Last week I coordinated a week-long 9/11 Film Series on the Winona State University campus. After the screenings I wrote posts for the Sounds of Cinema blog, reflecting on each picture. You can find links to those below:
"United 93 is not the only film dramatization about the attack. In fact, there have been at least nine films dramatizing the events of September 11th and of those, four have focused on the events aboard United Airlines Flight 93. Yet, United 93 is distinct among them. Although it is a dramatization, the film has a great deal of detail that makes it a mergence of dramatic and documentary filmmaking."
"When a group of people are attacked, they tend to circle the wagons and everyone inside the circle is considered an ally, no matter what divisions and rivalries existed previously, and those outside the circle are viewed with suspicion if not outright antagonism. That has serious consequences because the wartime mentality makes empathy for those outside of our circle increasingly difficult. After 9/11, this dualistic mind set took hold among the general American public who were traumatized by the attack but it also threatens to characterize the Muslim community if they feel persecuted and ostracized. And in that case dialogue goes down and tension goes up. This is where a film like Osama becomes so important."
"Restrepo is bookended by testimonies of the soldiers in charge at the post. In the pre-title sequence, Captain Dan Kearney admits that he did not do any research on the Korengal Valley before arriving there but that he was determined to go into the area and, in his words, "fix it." In the film's final sequence, as the soldier's vacate the valley, First Sergeant LaMonta Caldwell says "We've done our job. We did what we were supposed to be doing. And we're out of here." It is in the juxtaposition of those statements with what happens in between them that Restrepo is most revealing."
Taxi to the Dark Side
"There is a key image presented early on in Taxi to the Dark Side that sets up everything that that is to follow. The voice over explains that Abu Ghraib prison was notorious under Saddam Hussein's regime as a place for torture and the disposal of political enemies. This information is presented simultaneously with the image of a mural inside the prison depicting Saddam. The former Iraqi leader's face has been scratched off the wall and all that remains is his general visage. The mural looks very much like the stand-ups of famous characters often seen at theme parks and tourist traps, in which the head has been cut out and visitors stick their own faces inside for a photo. Later, as Taxi to the Dark Side features pictures of abused prisoners and American soldiers posing with them as though in a petting zoo or a frat party, the parallel is clear. Americans entered an atmosphere of abuse and became the new face of oppression."
"[The Messenger] continues the search for meaning in the post-9/11 (and post-Abu Ghraib) era and it dramatizes that search in the lives of the soldiers on a Casualty Notification Team and a widow of a recent casualty in the war. In The Messenger, that search is defined by the characters' interactions with each other and their gradual shift from isolation to companionship."
"In the context of this film series, United 93 showed us the devastation of terrorism, Osama frightened us with religion inspired oppression, and Taxi to the Dark Side startled us with its depiction of institutionalized torture. Four Lions invites us to laugh at this horror."
I have also written a reflection on the series that has been published at Winona360:
"Part of the reason I do this show is that I think movies are important. And not just high class Hollywood Oscar bait or prestigious art films but the cumulative effects of cinema from family films to grindhouse movies. It is important to remember that cinema can have consequences. We know, for example, that Joseph Goebbels used motion pictures as one of the primary tools of the Nazi propaganda campaign, especially in driving and shaping anti-Semitic attitudes that paved the way for the Final Solution. But we can also look at a film like Schindler’s List and appreciate filmmakers exposing the horrors of the Holocaust and coping with its legacy."