Cliff May looks at the unseen villains in Oliver Stone’s upcoming World Trade Center:
The WSJ’s Brian Carney disagrees with KLo, me and several others writing in this space regarding Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center.He argues that it “is the story of 9/11 as experienced by the men on the ground as it occurred. As far as it goes, it does ample justice to the rescue and emergency workers who were present on that day. They did not know, could not know, who brought down the towers or why. The question is whether ‘World Trade Center’ goes far enough when it comes to shaping our understanding of what happened.”
It does not, Carney believes, because “there are no villains in Mr. Stone’s movie. Nicolas Cage’s John McLoughlin and Michael Pena’s Will Jimeno could have been trapped by an earthquake or an accident. … ‘World Trade Center’ tells a powerful story about the basic goodness so many people felt and acted on in the wake of a heinous act. But to the extent that it omits any direct reference to the crimes that made those good deeds necessary, its version of the truth is incomplete.”
Here’s where we differ: Stone’s film does contain reference to those villains and those crimes. The references are few and they are subtle but they are there. And they struck me as powerful and persuasive
There is the fireman in Wisconsin who makes clear that what happened was not an earthquake or other natural disaster but the work of “bastards.” Another character says that this crime must be “avenged.” (Not understood, not prevented from happening again but “avenged.” You don’t avenge a typhoon.)
And finally there is the marvelous character of David Karnes. When he hears about what has happened in lower Manhattan, he puts on his old Marine uniform. His first mission is to rescue those still trapped in the rubble. After that, he will take up arms. He knows a war has begun and that he has a duty to fight it. The audience now knows this, too.
At the end of the film, we learn that Karnes went on to serve two tours in Iraq.
Does that tell us all we need to know about the enemy? Of course not. But it’s a good start – without any misguided attempt to “humanize” the barbarians, without any self-flagellation about why they hate us.
No, the film doesn’t tell us much about this enemy, who he is, how he thinks, what we wants and what will be necessary if we seriously intend to defend ourselves from him.
We never meet a single Vietnamese, for instance, who is not a victim of the Americans. Whom does [Coppola] suppose was shooting back? He keeps the enemy out of sight in order to make the American military effort—which seems to consist mainly of blazing away at the forest or the tall reeds along the banks of the river, or else innocent civilians—look not only futile but crazy. Like the phantasmagoria of the trip upriver, like everything else in the movie, the phantom enemy is designed to show us the futility, the insanity of the war. The enemy is everywhere and nowhere. It is insane to try to fight him.
Coppola kept the enemy largely off-screen because he was, on some level, highly sympathetic to them. (He wasn’t alone in Hollywood: while Coppola was shooting Apocalypse, his protégé, George Lucas, was transforming the Vietcong into Luke Skywalker and the rest of the good guy heroes in Star Wars.)
Certainly for Oliver Stone, keeping the terrorists off-screen in World Trade Center helps to hide, shall we say, an inconvenient truth or two–not the least of which are his own sympathetic views of terrorism’s heart of darkness.
Update: Betsy Newmark asks a related question:
It’s always been somewhat of a mystery why so many on the left just loooooove their man in Havana.
Fortunately, of course, Stone could never be accused of that…