Representing 9/11 in Hollywood cinema

Authored by: Eleftheria Thanouli

The Routledge Companion to Cinema and Politics

Print publication date:  June  2016
Online publication date:  July  2016

Print ISBN: 9780415717397
eBook ISBN: 9781315678863
Adobe ISBN: 9781317392460


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The representation of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, in the United States has not attracted the interest of the Hollywood film industry as much as one would expect, given the spectacular nature of the events and the extensive media coverage that followed minutes after the first explosion in the North Tower of the World Trade Center (WTC) in New York. To this date, only two Hollywood feature films have attempted to reconstruct aspects of the 9/11 attacks, namely Paul Greengrass’ United 93 (2006) and Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center (2006). The former depicts a chain of events that stretch over a few hours on the morning of September 11, starting with the takeoff of United 93, the plane that was hijacked by Muslim terrorists and crashed into the ground in a field in Pennsylvania. The latter is set in New York and focuses on the rescue attempts of two police officers trapped in the rubble of the WTC. The fact that both films were released a few months apart and pioneered a direct fictional recounting of the traumatic events in question led numerous scholars and critics to engage in long and detailed comparisons of the two filmic narratives (Burgoyne 2008; Kendrick 2008; Prince 2009; Redfield 2009; Giglio 2010; Kellner 2010; Rommel-Ruiz 2011; Morris 2012; Hoberman 2012). Weighing the similarities and differences between the films, these accounts often result in contradictory conclusions in regard to specific elements, such as, for instance, the matter of ‘comprehensiveness’ of their stories (Rommel-Ruiz 2011: 241; Prince 2009: 107). What binds them together, however, is the overall tendency to consider them markedly different. In Rommel-Ruiz’s words, “similarities aside, the two films differ in meaningful ways” (2011: 241).

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