Oliver Stone, a major Hollywood talent and the director of the upcoming movie about the World Trade Center attacks, explained to a reporter that 9/11 “comes with baggage.” Despite rumors to the contrary, I expected to see anti-American or anti-Bush “baggage” at the advanced screening of Stone’s film last week. After all, his movies usually stir controversy and are typically saturated with far left ideology and distorted history –– for example, Platoon (1986), Born on the Fourth of July (1989), JFK (1991) Natural Born Killers (1994), Nixon (1995), The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996) and Alexander (2004).
Surprisingly, critics are praising the sensitivity and impact of Stone’s World Trade Center. Some optimists wonder if this movie signals a return to films that the whole family can watch; those that celebrate the triumph of the human spirit over adversity and tragedy. There’s also talk that Stone at long last wants to redeem his legacy. More cynical observers think that he is courting the audiences that flocked to The Passion and The Chronicles of Narnia –– that the detour through red-state values merely ensures a blockbuster hit to restore his clout in Hollywood.
Whatever else people think about Stone’s World Trade Center movie, critics generally give Stone credit for leaving behind the typical liberal “baggage” to make an apolitical movie.
But could being apolitical actually be a political statement in disguise?
Scrub out virtually all aspects of terrorism –– only a slight shadow of a plane on the towers –– and the story morphs into a challenging event no different than a natural disaster. Afterwards, leave out the dynamic presence of Rudy Guliani and there is no evidence of the extraordinary leadership that was so transformative in that crisis. Read President Bush out of the script, except for a brief televised image, and the national and international impact of the attack seems incidental. Purge all patriotism from the scene, leave out the president’s stirring remarks, subordinate the heroism of the rescuers and the story is one of extraordinary personal duress and survival.
Moreover, the only person shown to be interested in avenging the attack is –– no surprise –– a Marine who is a devout Christian. I don’t think it is accidental that the film provides no bridge from 9/11 to the War on Terrorism –– especially the Iraqi war.
I was profoundly moved by the courage of the two Marines whose consciences prompted a call to duty on 9/11, but I also saw broader implications in their actions. The attacks on the World Trade Center towers produced an unprecedented response –– literally thousands of Americans volunteered to help an overwhelmed New York, a city that lost so many brave firefighters and policemen that day.
Oliver Stone’s movie is not the full story of 9/11. Minus its complicating factors, the movie becomes a simple, though emotionally gripping, slice-of-life from a monumental event: the story of two policemen who get trapped in the rubble of 9/11, manage to stay alive long enough to be rescued and, after numerous operations, return to a relatively normal life with their wives, children and extended family whose anguish during their ordeal is a tremendously moving sub-plot of the movie.
As personal drama, it is affecting theatre, but it doesn’t convey the essence of that pivotal day in 2001 when evil triumphed and fear became a way of life for the most powerful nation in the world.
The two Port Authority cops were the 18th and 19th persons out of the mere 20 that were rescued alive from the terrorist attacks.
That fact alone is worth pondering.
Why did Oliver Stone choose to focus only on those two guys in telling a story about 9/11? This movie is only the second movie of Stone’s career that he did not write or help write the screenplay. The screenplay loses something when it ignores the larger context and the pain of the families of the hundreds of firemen and policemen who died that day.
Not to take anything away from those two courageous men; it is horrific to even imagine being practically buried alive under all that cement and steel. Nor would I want to take anything away from their families whose agony was painful to watch on-screen; I wouldn’t want to live through what they endured.
But those two men and their families would be the first to point to the heroism of those who gave their lives in the effort to rescue people from the flaming hell created by the Islamic terrorists determined to destroy the gleaming towers that were so symbolic of capitalistic America.
Am I too cynical to wonder why the firefighters were reduced to mere splashes of yellow in the background? I do recall that the New York City firefighters and policemen booed liberal Hillary Clinton when she took the stage at Madison Square Garden about a month after 9/11. Did they fail to give the liberal Stone the cooperation and support that would have been needed to include them in the movie? Has living in Washington over the past decade made me too jaded?
Plus, I can’t help but wonder if the movie’s respectful treatment of people of faith is just another attempt to show that conservatives don’t have a monopoly on respect for religion –– paving the way for left-wing political victories in 2006 and 2008? Imagine, a movie directed by Oliver Stone portraying religion in a positive light! Why those liberals really are part of the mainstream after all –– even the most left-leaning of them respects American and Judeo-Christian values. That would be Stone cold politics.
Ultimately, it is impossible to be apolitical about the evil attacks on America. The personal triumphs are inspiring and I’m glad there is a movie about the two men who were miraculously rescued; their story is worth dramatizing and Oliver Stone told their story well. With three Oscars to his credit, Stone is without a doubt a creative and skillful moviemaker. He gave us a glimpse of the personal horror of 9/11 as it affected two families. But, the fact that he views the terrorist attacks as “baggage” explains why, finally, he couldn’t depict the virulent Islamist hatred of America and our response to their terrorism.
Yet, the 9/11 “baggage” was necessary to lift the movie beyond entertainment to make it historically relevant. New York and the rest of the country still wait for an artist with the genius and burning passion to interpret 9/11 in a transcendent way that conveys a larger vision of the full meaning of the attacks and their significance to our national psyche.