9/11 Inspires Powerful Works of Art

Ten years of reflection have produced moving films, books, and other works of art.

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Andrew Sullivan has an interesting, ongoing thread about whether there's been a great September 11-inspired work of art. Sullivan's readers have touted an assortment of novels, films, and albums.

At my old Washington Times job, I got to follow this topic rather closely.

I had the privilege, too, of interviewing the filmmaker Paul Greengrass, who directed what I argue is a great work of 9/11 art— United 93. The raw, documentary-style feature had no famous actors and, in their place, employed real pilots and flight attendants as well as—in a most impressive feat—some of the very civilian and military air traffic controllers who actually lived through the sequence of the 9/11 disaster.

[See photos of the 10th anniversary of 9/11]

I recall that Ross Douthat, in his review of the film for National Review (alas, not available online), found the film intensely moving overall, but rather creepy in its hyperrealism. Wasn't it, Douthat asked, the equivalent of watching Pearl Harbor sailors perish onscreen?

But this missed what made United 93 so extraordinary. As heinous as the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor was, at least it was a military target. The heroes of United 93 were civilians. In theory, it could've been you or me on that plane. What could be more relatable than that? Would we have been up to the task?

Also worth your time is a smaller feature called The War Within, a meditation on political extremism. A powerful moment comes when a Pakistani-born American discovers that his brother has been building a bomb in his basement.

[Read: Journalists Remember 9/11]

"This is your Islam?" he asks, as incredulous as he is enraged.

Ian McEwan's novel Saturday, while at times too slight and cheaply thrilling to really contain the enormity of 9/11, contained this magnificent passage:

Standing here, as immune to the cold as a marble statue, gazing towards Charlotte Street, towards a foreshortened jumble of facades, scaffolding and pitched roofs, Henry thinks the city is a success, a brilliant invention, a biological masterpiece — millions teeming around the accumulated and layered achievements of the centuries, as though around a coral reef, sleeping, working, entertaining themselves, harmonious for the most part, nearly everyone wanting it to work.

Wanting it to work: It seems like so little to ask. But for some, the lure of subordinating oneself to a vision of utopia—which, as McEwan notes, is what Islamism essentially is—outweighs the safety and comfort of civilization.

This temptation existed long before September 11 and will persist long after we're gone.