Films and 9/11

September 11, 2001, was a traumatic day for Americans all across the nation. Buildings turned into rubble and people’s hearts were filled with fear and overwhelming confusion. What did such a tragic event signify for the people of America? Over time, the responses to this question have been expressed through various forms of cultural artifacts and especially through the numerous films made about 9/11. Each film seems to provide a unique stance on the emotional state of the nation before and after the attacks. Usually these films are meant to evoke forgotten emotions from that day and are intended to always remind the audience that although the nation has grown since September 11, 2001, we must never forget that at one point in time this tragedy was very real. Thus, motion pictures, television, and other forms of film in popular culture work toward sending the message that even though Americans may be divided in many things, it is important to remain strong and united in times of crisis and devastation.

Thomas Riegler, article writer for Radical History Review, states “Cinematic narratives of history exercise unique powers of representation. Especially in complex and ambivalent times of crisis… often explaining them in Manichaean black-and-white terms and thereby offering orientation, understanding, and guidance” (Riegler, 2001). Many people tend to seek knowledge and understanding through the films made about 9/11. It provides them with a sense of realness of the tragic events and, for a short time, puts them in the shoes of those who went through the horrors of that day. Films such as United 93, a drama directed by Paul Greengrass, and World Trade Center, a docudrama directed by Oliver Stone, have a common purpose to portray the unity and strength of the people that suffered the tragic events of 9/11 and to instill in their audiences that when tragedies do occur we are only stronger together rather than apart. The making of these films proves that the filmmakers are trying to keep the memories of 9/11 very much alive because it is important for their audiences to seek answers and guidance to the attacks that still haunt us to this very day. However, the emotional responses that these films invite from people are geared more towards feelings of empathy and the sense that the nation has overcome a very difficult time period. Riegler also claims that “Visual historicizing frames past events, presenting them as synchronized, closed, completed, and ultimately as a sort of cognitive tool to engage and deal with present realities,” meaning that these films are aimed to evoke the audience’s harsh feelings of the past, get them to find peace in the overcoming of these events, and yet remember to always recognize that these events did happen and we must learn from them.

Needless to say, 9/11 has always been a sensitive issue among many Americans, and when creating historical references such as the many films made about the attacks it is important to take this sensitivity into consideration. Michael J. Lewis, of Commentary magazine, explains in his article, “Hollywood Does 9/11,” that many films have completely steered away from “patriotism and heroism,” and have “focused on tragedy and victimhood” instead (Lewis, 2006). Lewis also claims that “To date, no films have been announced that will deal with the dramatic fighting in the mountain caves of northwestern Afghanistan and the hunt for Osama bin Laden; the military campaign that seized Baghdad in record time; the drama of the occupation” (Lewis, 2006), leading us to believe that so far the main message any film about 9/11 tries to send is one that includes the promotion of unity and strength within a nation rather than outside of a nation. Most audiences can relate to these messages more than any political or international statements. However, despite the lack of diversity in films explaining all political and emotional aspects of the 9/11 attacks, this pattern unveils the power of Americans who stick together through even the most tragic of times. Thus, the art of filmmaking makes the importance of keeping such a traumatic tragedy close to our hearts, and reminds us that the people that suffered on September 11, 2001, deserve to be remembered and acknowledged more than anything else from that day.

Overall, films have made it possible to make 9/11 real for audiences. Although many of the younger generations may not have any recollection of the events, historical references such as the films made about the attacks and events of 9/11 keep the memory of this day very alive and it projects the major meaning behind all of this turmoil. As Michael J. Lewis says “The only artistic medium that now seems capable of informing the national mind about the shape and meaning of events is film” (Lewis, 2006). This statement holds a major truth behind it because the visual representation of such tragic events makes 9/11 all the more real for its audiences. So what does 9/11 mean for Americans? According to the portrayal of the events that most popular culture films hold for this day, 9/11 is a day to remind us that although our nation’s vulnerability may have been exposed and taken advantage of, Americans managed to stay strong and united through it all. If there should ever be a tragic event such as this one again then these films may serve as cautionary reminders that a nation is stronger united rather than divided. September 11, 2001, was a day full of heartbreak and losses for the nation but we eventually overcame these struggles. Pictures, writings, art, and music serve a major purpose in keeping the memory of 9/11 alive, but none serve as big a purpose as the realness and rawness that films try to convey to their audiences. Thus, with the help of the information our cultural artifacts have given us throughout the years, 9/11 is a day where Americans can try to fully understand and empathize the gravity of the tragic events that forever changed a nation.


Lewis, M. J. (2006, October). Hollywood does 9/11. Commentary, 122(3), 40–45. Retrieved from Academic Search Complete database. (Accession №22481962)

Riegler, T. (2001). 9/11 on the screen. Radical History Review, (111), 155–163.