Rated: 3.5 / 5
This documentary I’ve been wanting to see for a while. But I’ve been putting it off because, well, despite wanting to see it, I always find some excuse to watch/do something else instead. But now we’re in September, the anniversary is approaching again, and now seems as good a time as any. Not sure if I’ll be able to do any more of these types of reviews for 9/11 after this. I mean, I’ve already reviewed The Path to 9/11 extensively, and that 2-part miniseries still banned by Disney is probably never going to be topped in terms of there being a great movie made on the subject. I’ve reviewed World Trade Center and United 93, which are the only other 2 decent films on 9/11 (the latter being the best one next to Path to 9/11). I’ve even reviewed Path to Paradise which covers the 1993 world trade center bombings which would eventually lead to the 9/11 incident. I even reviewed Loose Change and unleashed my wrath on that piece of shit documentary.
To put it simply, I’ve just about run out of steam on this topic. This might be the last one I’ll review for this incident (unless some other film gets released on the topic which grabs my attention, which I doubt will happen, taking into account a few factors that makes Hollywood want to whitewash history in ways that have nothing to do with white supremacy). So, with all that said…
Review of 9/11
The film was made primarily by 2 French brothers who wanted to make a documentary about New York City firefighters (and remained more respectful towards American patriotism than fucking Damien Chazelle did with his movie). The first 20 minutes, barring some foreshadowing during the first minute, is pretty much filmed with this in mind. Just showing these New York City firefighters going about their daily business, and primarily following a new rookie who learns the ins and outs of it all. Bonds are formed, it is shown how anything can happen that can take a firefighter’s life in an unexpected instant, and the foreign brothers are eventually accepted among the crew as a sort of family after a little over 2 months of filming (they started at around July 2001).
And then September 11 comes, and one of the brothers manages to capture the only known footage of the first plane hitting the World Trade Center. Then everything changes. The whole purpose of the documentary, the firefighter’s routine for that day, the lives of citizens in New York City, and all of America. Everything changed. From there one of the brothers follows the firefighters into the base level of the tower, where many firefighters in the city would setup operations and try to figure out how they were going to deal with this. And as we should know, there was no contingency plan for something like this. They weren’t sure what to do other than to evacuate as many as they could. Plus since the impact of the plane knocked out tower communications, the firefighters could only rely on their radios, which got overloaded with communication between multiple houses/ladders/districts.
What is interesting is the restraint the film-maker shows while he’s shooting amidst the chaos. There’s one moment where he enters the tower for the first time, and remarks narratively on how he didn’t turn the camera in a certain direction to avoid filming these two people who were on fire. Because he didn’t believe anyone should have to see that. So he kept himself restricted to just following the other firefighters into the main lobby. Have to admit, most film-makers I’ve seen, they would’ve tried to capture that sight. Under the context and circumstance, I actually found this restraint admirable. On a similar note, the other thing not shown is the aftermath of people falling from the upper floors of the tower to their doom. Some of the firefighters describe the site, of blood and dismembered legs and arms covering much of the ground around the tower, but no footage of such is shown. Another act of restraint that is also appreciated. With that said, you still here the screams of those off-camera and on fire. You still hear the loud slams of jumpers hitting the concrete (unsettling to say the least).
While one brother is in the tower, the other is attempting to make his way to the tower, and he captures other significant moments, such as a brief instant of the 2nd plane hitting the 2nd tower (while the other brother capture the debris of that impact falling down outside the windows of the first tower), and showing footage of one of the plane engines on the sidewalk, several blocks away from the tower. A plane engine that got ejected from impact, flew several blocks away, smashed into a road sign and then settled onto the sidewalk below. Amazingly, from what I understand (and correct me if I’m wrong), but it doesn’t seem like anyone got injured from all the debris that flew away from the towers, excluding those few buildings that caved in next to the towers, including WTC 7. Even amidst all this, somehow, some way, the film-maker managed to capture an irony. Right behind this plane engine is a sign that says, “Do not litter.” Have to admit, despite the gravity of the situation, it got a chuckle out of me.
Eventually the first tower falls, and the one brother was still inside along with many other firefighters when it happened. Miraculously, he manages to survive along with most of the other firefighters (but not all). Not long after they manage to make their way out, the 2nd tower falls, and they run again from the debris, only to be forced to take cover behind vehicles as the debris and dust clouds overtake them.
Yes, the film does get quite gripping after those first 20 minutes. The intensity eventually starts to relent when the survivors make their way back to the firestation, and regroup and re-coordinate their efforts. Then the film has a long drawn out epilogue showcasing the lives that got lost. And I get it, this is a sad moment of remembrance as we see the faces of those firefighters who lost their lives, but I can only stay sympathetic for so long before I get bored out of my mind with this and the musical eulogy. It would’ve been better if all that played alongside the end-credits. Then again, the end credits aren’t all that long, because this documentary was made by a very small team on an independent budget, almost like a college project or something.
Despite that, this remains one of the most gripping ground-zero films out there on the 9/11 incident next to 102 Minutes That Changed America. That documentary comes just as highly recommended as this one, possibly even more-so. It also shows footage from everyday citizens who took their cameras out to film the incident as it unfolded after the first plane hit. While the 9/11 documentary shows it primarily from the perspective of the firefighters, 102 Minutes shows it from the perspective of everyday New Yorkers, from several perspectives of random people who each own their own video recorder. Both documentaries act as the perfect companion piece to each other.
A part of me is tempted to bring up the other stuff when thinking outside the box. The political/cultural implications, how things changed for the worse, or in some cases how some say it changed for the better. The other part of me is telling myself not to go down that route, to just look back on these videos, these moments in time. But to what end? To remember? And why remember? What’s the point of remembering? The same reason one would remember history, to learn from it. I may regret it, I may hate myself later for it, but I’m giving in to the former temptation. Because when I think back on events like this and how it caused things to change over the years, up to where we are today, I come back to remembering this one commercial that somehow managed to come to the forefront of my memories.
How this imagery used to be true for a while, until it wasn’t by no later than 2015 in many places. Once a tragedy that caused Americans to unite together as patriots against an enemy that attacked them (though our retaliation became muddled amidst political and corporate interests, which many became aware of as the years went on), has now faded into the opposite spectrum. Many now sympathize with the religion that is one of the root causes of violence worldwide today rather than be critical of it (at the very least one should be critical of the radicals to keep them in check so that this so-called religion of peace can be practiced as such). Many now spit upon patriotism by kneeling and flag-burning, while being praised by mainstream media and various corporate entities for doing such.
And all this just makes me wonder what the hell happened? How did it come to this? Why is it that those who once decried extremist terrorists and united against them now attack each other while a portion ally themselves with terrorism in one form or another? What would happen if some 9/11 event happened today amidst all this? Would such a tragedy give us cause to unite again once more for a time, or would it somehow divide us further? Back then one could fault the government for its inadequate security measures and not taking such things seriously enough. But who would be blamed today if something like this happened again? Sure, the government, or at least a branch of it, would be blamed. But I fear we have somehow devolved into a state where citizens would be blaming each other as well. And the worst part is that I wouldn’t think they would be entirely in the wrong either. What kind of country with such division and such anti-patriotism would be worth defending by its own citizens?
So I ask what will it take to get us all together again (or at least most of us) before some other big tragedy strikes? What will it take for everyone to see and act with reason? Because I’m honestly not sure how that can be done without an age of violence that can cause us to move down one path or the other. The question is whether that path will be the correct one that leads to a brighter future, or one that leads us to a dark age that generations must suffer through before things are made right again. Or, dare I say, we go down a path that leads towards our ultimate destruction?
What I do know is that an entire nation shouldn’t be damned just because some aspects of it are corrupted. Damn those aspects, not everything around it. Being anti-patriotic and hating your own country is not the path to take. Seeking self-destruction and taking all that you can down with you is not the path to take. Being filled with such (self) loathing never leads to anything good. Rather, love yourself and your country enough to want the best for it, to attempt to fix the imperfections within it, to make it a better country. That includes listening to the advice of others and gaining elements of wisdom and knowledge to know better which actions to take. Individualism is important, but so is some sense of unity, some sense of brotherhood, sisterhood, family, friendship, ethos. Find a way to compromise, find a way to be tolerant (except towards those who will never be anything but intolerant), find a way to come together.
After all, it was that togetherness, that patriotism, that love for one another, that caused many to act selflessly saving the lives of others during 9/11. There can be many instances found during that tragic day of other Americans helping other fellow Americans survive, amidst the chaos, amidst all that was going wrong. And not just the police who protect (because despite what some may say, there are plenty of good cops who do protect), or the firemen who save, but also everyday Americans who are capable of protecting and saving in their own way. It is another reason to never forget.
PS: Made this tribute a few days early of the anniversary mainly to encourage others to track down and watch a couple of these films. Especially The Path to 9/11, if you can.