Monday, March 27, 2006

Too Soon?

Went to the movies over the weekend - Spike Lee's entertaining Inside Man. There were some trailers before the feature, and one of them had shots of flight attendants and passengers milling about in an airport - you could feel a brief shimmer of excitement rolling throughout the packed-out theatre - finally, the trailer for Snakes on a Plane!

But alas, it became clear that it was instead the trailer for United 93, this spring's docudrama about the fourth plane in the September 11th attacks. Yes, this is what we will have to put up with throughout this fifth anniversary year - the first wave of 9/11 fictionalizations. It will be a few years before the Michael Bay-style Pearl Harbor versions of 9/11 come down the pipe. The first few that get made (like Oliver Stone's forthcoming World Trade Center) will no doubt take the genteeler route - they won't put forth conspiracy theories or out-and-out xenophobia, or overly graphic portrayals of the death and destruction. They will put the horror forward in a matter-of-fact manner; they will celebrate the heroism of the Americans who risked or sacrificed their lives, and America itself by extension. It will be termed "being sensitive" to the concerns of the families affected, treating the subject matter "tastefully". If the filmmakers were truly sensitive, then why would they make fiction out of these events at all? Especially when so much of what we know about what happened that day is still so prone to conjecture? This is what we mean when we say "too soon".

United 93 is directed by Paul Greengrass, who made both Bloody Sunday and The Bourne Supremacy, so I guess I should have faint hope that it won't be exploitative in his hands, but I still have to ask - what is the point of this film now? Do audiences need to go through a simulacrum of dying in a plane hijacking? What is there to understand about what they went through that can be captured in a fiction, one which will take pains to stick to the official version of events anyways? And how's this for tasteful - Flight 93 left westward from Newark, which was as close as it got to New York City that day, but check out the poster design Universal has chosen for the film.

Anyway, there was a lot of muttering in the theatre in the immediate wake of the trailer. It's still too soon. Films that speak to our fears about real horrors and phobias connect with audiences on a wider scale if they are delivered as allegory. Spielberg's porno War of the Worlds alluded to 9/11 with sledgehammers, while Wes Craven's old-school B-movie Red Eye did it more subtly. Films that supposedly take the topic head-on, with high-mindedness and attention to state-sanctioned detail, will meet resistance from the public. For now, anyway.

Now I just hope the ads for Snakes on a Plane are tasteless - in the good sense.

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