It’s been thirteen years since thousands of innocents were killed in a vicious terrorist attack which, unlike anything before or since, brought a nation to its knees and the world to a standstill. The moment, still etched into the western subconscious, when the second plane hit the twin towers on that fateful day in September disrupted the world irreparably. It caused the “war on terror”, which is still seeing ramifications to this day, it inspired a generation of hateful fanatics to copy the techniques and audacity of the attack and it provided one of the most shocking pieces of Live news footage ever captured.
To those who were there, in New York, that morning the experience must surely be one burnt into their subconscious forever. For everyone else it is surely impossible to truly understand what was like. Still, through the medium of film, some incredible, immersive and emotionally draining films have been created about the Twin Towers, these are some of the finest examples:
5: Man on Wire
Although it never mentions the attack on the towers on which Man on Wire focuses as its subject, James Marsh’s beautiful documentary is ever haunted by the spectre of what would become of the twin towers. The film is about Philippe Petit – a poet, eccentric and tight rope walker. In it the man himself speaks about his infamous walk between the twin towers in the 1970s which – at the time – had only just been finished. Along with James Marsh’s reconstructions we piece together a story so thrilling, humorous and, ultimately, beautiful that it almost moves you to tears. There is no tugging at heartstrings, no rousing score and no sentimentality; just one of the most astounding things ever to happen told by some of the greatest story tellers ever. The fact the film never mentions the 9/11 is a testament to the beauty of the act and draws attention to the buildings for something positive; art.
Although Michael Moore’s documentary is funny, absurd, and quite resolutely politically unbalanced, he manages to capture the tragedy of 9/11 in the early scenes with much. After a pre-credits dig at George W Bush, Moore simply displays a black screen accompanied by the sound of two explosions and the sound of wailing New Yorkers. Despite being known for his comedic commentary Moore’s voice over is pitch perfect and emotionally charged. The film goes on to enrage and enthral but it is these early moments which cement the rest of the film in reality, it gives the rest of the political wrangling the heart it so desperately needs. He goes on to uncover some truths which threatened to derail Bush’s presidency but it’s his showboating style, which doorstops politicians and forces them to meet grieving mothers of Iraq War victims, which sticks with you. It’s ostentatious and combative but it also uncovers some compelling governmental cover ups on how the Bush Administration manipulated the 9/11 attacks for their personal gains.
This Channel 4 documentary – which was later screened Worldwide – takes just one photo as its main subject. The photo, taken by an Associated Press photographer, shows a man falling from the towers after being forced out by smoke, flames or perhaps simply hopelessness. What follows is an unravelling of the mystery surrounding who the picture is of and what it represents. The poetic voice over and analysis touches the subject delicately but still has the bravery to challenge and probe to find the truth. If any other image of the Twin Towers is close to as poignant to the footage of the second plane hitting, the photo of the Falling Man comes close; after this film it’s hard not to see why.
2: Four Lions
It may not be directly about 9/11 itself but Brass Eye creator Chris Morris paints a compelling picture of four wannabe suicide bombers in London. It’s simultaneously laugh out loud funny and absurd, a perfect example of gallows humour, but also a compelling satire of fundamentalism. But what elevates it from simple comedy is Riz Ahmed as the leader of the motley crew of wannabe bombers. He becomes the depiction of why the dogmatic ideals of fundamentalists can ever happen, it’s sad, it’s touching and it’s eye opening. It’s also a frighteningly keen observation of how easy it could be for the uninitiated to plan something devastating. Four Lions is truly incredible for the balancing act between hilarious satire and genuinely disturbing and upsetting scenes. It’s a must see.
1: United 93
Paul Greengrass’ (The Bourne Supremacy, Captain Phillips) pseudo documentary is a tour de force in film making. The real time coverage of the morning of 9/11 is an ingenious way of tackling the topic in a way which builds the tension until its final breaking point. By focusing on the story of United 93, the third plane which didn’t hit its target, Greengrass gives you an internal view of the terror happening. The story of passengers fighting for their friends, families and their country is truly heart breaking and thrilling. It’s heartrending and impossibly difficult to watch at times but once it gets its hooks in you will be spell bound. If you’ve ever been emotionally affected by a film then you will cry, but not just that, United 93 invokes an incredibly potent physical reaction. Your heart will thunder in your chest like the thrum of a Boeing and you will be unable to move until well after the end of the credits. It isn’t just the best film to tackle the impossibly hard topic of 9/11, it’s one of the best films ever made.
Featured Image Rights;Robert Fisch