Nine years after 9/11, America’s mourning and remembering still takes many forms. As scarring and transformative as the terrorist attacks of 2001 have proven to be, great art has emerged from the rubble of the Twin Towers, the wreckage of the Pentagon and the crash near Shanksville, Pennsyvania.
Film, music, literature and TV can’t bring back the nearly 3,000 people who lost their lives that terrible day — nor the seemingly more innocent time beforehand. But it can, as all mourning should, help to heal and to never forget.
1. "UNITED 93"
Initial screenings of director Peter Greengrass’ 2006 film ended with the words “America's War on Terror had begun.” Upon wide release, during some of the worst days of the war in Iraq, that was changed to “Dedicated to the memory of all those who lost their lives on Sept. 11, 2001.”
The real truth of this powerful Oscar-nominated film — which focuses on the brave souls on hijacked United Airlines flight 93 and the calls they made to family and friends on the ground — is somewhere in between.
Former journalist Greengrass, best known for directing the second two "Bourne" films, melded professional actors, real-life participants and airline employees together to detail how passengers and United staff saved thousands and lost their lives bringing down the D.C.-bound plane in a field in Pennsylvania. At the time, passenger Todd Beamer’s words of “Let’s roll,” as he and others moved down the aisle to overwhelm the terrorists in the cockpit, became a national rallying cry.
As time has passed, “United 93” itself has become a testament to individual patriotism, sacrifice and bravery.
2. "THE RISING"
Tragedy doesn’t get a soundtrack like celebrations do, but rebuilding and redemption should – and in the case of 9/11, it was New Jersey’s best who rose to the musical challenge.
Released on July 30, 2002, “The Rising,” whose title track told the story of a NYC firefighter trying to get out of the World Trade Center before it fell down, was Bruce Springsteen’s 12th studio album; its songs and sentiments made it one of the first of the realities of the new century.
“Springsteen is a rare performer who can really get down to the feelings of that day,” says Gary Calamar, KCRW DJ and the Grammy-nominated music supervisor for HBO's "True Blood" and TNT's "Men of a Certain Age," among others. “On songs like "The Rising," he really inspires people, he digs down deep.”
Like a gospel choir would tell you, Amen.
3. "RESCUE ME"
Nothing on television has reached into the heart and the wound of 9/11 like FX’s FDNY drama “Rescue Me.” It has become history in motion.
Sure, “The Sopranos” and “Sex and the City” addressed 9/11 head-on and “The West Wing” even rewrote its third-season opener to give viewers a healing historical civics lesson on Oct. 3, 2001 with “Isaac and Ishmael.” But next to the ash and blood of the Denis Leary and Peter Tolan series, which just ended its sixth season, they are mere bystanders.
Rising out of the carnage of Engine 99’s lost brothers and the cynicism of a lost city, and focusing on the bottomless appetite for self-destruction of Leary's Tommy Gavin, the show has made one of the largest stories of our time unnervingly personal.
It's scheduled to come to a close on Sept. 11, 2011 — the 10th anniversary of the attacks.
4. "PATTERN RECOGNITION"
To many, “The Pet Goat,” the children’s book President Bush continuing reading with students after being told a plane had crashed into the South Tower, is the definitive tome of 9/11. Others, like Joseph O’Neill’s “Netherland” and “The Emperor’s Children” by Claire Messud, have fictionally chewed around the edges of the attacks.
None of them have approached the immediacy and timelessness of 9/11 like William Gibson’s 2003 “Pattern Recognition.” In the weaving tale of Cayce Pollard and her search for her CIA-connected father who disappeared on 9/11, the cyberpunk prophet created a disarmingly intimate fin de siècle.
In his first novel set in the contemporary world, Gibson — who recently published “Zero History,” which features characters from “Pattern Recognition" — left behind the sci-fi of his previous books and created a true classic of and for our time.
5. "FAHRENHEIT 9/11"
Love him or hate him, no one can deny Michael Moore doesn’t believe in freedom — especially the freedom of expression Osama bin Laden would seek to destroy.
In 2004 — one year after the beginning of the war in Iraq — the Oscar-winning documentarian took on the Bush administration's handling of the aftermath of the attacks and its efforts to oust Saddam Hussein. At nearly $120 million, it became the highest grossing documentary ever in the U.S.
“Whether you agree with his point of view or the filmmaking itself, at the time that this voice was outspokenly raised was what America and being an American is all about,” says Sian Edwards, a producer who watched the second tower fall down from her NYC office window and has worked on documentaries about 9/11. "It was a brave touch-point of the time."
As our combat activity in Iraq has ended, it's one worth watching again.