Ironically, and perhaps sadly, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff's raising of the terrorist threat level to high or orange in response to a thwarted terrorist plot to use liquid explosives to bring down airplanes flying from England to the U.S. could be the best thing that ever happened to Oliver Stone's new movie “World Trade Center.”
The revelation that this plot was very near completion reminds people of many things. It reminds them of the thin line between life and death. It reminds them directly of the tragedy of Sept. 11. It reminds them of how the heroism of our national security forces — intelligence both in and out of the field — can really make a difference. It's the best advertising the movie could have.
While we're not likely to see the studio taking direct advantage of this near tragedy, it does appear that we need reminding. There are many indications that average Americans have become numb to potential terrorist threats and that the events of Sept. 11 have lost their immediacy. It's possible that, to many, the significance of Sept. 11 now resides in the consciousness no differently than other significant historical events like the space shuttle disasters, the Oklahoma City bombing, or even the assassination attempt on President Reagan. Sept.11, as is inevitable, is becoming history.
How does one explain a recent poll in The Washington Post suggesting that 30 percent of Americans could not identify the year in which Sept. 11 happened? While most of the respondents who couldn't say 2001 were over the age of 55, it may suggest a shift in our collective cultural memory. It is not a shift in the event's impact so much as it is a shift in how that impact affects people on a daily basis.
And perhaps that is where the movies come in. While there have been references here and there to Sept. 11, “United 93,” released in April of this year, was the first film to take an actual event from that day as its subject-matter.
It grossed only $11 million in its opening weekend and slightly more than $31 million total — not exactly a blockbuster. Despite critical praise, Americans may not have been ready to relive that event in quite that way.
Should there be any difference four months later? Logic says no, but "World Trade Center" isn't being marketed as an examination of the event so much as a celebration of the heroism following it. While one wouldn't expect most people to flock to the movie no matter what its advertising strategy, the events of recent days reminds Americans of a sense of unified national pride that is slowly diminishing and if they get the sense that "World Trade Center" renews that, to whatever degree, they'll go to see it.
Jason Katzman is co-creator and writer for Shadowculture's Mr. Cranky.