EL&IC is a photojournalist’s wet dream.
What strikes me most about the film are how many moments (especially about 9/11) resemble the kind of iconic, zeitgeist capturing photography you’d find in some New York Times year end round up. And yet, these moments feel phony…too artificial, despite the technical merits on display.
In fact, viewing the scenes out of context, merely as still frames, evokes more out of me than in the context of the movie. Hell, pick a random picture of Thomas Horn in the film without the film’s other, more famous stars in the background and you could probably convince folks that it’s an authentic picture taken in the aftermath of 9/11 New York.
Many sequences in the movie strain to recreate that kind of authenticity, to invoke images seared into our collective cultural psyche (most egregiously of which would be the repeated falling man motif). The film intends for these moments as a cheap and efficient way of explaining Oskar’s (the protagonist) interior life, a never ending loop of CNN broadcasts from 9/11 filtered through an autistic child’s hyper-real outlook on the world. It’s supposed to be how we come to warm up to Oskar’s innumerable quirks and peculiarities, like the filmmakers saying, “You remember how bad you felt during ‘the worst day,’ don’t you? Well this kid’s going through this shit 24/7. And his daddy died. Cry, damn you!”
Needless to say, it doesn’t work.
I’ve never been a fan of this blatantly artificial technique (see EL&IC writer Eric Roth’s Forrest Gump’s digital insertions of Tom Hanks into newsreels); it’s lazy, asking the audience to react without really making anything worthy of evoking that reaction. Yet, I don’t really agree with the absolute critical pistol-whipping EL&IC’s getting for its 9/11 imagery. Forrest Gump bumbling his way through the civil rights movement is just as offensive and demeaning to all those involved. It’s just that Gump had the benefit of 40 years to dull the memories of that era.