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Sept. 11 movies tell stories, keep history alive

Daily Collegian – Sept. 9, 2011 | Daily Collegian – Sept. 12, 2001

Courtesy of Flickr

A day such as Sept. 11, 2001 shakes a society to its very foundation.

While the primary effects are seen in the socio-political environment of our country and others around the world, the tragic day that occurred one decade ago saw its ripples affect many other aspects of everyday life.

One striking example of this is in cinematic culture. From emotional biographical dramas to controversial documentaries, Sept. 11 has left a profound effect on film in the last 10 years.

World Trade Center (2006)

Directed by Oliver Stone and starring Nicolas Cage and Michael Peña, “World Trade Center” was one of the first major feature films primarily based on the terrorist attacks that occurred on Sept. 11, 2001.
The plot mainly centers on the true story of John McLoughlin and Will Jimeno (played by Cage and Peña, respectively), two Port Authority police officers who were trapped beneath the rubble of the collapsed South Tower and eventually rescued from the wreckage.

Notably, a great deal of police, fire and rescue workers participated in the production of the film in order to make the film’s representation of the events as accurate as possible.

In addition to having McLoughlin and Jimeno involved with the writing of the screenplay and production, the New York Emergency Service Unit served as technical advisers on set. The firefighters in the film were even played by members of the FDNY who served on Sept. 11.

Despite Stone’s eccentric and oft-controversial directing style in the past, the filmmaker stated in an interview that the film was simply “…an exploration of heroism in our country.”

Reign Over Me (2007)

Touching on the far more personal emotional reactions of a post-Sept. 11 American society, “Reign Over Me” features Adam Sandler portraying Charlie Fineman, a formerly happy and successful man who falls apart after his wife and child are killed during the attacks on Sept. 11.

Perhaps known for his sillier side in past blockbuster comedies, Sandler was approached for the role based on his dramatic performance in “Punch Drunk Love.”

After rekindling a friendship with his college roommate Alan – played by Don Cheadle – and nearly being committed to a sanitarium, Fineman finally moves on from being a shadow of his former self and moves out of the home he associates with the painful memories of his family.

While perhaps a very different role for Sandler, “Reign Over Me” is a story of the personal integrity required to overcome the tragedy of an infamous day that affected an entire nation.

Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004)

Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11” holds the record for the highest-grossing documentary film of all time.

The title, which was chosen as a nod to Ray Bradbury’s dystopian novel “Fahrenheit 451,” is explained in the film’s tagline as, “The temperature at which freedom burns.”

As with most of Moore’s films, “Fahrenheit 9/11” is a controversial expose piece, this time focused on the political effects of Sept. 11 within the U.S., as well as consequences such as the Patriot Act, the 2003 Invasion of Iraq and the presence of military recruitment and patriotism in low-income cities and neighborhoods.

The film received tremendous praise, including the Palme d’Or award and a 20-minute standing ovation at its debut at the Cannes Film Festival, but was also met with waves of criticism, being called “inaccurate” and “propaganda” by its detractors.

Some political analysts (as well as Moore himself) claimed it was possibly one of the first films of its kind to have a profound effect on American politics and elections, despite George W. Bush being re-elected in 2004.

102 Minutes That Changed America (2008)

While it is perhaps one of the lesser-known films regarding Sept. 11, “102 Minutes That Changed America” is arguably one of the more gripping.

Unlike nearly all other films on the subject, this made-for-TV special documentary is almost entirely composed of raw footage of the events shown in real time.

The footage, most of which was taken by amateur journalists or bystanders, was the sole property of the U.S. government until it was released to the History Channel a few years down the line.

In addition to 102 minutes of footage of the attacks, an accompanying 18-minute documentary features interviews with nine of the individuals who captured it, adding some depth to the raw, gritty and all too real primary footage.

Dave Coffey can be reached at

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