In the wake of 9/11, Paul Greengrass and Bruce Springsteen offered poignant responses

 ‘United 93’ galvanized American cinema

Dramatizations of defining moments in history are nothing new for movies, or any other artistic medium for that matter. World War II and Vietnam films belong to their own subgenres of war movies, while a typical period piece always has the need to wink at viewers by cleverly referencing real life events.

But even after ten years, a “9/11 genre” has yet to make a major impact on the film scene. Sure there have been a few movies that have tackled the topic head on, namely Oliver Stone’s “World Trade Center” and Paul Greengrass’s “United 93,” but neither film saw the level of devotion given to Steven Spielberg’s epic “Saving Private Ryan” or Stone’s critically and commercially acclaimed take on Vietnam, “Platoon.”

Part of the issue might relate to the very reason why audiences go to the movies in the first place. Films allow audiences a chance to peer into situations and phenomenon that most would never have the opportunity or desire to be a part of. 9/11 stands as one of those rare occurrences that managed to touch every American, from those who actually experienced the falling of the towers in person to the millions who followed the events on TV or the radio. Who would want to relive the feelings of that moment?

But therein lies the genius of “United 93,” a film that should eventually go down as Paul Greengrass’s seminal work, even if it never gains the large following of his two “Bourne” movies. Greengrass strips the plot down to its very basics. There is no mention of Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden or Afghanistan.  The politics that have shaped the country since 9/11 are pushed aside in favor of a story that has to do with survival and dealing with a situation with courage once the hope for survival has vanished. “United 93” gives us exactly what a movie is supposed to give its audience: a chance to peer into a situation that we hope we’ll never have to be a part of.

— Jawad Qadir

Bruce Springsteen album crystallized national tragedy

Bruce Springsteen has always had two fingers on America’s pulse. He observes his patient, listens to her describe her symptoms and, although he cannot offer a panacea to all that ails her, prescribes something to soothe the pain. Springsteen played physician in 2002 when his album, The Rising, was released. However, his prescriptions were not always so helpful.

Springsteen as the critical choice for representing the voice of America was initially a shock to the system. Twenty years before The Rising, he identified America’s ills in Nebraska, but his tone felt more like lemon juice to a wound than an attempt to comfort. “Johnny 99” laments, “The bank was holdin’ my mortgage and they was takin’ my house away/… But it was more ‘n all this that put that gun in my hand.” 1984’s Born in the U.S.A. is also an alien relative to The Rising with its sour violence: “Got in a little hometown jam so they put a rifle in my hand / Sent me off to a foreign land to go and kill the yellow man.”

“Johnny 99” and “Born In the U.S.A.” are timely again in today’s economic and political climates, but in the heat following 9/11, they weren’t exactly harbingers of the poignancy and hopefulness that would lead to Springsteen’s success with The Rising.

Indeed, The Rising stands on its own. Springsteen’s beats pulse in the time of many American hearts when “Nothing Man” observes, “How my brave young life/Was forever changed/In a misty cloud of pink vapor.” In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, America didn’t need anything melodramatic or earth-shattering — history had already given her that; she just needed something relatable. Springsteen is not a professional diagnostician, but the hopeful themes and all-encompassing American characters of The Rising were just what the doctor ordered.

— Sara Hayden