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When a Movie is More than a Movie

[Editor’s Note: I’m still on vacation, while I’m away here’s something for you to think about.]

By Jeff Hughes

Hello all –

I’ve basically quit as a movie critic the last few years but I saw WORLD TRADE CENTER yesterday.

First, let me make a few quick points:

1. September 11th – to most of this country – was a “televised event.” The story was broke to them by a friend’s phone call or a CNN Alert and then they spent the next few days in front of their television watching the pinnacle of human drama unfold.

2. To the people in New York City and its surroundings at the time, it has become so many different things. Noah remembers how beautiful the day was. My uncle remembers a cloud of smoke from the New Jersey Turnpike. I vividly remember soot-covered businessmen running into the deli under our building and slamming 40s of beer, faces flooded with tears.

3. To people in those buildings or those who lost love ones, it is still an unspeakable event.

For me, more than anything else, the days after were worse than the day itself and have haunted me so terribly that I’ve stil never been to Ground Zero. I’m not interested. I don’t think it would be cathartic.

And using myself and the eleven others in my theatre as an example, I’d have to say there is no possible way this country is ready for Oliver Stone’s WORLD TRADE CENTER. Because I wasn’t and I knew it immediately.

Now, for the moviegoers out there. It’s beautifully shot and the score is quiet and subtle. But this isn’t a movie. This is history reaching into your stomach and tearing you apart. I didn’t cry at WTC the way people cry at movies. I cried at WTC the way people cry at life, more appropriately, at death. I felt everything all over again and perhaps more viscerally than the first time. You feel the tears coming from inside and you can’t keep them in. I took two breaks during the movie. Not for a drink or a piss but to catch my breath. To remember things were okay. I wasn’t alone. No one in the theatre I was in made it all the way through and two gentlemen, who were clearly cops, looked like they’d been through a way by the time it was over.

Movies were very important to me on the Friday after 9/11, when the AMC at Union Square opened its doors for free all day. Then I walked back to my Lafayette Street dorm, covering my face with my hand because the smell in the air was so thick it felt like it was pushing down on your shoulders. All of that came back to me in the last row at the Lincoln Square Loews yesterday and I didn’t want it back. My mistake. I shouldn’t have bought the ticket. I thought I was ready, five years later.

I wasn’t.

And I’m not exactly the most sensitive cat out there.

If I’m not ready, I doubt others will be. But give Oliver Stone credit. He wanted to bring us back to a place and time. He did it. I just didn’t want to go.

Jeff Hughes is a New Jerseyan living in New York. He’s also a playwright, critic, Bears fan and blogger at Da’ Bears Blog.

August 15, 2006