That September and Our Stories

On January 20, 2012 by Lynn

9/11.

Where do you even begin? Is there even anything that can be said, ten years down the road, that hasn’t already been repeated ad infinitum?  We know the stories already.  But maybe that’s the point.

For the first few years, 9/11 influenced movies and television from a close distance.  We never really said it out loud.  There were very few direct mentions of 9/11 in entertainment. But suddenly, we started to see scary moments on film through the lens of what was on our tv every single night.  Words like “terrorism” became a normal part of the lexicon.  Spiderman could no longer spin his web between the two towers.  Fox’s decision to put Jack Bauer on the airwaves seemed oddly prescient.  But it was still to painful to explain exactly why.

We’re far enough away now that 9/11 is a backdrop for stories.  Starting with Adam Sandler’s Reign Over Me (actually a great film – see it!), moving through films like Flight 93, tv shows like Fringe and more, we’ve started to use 9/11 as the framework to hang our stories on.  It’s still incredibly respectful, to be sure.  And maybe it’s a good thing.  Maybe when something becomes a framework for other stories, we’ve stepped into a new era of working through it.  We’ve survived. And we are not alone.

Enter Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.

It’s not a perfect story.  It’s not a perfect film.  I still cried most of the way through it. Tom Hanks – there really aren’t words.  I love him so much.  Sandra Bullock and the very young Thomas Horn are excellent.  And the community that springs up around this family was really beautiful.  It made me grateful for the world I live in, that even in the midst of horrific circumstances, people come together to survive and make it to tomorrow.  But I wasn’t just watching a movie, passively absorbing what was happening to the characters.  As little Oskar Schell got through 9/11, I was reliving my own 9/11 experience.  And that was an emotional shock I didn’t see coming.  I was a teenager, driving to school.  I was a terrified kid, leaving my car haphazardly in the parking lot, racing across to my best friend, who met me just inside the main doors.  I still remember every second.  What’s going on???  There was a wordless shock behind everything that day – !!!   I hadn’t thought about that shock in a long time.  It had been even longer since I’d felt it.

I didn’t even realize I was crying until my husband leaned over and asked if I was okay.

Film and television don’t exist in a vacuum.  Every viewer brings their own experiences to the table, and it’s through those experiences that they watch the story being presented.  It can be a frustrating thing for a writer.  That’s not what I meant for that moment to be!  That’s not what I was saying! But that’s what your audience heard.

Being a writer is a lot about letting go.  You work desperately hard, spending more time with your computer than with your own husband, finally coming up for air with a fresh story in hand.  And then – you give it away.  You allow your words out into the world, to be interpreted by every person differently.  You take them with you, but understand that they’re going to see the world from different angles and perspectives. The best writers lean into this, using those differences to create something wholly original.  But it’s not easy.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close took me somewhere I hadn’t visited in a while.  But I’m glad I was along for the journey.

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