Its Never Too Soon to Capitalize on Tragedy

Oliver Stone - Healer of WoundsIt’s never too soon to capitalize on tragedy, or so says Oliver Stone with his new film, World Trade Center.

Seldom do I watch TV these days, but last night I indulged in a little late-night Simspons. I caught the tail end of some news broadcasts and the first segment of Charlie Rose with guests Oliver Stone, Nicholas Cage, and Michael Pena. On the news broadcast, NYC police officers were invited to a pre-screening of the film and raved about how “realistic” the movie was. The news reporter said, “…and some of the cast were actually in Manhattan on September 11th.” They cut to the solemn face of Maria Bello saying (sanctimoniously), “I never saw so many people come together and help one another.”

On Charlie Rose I watched Nicholas Cage talk about the “heroes,” and refer to his conversation with the rescuers: “I was in the presence of real angels.”

Oliver Stone said he had to draw the line on what might be considered going too far and felt he tread that line carefully. People, he thought, would be “happy” with his version of events, and he hoped the film would be “healing” for them.

To end the news broadcast, the announcer said, “Ten percent of the revenue of the first five days of the film’s release will go to a September 11th fund and to the downtown memorial, so see it now!”


No, I won’t listen to Maria Bello tell me how it was that day because I was there, on Church Street, just four blocks away when the first tower fell.

No, I won’t let Nicholas Cage tell me in pumped up false piety how I should feel about the rescuers. That day he was sitting in his expensive condo in California sipping chardonnay and reading his next bad script.

No, I won’t let Oliver Stone tell me how he tempered his version of events so as not to offend or that I need to spend $12 and watch a fictionalized version of events in order to “heal.”

No, I won’t let some marketer convince me I have to see the film in the first five days, otherwise my money’s wasted.

Never mind that it’s only been five years, that the war(s) begun on that day are still being fought. According to Oliver Stone, it’s never too soon to heal and make a buck.

7 Replies to “Its Never Too Soon to Capitalize on Tragedy”

  1. Maybe you should see the movie before being so harsh on it? History doesn’t go away because you refuse to acknowledge it. Maybe the subject matter is too close and personal for you to be able to deal with it, but that doesn’t mean that others shouldn’t attempt to look further into what happened by whatever means is necessary. I seem to recall you loved Jonathan Safran Foer’s “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”. Why not condemn it as well? Was the writer at Ground Zero that day? Did his family really suffer the loss of a loved one? I don’t believe so. I believe he also made a bit off profit from that novel.

    People create art and watch art in order to deal with the world around them. Period. I’m getting kind of tired of the bemoaning (check out that be- word!) that “people are making money off of other’s suffering!” Hell yes they are. It happens every day. If it isn’t people making movies and books about Sept. 11th or the Holocaust or slavery, then it’s people making money off of investigating crimes or putting out fires or fighting wars in foreign lands. Or should the police, firemen and soldiers relinquish their salaries as well?


  2. I’d really like to see a geographic breakdown of the ticket sales across the nation; I suspect NY’s numbers will be much less than the rest of the US, unless people decide to go for some kind of cathartic release. I saw the trailer for this just before An Inconvenient Truth and it was very eerie to see those images again. A friend noted that when she saw the same trailer she was very uncomfortable and many people in the audience were openly weeping–not in a good way, I imagine. Apparently they were supposed to warn people about when this trailer would play, because it’s not something everyone wants to see, and the surprise may not be a pleasant one.

    I shouldn’t judge the movie before seeing it (and I likely won’t see it), but I think I’m getting the same impressions Matt is from this. It doesn’t look like it’s an exploration of the events so much as it’s an exploitation. I get a different vibe from this than I did from the two movies dealing with (fictionalized) events on the planes that hit the towers. This film seems like a standard disaster/heroes against the odds plot thrown against the WTC setting. I don’t think this will add to our understanding of what happened, and I don’t think this will make us appreciate the sacrifices made that day anymore than we already do. I do think it will upset a lot of people and make a lot of money by sensationalizing a tragedy.

    I think I would feel different if this were twenty years later, or if a NY director and people who were closer to the events were more involved with the film. Right now it seems like those involved just looked at the WTC and said, “Wow, that’ll make a good story.”

  3. Devin, I felt Foer’s EL&IC only involved Sept 11th peripherally. The story is really about a boy’s attempt to mourn his father’s death. If I felt the book was exploiting the tragedy, I would have put it down.

    In the past, there has always been a buffer between a tragedy and a film about it. This buffer allows us to see the events objectively.

    This film is purely an exploitation film. You go to it knowing that there will be heroes and there will be tragedy, and since the events of that day are so strong in people’s minds, then the emotions will be all the more easy to conjure in the viewer.

    Just because people capitalize on other people’s suffering doesn’t mean I have to accept it. And you may be right, the events may be to close to me personally. I just reject the idea of someone else trying to tell me how to feel about that day.

  4. What irks me is the piety of the director and actors. They pretend that they’re doing a tremendous public service–by informing people about the events and sacrifices of 9/11! Excuse me, but do you know anybody who *isn’t* aware of the heroes who died on 9/11 or how the country came together on that terrible day? It was in 2001! I suppose if you’re 10 years old it’s possible you might not remember, but I don’t think that’s their target audience. There is no “grand, noble purpose” to this movie despite all the self-righteous yammering to the contrary. It was made purely to entertain the audience and to make money in the process. I just wish they’d be honest about that–but I guess that’s uncomfortably close to what some might term exploitation.

    I do, however, think there’s an applicable statute of limitations after which I would no longer considered it exploitation. I had no problem with “Titanic,” for example, which didn’t pretend to serve some noble purpose (okay, maybe a little during the Oscar acceptance speeches). And at least it’s arguable that some segment of the audience was unaware of the real story of the Titanic. Not so, 9/11.

    All of that being said, I will probably have to rent this flick in order to fairly assess the year’s crop of movies when formulating my annual top ten list.

  5. I guess my thing is how individual the concept of exploitation evidently is. To me, it either is or it isn’t. People have problems with movies, but not novels, paintings, poetry, etc. I don’t get it. Also, saying “it’s too soon” is a bunch of nonsense. Either you can deal with it or you can’t, and if the passage of time causes the event to have less impact on you, then what does that say about you and what the event ever meant in the first place? I mean, what, I’m supposed to wait until I’ve forgotten that day so that someone who has no concept can tell me 20 years later what I should feel about the event? Ask Pearl Harbor veterans how well Michael Bay did in that regard.

    And as far as telling the audience a historical event in a movie? Oh boy, don’t even get me started. Anyone going to a movie theatre to get their historical knowledge needs to rethink their sources.

    Considering this movie is about people in the attack and not the attack itself (they refused to show any images of the planes impact), and that advisors to the film were in the buildings that day, I’m willing to give Stone the benefit of the doubt on this project until I see it. His recent crap aside, I’m hoping that with so much involvement by people who were there, he can give us something close to “Platoon” on the personal level.


  6. I’m okay with the movie, except the part where LBJ was secretly behind it all. That said, I probably won’t go see it as it doesn’t have Kevin Kostner in it.

    I wonder what the healing effect will be when we relive the events (more or less than our individual experiences on 9/11) and renew our anger (more or less than our individual experiences after 9/11) at the terrorists, who are now being linked with an invasion of Iran.

  7. Healing shmealing. This movie is not about healing. It’s about our gruesome and all too human obsession with other people’s misery. Yes, Stone has the right to make it and yes people will flock to see it. But it won’t be out of charity. Have you noticed the look in people’s eyes when they ask you if you were there on September 11th? It’s not sympathetic. It’s not fearful. It’s hopeful. They want to know you saw it. They want the details. They want to know if you saw the bodies. It’s their vicarious way of slowing down the car at the scene of an accident, sticking their heads out the car window and having a good long look at something they know will terrify them. It’s the same impulse that sends us into theaters to see scary movies. It’s one of the darker shades of human nature, an almost sexual fondness for terror. Stone may be so self-deluded as to honestly believe his intentions are noble. But the millions of people munching popcorn while our human tragedy unspools in glorious technicolor for their entertainment will be enjoying it for the same reasons they enjoyed the Exorcist.

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