The Day After

From my piece on trends in American cinema since 9/11, at TOH:

The westerns of the past decade can’t ignore the killing either: they are, if nothing else, about innocence lost, and their resurgence speaks to how we have attempted to deal with the world to which we woke on September 12, 2001. Whether set in the recent or distant past, each grapples with how democracy and capitalism function on frontiers. More vitally, they imply that democracy’s finest feature is that it protects the ability to criticize, argue, question, be heard. They show us that we may falter in trying to make good on this promise, but that there still remains some valor in the trying.

The best film about 9/11 treated the fateful day with stirring immediacy: United 93 (Paul Greengrass, 2006) captures the organic, natural bravery that we can muster at our best, even in a dark hour. It is a frightening, draining film — I remember seeing it on opening weekend and feeling as though the wind had been knocked out me — but it’s also a fitting memorial to all the people that day who showed the utmost courage in the face of a scary new world.

In the past decade, I suppose, the cinema has matched this broader world, trying to balance its critique of where we’ve gone awry with a depiction of what can happen when we follow our better angels. United 93, for its part, is entirely about the latter, and rightfully so. Reading about the 40 heroes of United 93 this week, the most poignant aspect for me was how their courage came about. It wasn’t formal or planned, but they voted to change the course of events. There’s still something to be learned from that, ten years into what came after. 

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