September 12th

With Hollywood studios preparing to release films depicting the September 11 tragedy, I’ve been thinking for some time about the ethics involved in revisiting these traumatic events, and there are legitimate concerns that some filmmakers may exploit the attacks, as this recent comment on my blog illustrates. But several films, including Spike Lee’s 25th Hour (my review), have addressed the powerful grief and psychic disorientation that resulted from 9/11. Another film that belongs alonsgide Lee’s film is the new independent film, September 12th (IMDB), directed by John Touhey from a screenplay he co-wrote with Mark Lickona. September 12th offers a quiet and subtle reflection on the ongoing process of mourning after 9/11.

The film opens with the Riga family in a cemetary where they are conducting a memorial service for Lori, who died in the World Trade Center, on the third anniversary of her death. Tuohy wisely chooses not to reveal much of what is being said about Lori, allowing her character to develop gradually in the reflections and conversations that take place after the service. This memorial service establishes the two primary characters, Rick (James Garrett), Lori’s finace, and her brother, Frank (Joe Iacovino, in the film’s strongest and most difficult performance), and the emotional complexity of memorialization. In a personal interview, Touhey, who was working in New York on 9/11, mentions that September 12th was shaped by the little memorials that appeared immediately after the tragedy, “The one thing that impressed me most in the days that followed were all the little memorials and shrines that sprang up all over the city.” These questions about memorialization give September 12th are a dominant–and important–part of Touhey’s film.

The film depicts this grief in other ways, as well. Immediately after the service, Eddie (Ernest Mingione) walks up and introduces himself to the family, offering his business card and asking the family to contact him. Because Eddie is a lawyer, Rick and Frank immediately assumes that Eddie wishes to represent the family in an effort to profit off of their loss. While audience members will likely guess that Eddie’s motivations are somewhat more honorable, Rick and Frank’s responses are perfectly natural.

Rick remains deeply devoted to Lori, seeing her in the most positive light possible and attending to the needs of Lori’s mother. Frank, by contrast, appears belligerent, playing an unnecessarily rough game of basketball with his nephews. His memories of Lori are far less generous a he recalls a childhood primarily characterized by competition with his older sibling. In both cases, the central characters are still in the process of mourning, a process that is clearly informed by their relationship to Lori, as this Film Threat review points out. As the film evolves, this comparison becomes more central to the film, with Rick and Frank forced to confront their conflicting memories of Lori when Rick invites Frank, who has been evicted temporarily, to crash at his apartment.

I won’t talk in much detail about the substance of their conversation, but I felt the film captured the substance of these conversations rather effectively, although in places, the screenplay felt a little too unpolished, as if the actors were quoting the lines rather than immersing themselves in a character. Unlike the Film Threat reviewer who faults the acting, I’m less inclined to attribute my reaction to performance than I am to the difficulty of finding language that will communicate this type of post-9/11 mourning. But even with that minor reservation (and perhaps even because of that difficulty), I think that September 12th deserves a much wider audience and represents an important attempt to remember 9/11 in an honest and fully human fashion.

Cross-posted at Agoravox.

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