Hollywood's Painful Reminder

generic 911 september 11 film world trade center
CBS/AP
This story was written by CBSNews.com interns Clarissa Striker and Andrew R. Bridgman.

As the fifth anniversary for Sept. 11 nears, Hollywood has launched its second big-budget film about that tragic day. Is the public ready to relive 9/11 through a movie? And more importantly, does it want to?

In the spring there was Paul Greengrass's "United 93," which tracked the terrorist-hijacked plane that crashed near Pennsylvania and showed how passengers sacrificed their lives to foil the terrorist plot to hit a target in Washington D.C.

Previews in theaters for that movie caught many audience members off-guard. Some yelled "too soon!"

One theater in Manhattan pulled the preview all together. Nevertheless, the film was not entirely shunned by moviegoers, hitting second place at the box-office on its opening weekend.

Now comes Oliver Stone's "World Trade Center," which opened Wednesday.
"WTC" differs from "United 93" in that it focuses on two Port Authority police officers, John McLoughlin and Will Jimeno, who went into the towers to save people and were buried alive under rubble and slabs of concrete. They were miraculously rescued almost a day later.

What kind of a reaction will viewers have to such a film, and will those with loved ones who perished in the attacks choose to see it?

New Yorker Claudia Rocafort, who lost her brother in the South Tower, says she has a great internal conflict about watching the movie. "It will bring back a lot of pain and it will open a wound that's healing," she says.

She doesn't know if she is ready to see the film but feels she is morally obliged so that she can talk about it afterwards and speak up if something is colored or misrepresented.

"I personally hold the people who worked on it morally responsible," she adds.

Alix Anfang, who was sixteen at the time of the attacks and attending a high school in the Bronx, won't see "WTC" because she thinks it exploits a natural tragedy.

"It seems like the point of this movie is to make money by stirring emotions, which I think is cheap," she says. "I don't think we need a big Hollywood money-maker movie in order to commemorate the heroes."

Jon Bernthal, an actor who plays a New York Port Authority officer who disappeared as the buildings collapsed, believes that people should watch the movie.

He told The Early Show's Russ Mitchell "I think we as Americans need to go see these guys' story. These people need to be celebrated and memorialized. Whatever good did come out of that day …, that's what this movie celebrates."

Whether the movie touts the universal theme of heroism or not, it will probably have a different effect on New Yorkers than on the rest of America. Early Show contributor Jess Cagle, People magazine's editor-at-large, thinks the nation as a whole will probably want to see the film.

"The general public is ready. But New Yorkers may feel it's too soon," said Cagle.

New Yorker Mark Schachter walked out of "WTC" ten minutes into it. He says you really have to be in the proper frame of mind to see such an "intense" movie, and he wasn't in the mood to feel down or somber at the time.

That may be a common reaction for many in New York, said Dr. Thomas Demaria, a clinical psychologist and director of the WTC Family Center, which provides counseling to those affected by 9/11. The visceral connection to the event that a 9/11 movie will create may be too drastic for many New Yorkers and trigger bad memories.

For others, Demaria says, a movie like this will serve as an "emotional catharsis." It could act as closure, helping to sort out any lost memories from that day – a way to "clean up the wounds."

"Incredibly moving," said Rob Frizell and Arlene Valenzuela, of San Jose, Calif., after a Wednesday screening. Although they were far from New York during 9/11, seeing the movie "…in a way maybe brings it a little bit closer, to realize what people went through here."

Paramount Pictures' marketing strategy of the movie as a story about humanity that honors those heroes who have risked their lives for others will most likely affect the film's success.

"WTC" director Oliver Stone told CBS News last month that he tried to portray his story on 9/11 as honestly as he could in the film. "We have to deal with history around us, otherwise we're not being filmakers, we're being sentimentalists," he said.

Captain David Morkal of the New York Fire Department, Engine 23, was called from vacation at night to help with the rescue on Sept. 11. He says although he may not want to see the film, he will.

Morkal says he is who he is today because of what happened the day the towers collapsed. To stay away from that day would be like choosing to stay away from himself.

"Not a day goes by where I don't think about the eleventh. I'm reminded of it twice a day when I look at a clock. I come to work, I think about it."

"It's a day that will never go away."

By Clarissa Striker and Andrew R. Bridgman