My favorite movie about 9/11 is Finding Nemo

I guess we’ll remember this
all of our lives
on the last good day of the year

Cousteau

Written 9/10/06: This year there has been much hullabaloo over the two 9/11 movies, United 93 and World Trade Center. I’ve no interest in WTC the movie. To quote the great comedian Tim McIntire, “You don’t need to study for a test you’ve already passed.” United 93 is of more interest, mostly because it explores something I don’t already know. The odd thing is all the conversation around about whether it’s too soon for a 9/11 movie when we already got one masterpiece on the topic three years ago: Finding Nemo, and no I’m not being sarcastic.

Nemo is a movie about the experience most of us had as a result of the event: learning how to live in a world filled with dangers that you can no longer deny by pretending they are irrational. It opens with a huge loss that happens in a single horrible moment — Marlin loses his wife and 499 of his children. Understandably Marlin loses all his trust in the rest of the world but still manages to raise a relatively well-adjusted son who then gets snapped up by a yet another unstoppable force. In his quest to fulfill the movie’s title he meets up with Dory who is so odd that I would argue she, too, is a trauma survivor. (And yes, I do think Ellen DeGeneres deserved the best supporting Oscar for that performance.) In the end, of course, Marlin does learn to not be so afraid of the world and to enjoy his life and he and Dory and Nemo create an odd family of survivors that wouldn’t have existed before the tragedy. Now that’s 9/11. (My other nominee for great 9/11 movie came out the following year: Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind, which is about people realizing how much they lose when they lose the memory of the event that causes them so much pain.)

 

 

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Ratatouille: A love story

1Earlier this year I saw Paris J’Taime, 22 short films by 22 directors (Gus Van Sant, Alexander Payne, The Coen Bros., Gerard Depardieu, etc.), all about love and guess what city? They were trifles, mostly, as they should be. Pleasant and touching looks at the City of Light — if it wasn’t commissioned by the Paris Tourist Bureau then they just got a freebie. What I remember most is Gena Rowlands and Ben Gazzara and Fanny Ardant (right) and Bob Hoskins. Not only are they great actors but they were all portraying something almost never seen in American movies: Passionate crazy love among men and women of certain age.

rat2Paris J’Taime is postcards from Paris. Ratatouille is the novel. Its story and sense of place is both deep and surprising. Unlike other Pixar movies, this was actually a movie I’d never seen before. I love Pixar and think they have made some of the best movies I’ve ever seen but the others were all riffs on familiar themes. Toy Story is a buddy movie — a great buddy movie to be sure — but still we knew going in that the Woody and Buzz were going to wind up as friends. Finding Nemo is a superb story of love, loss and letting-go, but even so I’d seen its basic idea before (for more of my thoughts about Nemo go here). Ratatouille, the story of a rat who becomes a chef, could easily have been another “fish-out-of-water makes good” movie but it isn’t.

(WARNING: Lots of spoilers below)

It never takes the obvious route. It is never hack (which is comedians’ name for the easy and cliche). It isn’t “HEARTWARMING.” Every choice made by the people involved is true to the story and the characters and not just what the audience expects. As a result it gives the audience so much more than mere easy laughs. The big challenge that our hero (voiced by the wonderful Patton Oswalt) overcomes is not will he become a chef, it’s how to make peace between being a rat AND being a chef. When his family comes to his aid it’s not a big sweeping emotional moment, it’s a much more realistic “yeah we’re family and this is what family does even when they’re angry at each other” moment. In other words: It’s a true moment, not a Hollywood one.

One of Ratatouille’s greatest strengths is that it never forgets that rats and people eating food are not something that go together. Even when the rats ride to the rescue and run the kitchen, the movie is smart enough to include a stomach-jarring shot of rodents swarming. If this had been made just by Disney Ratatouille would have had an ending where the restaurant is saved, the rat and the human both get the girl and snoooooore. That sort of happens, but not in the predictable way that ruined so many of Disney’s later animated movies.

Also it’s hard to imagine the later Disney movies including the scene where our hero and his father walk by the exterminator’s shop in the Marais whose window is decorated with dead rats in traps. (I’ve been by that store a number of times, it is quite wonderful.) Pre-Pixar animation at Disney long ago gave up being willing to actually upset the audience. For all that Lion King was willing to show the father’s death, it did it without the terror and darkness that makes Pinocchio one of the greatest and scariest movies I’ve ever seen.

ratdollThe only complaint I have with the movie has to do with its marketing. Disney/Pixar missed out on the perfect tie-in: A celebration of the wonderful Musée des égouts de Paris, the museum of the sewers of Paris. It is a truly unique place and the only museum in Paris whose gift shop already had plushy rats in stock.


Sept. 10, five years ago.

 

I guess
we’ll remember this all of our lives
on the last good day of the year

Cousteau

 

This year there was much hullabaloo over the two 9/11 movies, United 93 and World Trade Center. I’ve no interest in WTC the movie. To quote the great comedian Tim McIntire, “You don’t need to study for a test you’ve already passed.” United 93 is of more interest, mostly because it explores something I don’t already know. The odd thing is all the conversation around about whether it’s too soon for a 9/11 movie when we already got one masterpiece on the topic three years ago: Finding Nemo, and no I’m not being sarcastic.

Nemo is a movie about the experience most of us had as a result of the event: learning how to live in a world filled with dangers that you can no longer deny by pretending they are irrational. It opens with a huge loss that happens in a single horrible moment — Marlin loses his wife and 499 of his children. Understandably Marlin loses all his trust in the rest of the world but still manages to raise a relatively well-adjusted son who then gets snapped up by a yet another unstoppable force. In his quest to fulfill the movie’s title he meets up with Dory who is so odd that I would argue she, too, is a trauma survivor. (And yes, I do think Ellen DeGeneres deserved the best supporting Oscar for that performance.) In the end, of course, Marlin does learn to not be so afraid of the world and to enjoy his life and he and Dory and Nemo create an odd family of survivors that wouldn’t have existed before the tragedy. Now that’s 9/11. (My other nominee for great 9/11 movie came out the following year: Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind, which is about people realizing how much they lose when they lose the memory of the event that causes them so much pain.)

 

I wrote the following on 9/11/02 — it’s what I remembered a year after the fact.

1. First hearing the news — a bulletin on the radio. Just, “a plane has crashed into” and figured it was something stupid, some idiot in a Cessna or something going into the Tower like bug vs. windshield. I remember thinking — before — there was a lot to do that day but it all seemed very light and easy. I thought I’d take a quick look at the pictures on TV before getting on with crossing items off my “To Do” list. Then it all changed, the world went from laughable to horrifying. An accident? It was my first question, not understanding what I was looking at, the images not really making it past my retinas. And then and then and then that second plane and I and you and all of us knew it was deliberate but that made no sense. A separation between what I saw and what I believed could possibly be true.

2. They can’t disappear, they can’t collapse, they can’t be gone. Can’t can’t can’t. The dust eating up the city and, worse yet, blocking my view. All I had to hold on to then was what I could see, as if information was helping me somehow.

3. Later that morning, when it seemed that planes just would not stop falling from the sky, I walked outside to get away from the TV to not, for one moment, look. I saw a woman driving slowly down the street and on her face was that phrase I’d always read but never actually seen — utter despair.

4. I called my son’s school. His second week at kindergarten. I know this is stupid, I asked, but is everyone OK?

5. My wife was just outside of Chicago, which was all of a sudden too far away. The planes were now all grounded and it felt like the world had suddenly expanded, what once was a distance of hours was now farther than I could imagine. What did I think was the best way to get home — train or car? I was afraid of that responsibility. I didn’t want to say one or the other because what if I chose wrong and there was another attack and she died? Car or train? It felt like she was asking me the best way to get across a field watched over by a sniper.

6. My mother-in-law had a psychic fool visiting from the UK. London’s being evacuated, he would say whenever he got off the phone. Even on that day when nearly all rumors were to be believed, this one pushed too hard at credibility. No, I said with the sullen certainty of someone who has spent the past six hours watching the news. No, it is not.

7. What to tell my son was the only other topic of conversation. Regina, who I was on and off the phone with all day, had no suggestions. No more idea what to say to my son than to her daughters. Stupid with fear, I didn’t say anything that day. The teachers at school the next day were very clear they weren’t going to talk about it either. By the time he got home, he knew something. After playing with a friend, he knew a lot. I talked to him about it then. Weeks later I would be very aware of what I should have said and didn’t: It’s all going to be OK. Normally I’m not so recalcitrant about lying.

8. I’d never noticed how much noise came from the sky until it was silent. The grounding of all air traffic had an odd benefit of silence and beauty. The quiet marked those days and fit my mood. I loved the view of all that empty blue now and then bisected by a single fighter heading north to its base or south to cruise over New York. My little flying security blanket. Three days of quiet ending abruptly as the skies filled again. Even now I cringe when I hear a jet coming down low to land. I wait after it passes, expecting an explosion.

9. The flags came out for a variety of reasons: Pride, solidarity, protection. Down the street is a little donut shop where, at lunch time, you could also get curry. The owners were from India or Pakistan. That first night their windows were broken. Not even the right end of the continent, I thought to myself, cursing. The day after that an American flag was in the window. Within the month they had sold the shop. The new owners are Asian and still serve curry, but no one will ever confuse them with Arabs.