"Hollywood and 9/11 in 'Remember Me' and 'Dear John,' among other movies."

(FYI, if you haven't seen the movie “Remember Me” STOP READING NOW, I will be talking about the film's ending)

“Remember Me” is a romance aimed at teens about a brooding intellectual/troublemaker who attempts to take revenge on a brutal police officer (Chris Cooper) by dating and dumping his daughter, Allie (Emilie De Ravin). As you would expect the date and dump strategy falls apart when Pattinson's Tyler falls for the Allie and thus begins a collision course from romance to devastation as she is soon to find out about his real motivation for meeting her.

Playing behind both characters are deeply emotional back stories. For Tyler, his brother Michael committed suicide several years earlier. Tyler blames his emotionally distant father (Pierce Brosnan) for his brother's death. As for Allie, the film opens with 11-year-old Allie losing her mother in a brutal shooting in the subway.

The twin tragedies bond the two lovers and all looks bright after they reconcile from his betrayal. Then, on September 11th 2001 Tyler attends to his father's office. Father and son having reconciled, ever so tenuously, over an incident at school involving Tyler's little sister Caroline (Ruby Jerins) looks out the window of his father's office with a new worldview. That morning he told Allie he loved her.

As Tyler gazes out on the streets of New York City the camera pulls back revealing he is in a tall building. It continues to pull back until a second large building comes into view behind it. Our dread from the reveal of the date on the blackboard at Caroline's school confirmed, Tyler is standing in Tower 2 of the World Trade Center and is moments away from death.

Director Allen Coulter takes the screen dark and shows good taste and restraint in not showing the planes. A moment of black screen and silence soon welcomes the film's mournful score. We watch as first Tyler's mother (Lena Olin) walks out of her apartment and joins a crowd running toward the Towers for a closer look.

Tyler's father is shown standing outside his car in traffic; he had taken Caroline to school that morning and was arriving late. Cut to the rooftop of Tyler's apartment building where Tyler's roommate Aiden (Tate Ellington) and Allie watch with horror as windblown debris slowly rains down around them.

Poor little Caroline walks from her school lost and confused with no one waiting for her. And finally a cut back to the scene with Robert Pattinson's voiceover intoning a quote from Gandhi, we track across the debris on the ground to Tyler's journal where he had written daily missives to his brother.

Oh how effective all of this could have been in a more mature movie. However, this is a fully compromised teen-centric romance. It's a movie that was rendered safe enough to carry a PG-13 rating, ironically allowing in people just young enough to have little or no real memory of 9/11. “Remember Me” is not a bad movie per se, but is it truly dramatically weighty enough to carry the burden of portraying our greatest national tragedy?

The PG-13 rating, the ad campaign meant to lure “Twilight” fans, a soundtrack featuring the radio-ready pop song “Kandles” by National Skyline all feel as crass and commercial as they would with any other teen-centered romance. Are they however, appropriate for a movie that uses September 11th 2001 as a plot point?

Till now, Hollywood has been surprisingly restrained in it’s depictions of 9/11. In 2010 however not only were the makers of “Remember Me” comfortable making use of 9/11 but also the makers of the even less weighty, dramatic and respectable teen romance “Dear John” which turned it's sugary, Nicholas Sparks created plot on a soldier who gives up love in favor of duty in the wake of September 11th.

Until 2010 Hollywood had been circumspect about dealing with 9/11. Two movies, Oliver Stone's “World Trade Center” and Paul Greengrass's “United 93” both released to theaters in 2006 mere months apart, dealt directly with stories inspired by the tragedy and were Hollywood's first foray into dramatizing September 11th.

The approach was mostly respectful yet also obsequious and slightly odd. “World Trade Center” dabbled in hero worship, made use of a big name star, Nicolas Cage, and made more than a few factual errors on its way to modest attention at the box office. It was directed by well known conspiracy theorist Oliver Stone who does his best to restrain his nuttiness while portraying the heroes of the Trade Center rescues. However, in the film's wake Stone quickly returned to conspiracies related to the Bush administration's alleged involvement in 9/11.

“United 93” is odd for its accuracy. The film takes you back to 9/11 in stunning fashion as real life FAA National Operations Manager Ben Sliney played himself in the film and turns the actions of the FFA Operations center into a documentary re-enactment of 9/11 from the Towers being hit, to the closing of airspace on the eastern seaboard to the dramatic attempts to track United flight 93.

“United 93” spends much of its screen time on the flight as passengers are subjected to the hijacking, informed by friends and loved one over the phone about the trade center and pentagon crashes and then the fateful decision to storm the cockpit. In 2006, with much of the information about United flight 93 still under lock and key, the portrayal was as accurate as any news report.

The oddity comes on the day of the film's release as people lined up all around the country, to the tune of nearly 20 million dollars at the box office as noted in our pop business obsessed culture, with their popcorn and their Pepsi/Coke in hand to watch 9/11 re-enacted with the care and efficacy of a documentary. The trailer for “United 93” was banned from theaters in New York City and pulled from theaters across the country following complaints from unsuspecting moviegoers.

No such complaints accompanied “Remember Me” or “Dear John” just less than 4 years later. Benign acceptance or complete ignorance and or indifference met both “Remember Me” and “Dear John” and their employment of 9/11. Those who saw either film reacted as the women I mentioned at the beginning of this piece did.

Talking with friends who haven't seen the movie and giving them the spoilers revealed the same benign acceptance. The main reaction to my entreaties was 'and?' Has our culture moved on so quickly? Have we already compartmentalized 9/11 to the point that teen-centered romances can use 9/11 as plot points?

See the review for “Remember Me” here: "Robert Pattinson and 'Remember Me' aren't as bad as most critics have said." - Movie Review

See the review for “Dear John” here: "'Dear John' is a romance starring Channing Tatum's abs and Amanda Seyfried's eyes." - Movie Review.

BYLINE:

Sean Patrick Kernan is a film critic. Check him out at: http://www.myspace.com/number1ramjamfan. Email Sean at sean@zoiksonline.com.

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