As much as I d like to deny this, I was actually watching a dim-witted Egyptian comedy in a Masr El Gedida theater the moment the two towers collapsed on September 11, 2001.
Amid this entire whirl, a guilty inquiry crept into my head for a split second: Does that mean Harry Potter will be postponed?
It wasn t, and the first installment of the world s favorite wizard became the highest grossing film of 2001. However, the landscape of American and international cinema would never be the same.
The immediate after-effects of 9/11 were more tangible than other consequential, grave transformations to hit Tinseltown.
Footage of the Twin Towers featured in films such as Spider-Man, Zoolander and Sidewalks of New York were removed. All films with plots driven by terrorism attacks – such as Arnold Schwarzenegger s Collateral Damage and the Tim Allen comedy Big Trouble – were postponed to the following year. Sequences taking place in New York were either scrapped or deleted from several films including the sequel to Men in Black and The Time Machine.
For a brief period, many mainstream American films were infused with small, but concentrated doses of patriotism. The aforementioned Spider-Man incorporated a scene where a regular New Yorker screams at the Green Goblin You mess with one of us; you mess with all of us.
Mel Gibson s We Were Soldiers was one of the few Vietnam pictures to favorably portray the plight of the American troops while Ladder 99 celebrated the heroism of American firefighters.
Very few films broke the rule in 2002. Martin Scorsese s Gangs of New York depicted the violent history America was constructed upon while the Graham Greene s adaptation, The Quiet American , put the twisted rationalization of American intelligence prior to the Vietnam War at the forefront once again.
This sense of prevailing pride and unity would fall apart with the Iraq war in 2003. Soon, any pre-held faith in the American cause or morality was gone. With the subsequent Abu Ghraib incident, the shady decisions of the Bush administration and numerous reports about military violations; the American invasion of Iraq would constitute the real turning point in cinema.
Two genres emerged: Revenge-themed films and a new horror brand known as torture porn.
The former genre was an obvious reaction to justify America s right to defend itself, acting also as a cathartic medium. The Punisher and Man on Fire are notable examples along with a host of new revenge-themed films such as Jodi Foster s upcoming The Brave One and Kevin Bacon s Death Sentence.
These pictures, influenced by the hallmarks of the genre Dirty Harry and Death Wish series, reflect a common dissatisfaction with the softness of the justice system as well as post-9/11 anxieties about global terrorism.
The Brave One and Death Sentence address the common fear that in this age – disaster could strike anytime from the most unexpected sources. One question echoes with every one of these films: Should people take the law into their own hands or submit to the judgment of a corrupt system?
Clint Eastwood s gripping Mystic River and Todd Fields family drama In the Bedroom were one of the few films to offer a different perspective on vengeance. Both films suggest that revenge is never satisfactory; just a temporary antidote to a great loss. Meanwhile, River affirms that vengeance is a vicious cycle.
Torture porn is the result of the grisly images splattered on TV and the internet after Abu Ghraib. The Saw franchise, Eli Roth s Hostel films, Wolf Creek, The Hills Have Eyes and many more low-budget productions feature amputations, beheadings, and some of the most sadistic, visceral violence ever put on screen. This, of course, coupled with mild, but raunchy sex and nudity.
Creators of these movies defended their radical approach by highlighting the fact that the world is being fed gory images everyday and their works act simply as an outlet for the audience to release their aggravation.
In terms of cinema 9/11 was arguably the best thing that ever happened to Arabs and Muslims. Political correctness – and Hollywood s fear of any backlash that might cause a loss of revenues – has drastically reduced the stereotyping of Arabs in both mainstream and independent films.
More than ever, films like The War Within, Sorry Haters, Civic Duty, Syriana and the flawed historical epic Kingdom of Heaven attempted to get under the skin of Arabs, explain their fears and dilemmas and even seek to understand the rationale behind terrorist actions.
The reaction to the 9/11 aftermath wasn t restricted to American films. The world reacted negatively to America s vigilante persona with a horde of pictures. The movies veered from the intelligent and sharp Dogville and Manderlay by Danish provocateur Lars Von Trier, who depicted the US as peaceful haven that slowly exploits those in need of a shelter in the former. It also presented a protagonist forcing her own dogmatic beliefs on African-American slaves as a misguided mean for their liberation in the latter.
The British docudrama The Road to Guantanamo was an unrelenting and heartbreaking look at the breach of rights by the American forces at the Cuban hellhole, while the documentary The Prison – also from Britain – tells the harrowing story of an Iraqi journalist thrown into Abu Ghraib when mistaken for Tony Blair’s would-be assassin.
Egypt s zany, intelligent but uneven The Night Baghdad Fell imagines a scenario where America targets a frail Egypt for its next attack. Turkey s Valley of the Wolves was the most blatant of said category with a storyline centering on a Turkish special agent s battle against the demonized American forces in Iraq.
The perplexity, unbound dread and innate pessimism have left a profound impact on most mainstream and art films in the US and elsewhere. The dark shadows of 9/11 and its repercussions have touched everything from comic-book adaptations like Batman Begins; gritty action flicks such as Casino Royale and the Bourne series.
It has also impacted major blockbusters like the fantastical 9/11 recreation in World of the Worlds and the last Star Wars film, where a democratic republic becomes an empire under the rule of a dictator with piercing, familiar lines on the vein of If you re not with me, you re my enemy and This is how liberty dies… with thunderous applause.
The large number of serious, political films released in the past couple of years reaches a peak this fall with In the Valley of Elah from Paul Haggis – writer/director of Crash – Brian De Palma s Redacted, John Cusack s starring Grace is Gone and Robert Redford s Lions for Lambs among dozens of documentaries about Iraq, Afghanistan and the new, divided America.
This decade is steadily turning into the new 70s with films as dark, troubling and paranoid as the best of the golden decade of American cinema. Films have become uncompromising and introspective with a vision no longer confined to the boundaries of 50 states.
As cynical as this may sound, this may turn out to be one of the scarce benefits of the most important event of the century.