations secretary-general Dag Hammarskjöld’s plane mysteriously crashed, killing Hammarskjöld and most of the crew. It’s understood that, because Hammarskjöld was, at the time, advocating for Congo’s independence (against the wishes of European mining companies and other powerful entities), the “crash” was an assassination.
When Hammarskjöld died, he was on his way to oversee cease fire negotiations in the Congo. After the crash, it turns out that the investigators ignored statements by locals who all mentioned the sightings of a second plane, a flash, and a shot-like sound. Then, there is the image of Hammarskjöld’s body lying near the crash with a playing card – the ace of spades AKA the death card – wedged into his collar. This was absolutely one of those moments that was a jaw-dropper for me.
As Brügger and Bjorkdahl keep following the clues, it leads them to Keith Maxwell, a member of the South African Institute for Maritime Research (SAIMR), a white supremacist group. Their goal: to reshape the world on racist grounds. And, if that means performing medical experiments on Africans, weaponizing AIDS, or killing Dags Hammarskjöld, so be it.
This movie is an unbelievable watch. I’m a skeptic by nature, and while I am occasionally interested in conspiracy theories, I never believe they will lead to much. Cold Case Hammarskjöld is a notable exception. It’s impossible to watch without falling straight through the rabbit hole of disbelief and coming out shaken and changed. Filmmaker Mads Brügger is a gentle, balding man, almost comical in nature. For most of the film, we see him in a hotel room, dictating the story to two African stenographers. But, as the film goes on, he becomes more lively and shrewd, and you realize how much of a showman he really can be. He teases us at just the right moment to keep us interested in the next shocking detail to come. It is brilliant work.
That’s not to say that this is a perfect film. There’s a certain rambling nature in the way it’s edited that keeps it from being a tight, streamlined and more coherent watch. But it tells the story it needs to in the end. And, while Cold Case Hammarskjöld never offers up easy answers, the questions it raises will chill you to the bone more than any horror film. This is a story that absolutely must be seen. This dark, dirty chapter has been swept away long enough: it’s high time it saw the light.