The Elephant in the Room

I know a lot of people are going to disagree with me, but I’ve decided I’m not going to see Cloverfield.  I’ve read hundreds of blogs and reviews this morning talking about it just to gauge a sense of the public reaction to the film.  Most people seem to like it, and many, if not most feel the 9-11 allusions are not enough to stop them from enjoying the movie.

Consider Wil Wheaton’s review.   Wil says:

About the elephant in the room: It was impossible for me to watch this movie without thinking about 9/11, and that made it more powerful for me than it would have been otherwise. When the heroes ducked into that store while the dust plume from the collapsing building blew up the street, I got as close to a 9/11 flashback as I think I’m capable of having, and it created an emotional reference point for the rest of the movie….Though I live in Los Angeles, that day was an exhausting, terrifying, and traumatic event for me. I’m one degree of several people who died that day, so it’s a pretty personal thing for me, too. Cloverfield put me back in touch with some emotional memories that I haven’t accessed in six and a half years, and while I know there are a lot of cynics who will scoff at that, there it is.

Sorry Wil.  I’m one of those cynics.  All Americans think they shared the same 9-11 experience that day if they a) watched the events unfold on TV and felt afraid or b) knew someone who knew someone who died or c) has a family member or knows someone in NY who related the story to them.

Here’s the thing: you did not have the same experience.  You had a mediated experience, a frightening one, yes, but one in which your life was never in danger.

My experience: leaving my office at Reade and Broadway (four blocks from the WTC) and walking up Church street because the subways were closed.  A minute later, the first tower collapses — the same tower I glimpsed every morning on my way to the office and would say to myself, “These are our pyramids; they will last for thousands of years…” — this tower collapsing and everyone, everyone (thousands of people: suits, hipsters, street vendors, even the fucking homeless) running and screaming, and suddenly you realize that, hey, this isn’t a movie, this isn’t something happening to someone else, it’s happening to me, and that one hundred and ten story skyscraper is coming down right now, and I don’t know where it’s going to land, and if I don’t run I might die too.  There was a period where I thought I was going to die.  My experience wasn’t mediated by TV.

I suppose it’s easy for those who saw the events on TV that day to watch them again on the big screen.  After all, with the invisible barrier, they were never in any real danger.

So I say to those of you who watched these events from your comfortable living room chair, trying to tell me to shut up, that it’s only a film, that it’s some kind of metaphor for our times like Godzilla was for Hiroshima, I say: phooey.  No, I say, fuck you.  Mr. Abrams and others, you cannot understand from your comfortable Hollywood life how you torture and play with the emotions of those who were there that day, that experienced the events first hand.

When I see the movie poster that plays with 9-11 imagery (and you’d have to be a fool to deny that this poster was not influenced by 9-11), you might imagine some of the emotions coming up in me.  In the preview we see the skyline and the subways blowing up.  While, every day on my commute into Manhattan, I am told by loudspeaker that, for my safety, my bags are subject to search by the MTA Police.

I cannot find myself entertained by an event which was personally horrifying for me, and I find that those who use this imagery for profit are at the very best, completely insensitive, and at the worst, vulgar sons of bitches.

You may disagree, and I respect that.  But don’t ever try to deny me my experience, or tell me, as this blog post does, that my feelings are worthless.

3 Replies to “The Elephant in the Room”

  1. Your reaction to the subject matter of this movie is perfectly valid in light of your personal 9/11 experiences.

    For me, “Coverfield” which I thought was scary and inventive, is just another in a long line of movies about the destruction of NYC. “Godzilla” did some serious damage to the city a few years ago. In “AI,” NYC is underwater save (ironically enough) for the Twin Towers. More recently, in “I am Legend,” NYC is a wasteland and we see, in flashbacks, the horror of emergency evacuations from the Southstreet Seaport, which reminded me of 9/11.

    Actually, I remember during 9/11 that everyone (myself included) kept saying: “I can’t believe this is happening. This is just like a movie…” Now it’s come full circle, with movies with collapsing buildings and panicked, fleeing people getting viewers to say: “This seems so real. It’s just like 9/11…” Ironic, huh?

    There’s no question that movies about the destruction of NYC might resonate differently now, post 9/11. So I respect your feelings, which are *not* worthless: they’re perfectly valid. You did the right thing choosing to skip this one.

  2. I had similar reservations about I Am Legend, but I think that film was sufficiently different that my buttons weren’t pushed. Though, I do admit feeling disturbed by the Brooklyn Bridge scene.

  3. I had the same reaction as you last year about “United 93” and “World Trade Center.” I didn’t need or want to see those 9/11 movies.

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