The Pervasive Ghost of 9/11

cultural permutations of terror in film, art, & television.

Abbas Kiarostami, Ermanno Olmi, and Ken Loach, directors of Tickets, 2005.

The ghost of 9/11 and the response of the so-called War on Terror haunt many cultural artifacts of the last seven years. Among them, the anniversary of 9/11 this year made me think of three: the film Tickets, the television series Foyle’s War, and the photographs of the Border Film Project.

Tickets was a quiet little collective movie comprised of three film-vellas by the directors Abbas Kiarostami, Ken Loach, and Ermanno Olmi. These directors follow three discrete stories on board a train toward Rome. All three tales emphasize difference and conflict, private fantasies and public spaces, meglomania and deep empathy, disconnection and the effort to overcome it. And all the activities feel haunted by an anxiety that something terrible is about to happen…and yet it never does. In fact, the film seeks out alternative visions of a cosmopolitan Europe besides the post-9/11 one.

Folye’s War similarly takes place in Europe, this time in England during World War II. Though not a BBC drama, it has all the airs of one: it’s middlebrow to the core. And yet it is also a wonderful show. Seeming at first to be an escapist period piece that draws upon true events from the World War II era, the show resonates more and more with contemporary British anxieties the more one watches it. As we follow a chief police detective (played marvelously by Michael Kitchen) strive to prevent the ends of victory in the war from compromising values of justice and fair rule by law, the shows increasingly seem to take stock of how Britain is fairing in the current War on Terror. How is the country holding up in preserving freedom when it has compromised this freedom in response to terrible tragedies such as the Tube bombings as well as anxieties about a growing immigrant population? Foyle’s War seems to look back to the World War II period in order to take an emotional accounting of the current British war.

Michael Kitchen as DCS Foyle in Foyle’s War.

Finally, in the Border Film Project, Victoria Criado and other artists sent out disposable cameras to “migrants and Minutemen on the U.S.-Mexico border,” who then packed the cameras into envelopes and anonymously mailed them back to the artists. The resulting images are artful and fascinating, furtive glimpses into the shadow life of borders under the blazing sun. Their strangely intertwined tales of liberty and security seem to identify the competing elements of the 9/11 collective imagination.

Border Film Project.

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