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Archive for Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Wounds still too fresh to stomach 9-11 movies

April 25, 2006

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It's been nearly five years since I got in my car and started driving to the East Coast, intending to see for myself what had happened on 9-11, and what it was going to mean for all of us.

I ended up in a Pennsylvania funeral home owned by Wallace Miller, who also was the coroner in Somerset County, where United Airlines Flight 93 had crashed. A few weeks had passed since the disaster, and most of the federal investigators had left town, but Miller was clearly still exhausted. He sat in stocking feet while we talked.

What he told me was this: That such a disaster had never before happened in Somerset County. That the number of deaths was so huge that he had to scramble to find a freezer big enough to hold the remains of more than 40 people. And that he still had his hands full, trying to identify crash victims from their DNA and dental records.

"We're just basically trying to put things back together," he told me.

A couple of days later, I was in New York, standing right outside the fence that kept onlookers from getting too near ground zero.

The crushed metal facade of the towers still rose stories above the street. And deep underneath the rubble, the fire started by the two planes continued to burn.

Smoke wafted beyond the fence. I will not try to describe the odor.

All of this is to explain why I do not plan to see "United 93" when it comes out on Friday. Nor do I plan to see other 9-11 movies coming out after that - one starring Nicolas Cage, the other directed by Oliver Stone.

I am not yet ready to be entertained by this particular disaster.

And that's what movies are, even the ones "based on a true story." They're entertainment. They're pretend. And, where 9-11 is concerned, make-believe seems awfully cheap.

Perhaps I'm being unfair.

After all, thousands of journalists - including me - have printed millions of pages, shown hundreds of photographs, aired God-knows-how-many hours of videotape, all depicting what actually happened that day. And, perhaps like you, I've consumed a lot of that information. Maybe it's hypocritical to cringe when another medium tries its hand at the story.

But I suspect we just need more time.

"JFK," while irresponsible in its version of history, came out nearly 30 years after John F. Kennedy's assassination. "Titanic" needed 80 years to become an inspiring love story. Maybe 9-11 - and before it, Oklahoma City - needs a decade or two more before it becomes a diversion, a way to spend a Saturday afternoon in the dark.

Even then, I'm not sure I'll be in the audience. Sometimes, real life is enough.

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