Sunday, November 15, 2009

2012 and 9/11

Mark Harris posted this editorial on on the new film 2012, or more specifically on the trailer to the film, which Harris finds deplorable. Here is an excerpt:
In the ad's biggest high-five moment, his little escape plane zips between two parallel high-rise towers just seconds before those towers collapse into each other, presumably killing thousands of CGI flyspeck humans. Forget the towers! the trailer seems to say. How cool was it that the plane threaded that needle?! Awesome! Cusack lives! I half expected a video-game bonus-point total to flash in the corner of the screen. But about those towers: Eight years after 9/11, Hollywood has apparently decided that not only can we see two giant buildings coming down in a movie but we want to, because it's fun. Yesterday's world tragedy is today's money shot. And make no mistake — 9/11, and your memory of those images, is what that moment is all about.
I have seen 2012 and will have a review of it on the episode of Sounds of Cinema airing on November 12, but, as a bit of a preview, I do think what Harris says is right. What is unnerving about 2012 is not just that it invokes 9/11 imagery, or for that matter that it invokes images of natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina, but that it uses that imagery so carelessly. The only apparent point of the film is to give us a cheep thrill. There have been a number of dramatic films about 9/11 and most of them are uncomfortable to watch but some are also quite good, such as Paul Greengrass' United 93, because it makes us think about what that day meant.

There have been plenty of horror films over the course of this decade that have resurrected the ultra-gory imagery of the 1970s and 80s slasher genre, and those films also invoked imagery of daily violence. However, the best of those films from the original wave (Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Last House on the Left, Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street) or the more recent one (Saw, 28 Weeks Later, Hostel Part II) actually have something to say about nature of violence or about our culture. The utter destruction of the body is akin to the destruction of an office building and the people inside of it except--and this is important --that horror films force us to look at the violence and see it not as a joy ride but as a very real act of cruelty. And in that revelation, as ugly as it may be, there is a lot of humanity to be found. Films like 2012 are not interested in humanity at all.

In essence, the problem with 2012 is the larger problem faced by the action and disaster genre: whether deliberately or as a consequence of design, the films often cheapen our understanding of disasters and the loss of human life by turning events like 9/11 into a fireworks display.

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