This is how the 9/11 attacks impacted the cinema

Between horror, amazement and disbelief. Devastating images shocked the world September 11, 20 years ago, but they did not belong to any fiction. Again reality surpassed us with four attacks linked to the jihadist network of Al Qaeda against North American infrastructures.

One frustrated, against the Capitol, another causing damage at the pentagon, and the other two, the most impressive and which are already part of the collective memory, destroying New York’s World Trade Center complex, including the iconic Twin Towers of New York.

A terrorist attack of unprecedented proportions. In addition to the dimension of the tragedy, they pulverized the concept of security in the western world. The objectives were not just military or strategic but civilians; weapons of destruction, commercial airplanes with normal and ordinary passengers; and the executors, suicidal willing to give their life, without turning back, in pursuit of their cause. Everything was possible. Nothing and no one could be safe. Paranoia accompanied the pain.

The effects of the 9/11 attacks they were immediately noticed in the cinema, although they did not have a transcendence far from as revolutionary as that derived from the recent movements of the #MeToo o #BlackLivesMatter, claiming the greater presence and relevance of women and Afro-Americans, also of marginal or minority ethnic groups so far in the North American industry. Still, one can speak of a post 9/11 cinema. The following relationship of the impact it had on the cinema fits only fiction movies.

Erasing a painful image

The best known example is that of the first film of Spider-Man directed by Sam Raimi. In it, a spectacular scene was eliminated in which some robbers, fleeing by helicopter, they were caught by a gigantic spider web that the superhero had woven between the two Twin Towers.

Although the scene completely disappeared in the final cut can still be seen in the trailer released, before the attacks and then retired. By the way, Spider-Man It was a huge box office hit when it was released on May 2, 2002.

In addition to the fact that it might not make sense for a post-9/11 movie to show up a scenario that no longer existed, the main reason for erasing was to avoid hurting sensibilities. Enter the number of digitally modified movies, to remove the trail from the towers, we can remember the comedy Zoolander with Ben Stiller, released in the United States just a couple of weeks after the attacks; The romantic Serendipity with Kate Beckinsale and John Cusack (released at the beginning of October) or even classics from years ago like Home alone 2 1992.

The animated feature film Lilo & Stitch Disney altered its final action scenes, between skyscrapers and with the presence of a Boeing 747 (it premiered in summer 2022); and Men in Black II, with Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, also changed its final climax, in which the towers were representative, for that of the Statue of Liberty (it premiered in July 2002).

Postponed premieres and cancellations

Long before the pandemic wreaked havoc on studio shoot plans and premieres, 9/11 also disrupted forecasts. It was considered appropriate to postpone, almost a year, the premiere of Gangs of New York from Martin Scorsese, with Leonardo Dicaprio and Daniel Day-Lewis. His image with political corruptions and rival gangs roaming freely in the City of the Big Apple, even in 1863, it was too violent and unpatriotic for those moments (it would be released on December 20, 2002).

Leonardo DiCaprio y Daniel Day-Lewis en 'Gangs of New York'
Leonardo DiCaprio y Daniel Day-Lewis en ‘Gangs of New York’
Miramax Films

The Bourne Affair, with Matt Damon, it did not exactly leave the image of the CIA in a good place, and since it did not seem the moment, he also had to wait (until June 2002). Collateral damage with Arnold Schwarzenegger it contained terrorist attacks (the premiere was postponed until February of the following year) and a scene on an airplane was suppressed. Romantic comedy The sidewalks of New York from Edward Burns removed the image of the iconic towers on the poster and the premiere was also postponed (until late November).

Worse luck ran projects that never came to fruition. Nosebleed it was supposed to be an action movie starring Jackie Chan. His character was an employee of the World Trade Center, a window cleaner who uncovered a plot to destroy the Statue of Liberty. For its part, James Cameron He also decided not to carry out his planned sequel to Risky lies, with Schwarzenegger and Jamie Lee Curtis, and thus avoid references to Islamic fundamentalist terrorism.

New York: Year Zero

If the goal was to try to hide the tragedy as much as possible, as if the World Trade Center had never existed, The last night from Spike Lee he bet precisely the opposite, refuse to ignore it.

Edward Norton in 'The Last Night'
Edward Norton in ‘The Last Night’
25th Hour Productions

This story of a manEdward Norton) who spends his last hours of freedom before having to spend seven years in prison for drug trafficking, does not avoid showing scenes with the devastated “Ground Zero”, the empty lot where the World Trade Center used to stand. Spike Lee thus avoided hiding a reality, but also served in the narration as a parallel to the feelings of the movie characters with the national state of mind.

On the other hand, eliminating any image or reference that was likely to hurt sensibilities, even if it had nothing to do with the attacks, did not prevent the second part of the trilogy of The Lord of the rings from Peter Jackson, and titled precisely The two Towers, was a blockbuster since its premiere in December 2002.

New iconographies of destruction

Spielberg he always acknowledged that he filmed his adaptation of War of the Worlds (2005), the famous novel by H. G. WellsWith the New York bombings in mind. The first scenes of destruction, in the first attack of the Martians on the civilian population, rubble and ash cover the bodies of the survivors, like that of the protagonist (Tom Cruise) referring to a harsh real image that had already been seen countless times before through the news during 9/11.

'War of the Worlds'
‘War of the Worlds’
DreamWorks Pictures

In horror movies, the box office phenomenon of The Blair Witch Project (1999) made found-footage films fashionable, with images that seemed real, but the attacks they also promoted the use of the found-footage in the genre.

Five years to deal with the issue

Flight 93 (2006) from Paul Greengrass marked another milestone by daring to recreate one of the traumatic true events. The fateful story of the 40 passengers on United Airlines Flight 93 and narrating, also in real time, how they came to face the terrorists They had kidnapped them and preventing them from reaching their goal of crashing into the Capitol.

'Flight 93'
‘Flight 93’

It was a tale of heroes in spite of themselves, although based on hypotheses about what could have happened in there in those final minutes. It was carried out with the consent of the victims’ relatives, some of whom even participated as actors. The same year the documentary was also released Flight 93 from Peter Markle.

Patriotism and the new heroes

The themes related to 9/11 used to to have as main characters family members of the victims, firefighters, police, health workers or volunteers who participated in rescue operations or those who gave their lives trying to save others.

They did not create a school or a genre in itself, perhaps weighed down by their excess of sentimentality or patriotism, but there they were World Trade Center from Oliver Stone, with Nicolas cage and Michael Pena playing two policemen. From the perspective of those who lost loved ones, Adam Sandler he was a dentist who Somewhere in memory (2007) had to overcome the death of his family; and in So strong so close from Stephen Daldry (2011) the central figure was an eleven-year-old boy whose father died in the attacks.

'The darkest night'
‘The darkest night’

Much better reception got thrillers like Network of lies (2008) of Ridley Scott, with DiCpario and Russell Crowe, and the CIA engrossed in its operations in the Middle East; and The Sniper from Clint Eastwood, and with Bradley Cooper on the hunt for the Taliban, it was a blockbuster in 2014.

Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to win the Oscar for Best Director for the hurt Locker (2008), a tense account of the dangerous work of the elite US bomb squad unit in Iraq, and in The darkest night (2012) narrated the hunt and capture of Osama Bin Laden, leader of Al-Qaeda.

The Tribeca Film Festival

Also in response to the 9/11 attacks, and to contribute to the cultural and economic revitalization in Manhattan, the production company Jane Rosenthal, her ex-husband the investor and philanthropist Craig Hatkoff and actor Robert De Niro founded the film contest located in the Manhattan neighborhood in 2002.

What is the price of a life?

The latest film to address 9/11 issues is Worth directed by Sara Colangelo and that opens in theaters this friday september 10. He does it from a different perspective, contrasting the human aspects with the economic ones and under the motto of how much a life can be worth.

Michael Keaton and Stanley Tucci in 'Worth'
Michael Keaton and Stanley Tucci in ‘Worth’
Vertigo Films

To avoid a bankruptcy that would have seriously affected the North American economy, the United States Congress agreed to create the September 11 Victims Compensation Fund. The beneficiaries had to first agree not to sue the airlines involved.

Colangelo’s film focuses in two real characters. On the one hand in Kenneth Feinberg (Michael Keaton), a prestigious lawyer specializing in determining financial compensation in the event of death, and Charles Wolf (Stanley Tucci), another lawyer, but who lost his wife on 9/11 and is against the aid program that he wants to implement, seeking to compensate with the most adjusted figure possible.

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