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RUTHERFORD ON FILM: ‘World Trade Center’: Trapped Alive in Hell Awaiting Rescue by Those Good at Helping People

Posted by kinchendavid on August 11, 2006

By Tony Rutherford

Huntington, WV — Oliver Stone’s “World Trade Center” conveys two seemingly contradictory messages with ease: 9/11 released hell on the planet and concurrently forced people to remember that they must take care of each other.

The fateful Tuesday in New York City (and elsewhere) began with alarm clocks ringing, dogs taken for walks, the sun rising, and the commute to work. Police and fire answered roll calls and heard a traditional “be careful out there and watch your backs.” Slowly the impact of the events unfolds through the mouths of first responders, their families and ordinary people trapped in an extraordinary event.

“What schmuck would fly a plane into the World Trade Center,” a cop questions, “Maybe they ran out of gas.” His quandary reflects no disrespect, just disbelief. Shortly, another first responder would speculate, “The world’s coming to an end today.”

Two Port Authority police officers — John McLoughlin and Will Jimeno — played by Nicolas Cage and Michael Pena scurry with other volunteers to the lower shopping concourse between WTC I and II. As they prepare to enter the lower level of one of the skyscrapers, the first tower collapses, trapping them in a mass of rubble ranging from steel and pipes to concrete and pulverized dust.

For most of the film, they will remain excruciatingly positioned talking heads unable to move more than an arm or a neck. Their plight resembles two miners’ trapped awaiting (“Is anybody there?”) help from above. Glimpses of light and chattering between the two men keep them conscious despite intense pain and the fear that by going to sleep, you might not awaken in this world.

Structurally, Stone shifts perspectives throughout — the two men trapped in the rubble, the efforts of others to locate survivors, the family members huddled together glued to TV news that repeats the same items repeatedly, and seemingly random individuals caught in the unleash of evil.

The director intentionally avoids and shrouds the pre-mortally wounded Twin Towers from viewers. His cityscapes and skylines of New York City depict the Statue of Liberty, Midtown Manhattan, tunnels and bridges, before brief glimpses of the intact Towers standing in the foggy mist of sunrise. When the planes strike, he shows the damage from television reports. Only as the fire and police respond to the thousands of sheets of paper, does he depict the now immortal images of the gashes in the towers.

As the police approach to the towers from the lower concourse, the criticalness of the circumstances heightens. Now Stone shows walking, bloodied survivors moving away from the area. He avoids graphic atrocities. Intense yet strangely distant, Stone’s “World Trade Center” respectfully narrows the scope of America’s day of Hell as seen through the eyes of those who still have a trickle of hope. Although there are deaths, the story surges dynamically into the crypt 20 to 30 feet below the surface where the two men exchange conversations of endurance which assist in warding off the dreaded uncertainty of pain free sleep from which they might not reawaken.

Need I neglect the repeated clanking and falling of debris and the erupting of flash fires serves to maintain hyperventilation worries for the two trapped officers.

Certainly, there’s a feel good rush that two guys made it. And, the Marine drawn at church to go to Ground Zero and volunteer humbles us all about listening to a little voice down deep in the pit of our stomach.

Of course, “WTC” has an ironic undertow that sometimes occurs from tragedy i.e. the good that (pardon the pun) flows to the surface. Why do we wait until the worst of times to think about “taking care of each other?” It seems the desire for strong personal independence has smothered the principles of loving each other as thyself, getting to know the neighbors, and helping out during other than desperate times. In fact, the independence movement has made it a personal weakness to ask for help, rather than recognition that we all have different talents and together we made a better home, community, city and world.

As a couple of the heroes admit, “The only thing I’m good at is helping people.” Too bad, so many people feel they lessen themselves to rely on another, instead of randomly returning the favor by helping a stranger in need?

For all the pithy “where’d the buildings go?” or the lament that “I don’t remember the last thing I said to my wife this morning,” the valor rises from the brothers, friends, neighbors, and strangers who just wanted to help. All came to the chaos of utter hell to fight to save the lives of people they did not know simply because it was, in Stone’s words, “the right thing to do.”

Does it take a terrorist attack or the Christmas season to inspire us selfish humans to assist someone in need for the next day you may be the one needing a kind hand to help you?

Tony Rutherford covers the entertainment scene for Graffiti and Huntington News Network.

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