Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Is it too soon? Will it always be?

Obviously, I'm not too proud to mooch a debate from another blog. But something Liz wrote about at The American Mystery Deepens on Sunday night is so intriguing to me that I wanted to bring up the same debate here.

United 93: Should this film have been made? Is it too soon for a dramatization of 9/11 events to be in movie theaters? Are the wounds still too raw? At this point, is mining this subject matter - the hijacked flight which was downed once the passengers rose up to oppose the terrorists - for the presumed purposes of entertainment an exercise in tastelessness?

To Liz, the answer to all of the above is yes. From her post:

Do we need this display of horror plastered onto screens across the country? Is it necessary to attain "closure" through a fictional reinaction of events that occured on a day that will forever live in infamy, all of which cannot be accurately reported because there were no survivors.

It is honoring the lives lost that day to produce a movie about their end, or is it exploitation? - a movie produced that will most likely make millions, profiting from events that took the lives of millions of individuals.

I'll basically repeat the comments I left in response. I'm definitely conflicted on this. When I first saw the ads for this film, I had much the same reaction: It's too soon.

But as I think about it more, at the risk of sounding pretentious, I find myself leaning toward the side of the filmmakers on this one. Chalk it up to the artist in me. They saw a story they wanted to tell, and the director - Paul Greengrass - seems to be handling this cautiously and sensitively, from all accounts. And the majority of his past filmography - with documentaries and films dealing with violence and national tragedies, such as Bloody Sunday - lends him some benefit of the doubt, in my mind.

Yes, it feels too soon, but maybe it's always going to feel that way, even 10 years later. It's never going to feel right. Because we've never been through anything like this. We're never going to be comfortable with the subject. There's no precedent. There's no statute of limitations.

Will it make money? I'm guessing it won't. 9/11 has been touched upon in movies like The 25th Hour and shows like Rescue Me, but as far as I know, this is the first project to address the events directly. And I don't think people want to see, nor are ready for, a movie like this. Oliver Stone's upcoming World Trade Center will surely suffer from the same burden of memory.

But I don't think that means the movie can't be made, and the story shouldn't be told. Even if it's packaged as entertainment, art (film, literature, drama, music, etc.) should challenge people once in a while, and make them think. And I think there are plenty of people out there who want that. Soon after 9/11, many critics and observers were lamenting the lack of a response from the creative community on what happened. Would there be any songs about 9/11, as there were on, say, the Vietnam War? Of course, people said it was too soon. And back then, it surely was. But there was probably also creative paralysis. How in the hell do you address something like that?

So five years later, I guess I admire Greengrass and crew for trying. And I probably will go to see this movie. But I certainly understand those who won't. And I can see how even watching a trailer - especially without much choice in the matter - would be upsetting.

If you regularly read Liz's blog and have already argued the point, I apologize for the rerun. But if not, please check out her post first, and read through the comments, because some really interesting points were raised. I hope people might leave some thoughts here because I want to read what you guys - those who stop by regularly or otherwise - have to say on the subject.

▪▪ Here's a debate among four writers from Slate.

▪▪ The two trailers for the film, which likely stoked this discussion in the first place, can be seen here.

▪▪ And finally, a feature on United 93's director, Paul Greengrass.