Looking Back on 9/11: A Cultural Exploration

On September 11th, 2001, the United States (and the whole world) looked on with horror as several airplanes crashed into the side of the World Trade Centers in New York City. These attacks were followed shortly by additional hijackings, and the day would go down in history as one of the most pivotal moments in US society’s progression as a whole. To commemorate the anniversary of this tragic event, let’s take a look back at several of the most influential creative works inspired by this monumental tragedy.

United 93

A riveting, real-time account of the fateful United Flight 93, this movie was one of the most shocking depictions of what happened that day ever portrayed by the media at large. Upon its initial release in 2006, the film was highly controversial, with many arguing that it was “too soon” for the story to be retold in such a graphic, yet authentic manner.

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Pedestrians walk past an advertisment for the new film ‘United 93’ April 28, 2006 in New York City. ‘United 93’ by Paul Greengrass, is a drama about the lone hijacked commercial airliner that failed to reach its target on September 11, 2001. The controversial film has been getting positive reviews. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Nonetheless, the movie would go on to become one of the most successful and influential releases of the decade, providing insight into the horrors faced by the passengers who decided to fight back against their would-be hijackers.

Zero Dark Thirty

Though not directly about the events that unfurled that day, Zero Dark Thirty’s story is intimately entwined with the September 11th attacks. Starring Jessica Chastain, Joel Edgerton, and Chris Pratt, the film looks at the hunt for terrorist leader Osama bin Laden, who evaded capture for over a decade.

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(L-R) Writer/producer Mark Boal, Jason Clarke, director Kathryn Bigelow, Jessica Chastain and Kyle Chandler attend ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ photo call at Ritz Carlton Hotel on December 4, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Paul Zimmerman/WireImage)

It’s a gritty look at the sheer amount of resources that went into the international manhunt, culminating with the leader’s death during a Navy SEAL raid carried out by SEAL Team 6. The film would go on to win an Oscar, as well as more than 280 other awards and nominations.

Bystander 9/11

First performed shortly after the attacks in 2002, Bystander 9/11 was penned by Meron Langsner, who utilized his intense, stream-of-consciousness writing style to great effect in his retelling of the horrific events surrounding New Yorkers on the morning of the attacks.

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Smoke pours from the twin towers of the World Trade Center after they were hit by two hijacked airliners in a terrorist attack September 11, 2001 in New York City. (Photo by Robert Giroux/Getty Images)

Though the play opened only in Boston and New York City itself, it would soon see public performances at various theaters as part of The Methuen Drama Anthology of Testimonial Plays. Regarding creative works that captured the raw emotion of what happened that day, very few are quite as authentic as this one.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Director Stephen Daldry set out to create an intensely human story amongst what feels like a larger-than-life event for millions of us, and by all accounts, he succeeded in his undertaking with Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. The 2011 film stars Thomas Horn, Tom Hanks, and Sandra Bullock, and was nominated for several Oscars.

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(L-R) Director Stephen Daldry, President of worldwide marketing for Warner Bros. Sue Kroll, actor Tom Hanks, actor Thomas Horn, actress Sandra Bullock, actor Max Von Sydow, actress Viola Davis, and actor Jeffrey Wright attend the ‘Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close’ New York premiere at the Ziegfeld Theater on December 15, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images)

Following the nine-year-old son of a victim of the Twin Tower collapse, as he tried to find a lock that matches a key given to him by his late father, the film played on the emotional toll that the shocking events had on citizens of all ages.

The Looming Tower

Few creative works have provided the level of insight into the inner workings of the September 11th attacks the way that Pulitzer Prize-winning author Lawrence Wright’s seminal book The Looming Tower did when it was released in 2007.

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Actors Jeff Daniels and Tahar Rahim attend ‘The Looming Tower’ Special Screening, The New Series broadcasted on Amazon Prime Video at Hotel Royal Monceau Raffle on February 21, 2018 in Paris, France. (Photo by Laurent Viteur/Getty Images)

Delving into the explosive growth of Islamic fundamentalism, al-Qaeda’s rise to prominence, and all of the intelligence blunders that led to the tragic events on 9/11, the book is a veritable encyclopedia of the underpinnings that made up one of the most concerted terrorist attacks on the modern world. It would go on to see several TV adaptations, including a 2018 Hulu miniseries.

25th Hour

25th Hour is an extraordinarily unique and visceral take on post-9/11 New York City. The city itself is the real star of this film, created by Spike Lee. When Lee was initially conceiving of the storyline in 2001, it was meant to be a straightforward crime drama following the arrest and conviction of heroin dealer Montgomery Brogan.

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(L to R) Actor Barry Pepper, actor Edward Norton, director Spike Lee and actress Rosario Dawson arrive at the Berlinale Film Festival February 12, 2003 in Berlin. They are in Berlin for the premiere of their film ’25th Hour.’ (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

That said, after the attacks rocked the world, the film took on a wholly new aura, depicting one of the rawest, most authentic looks into life in the city immediately following the terror attacks it had weathered.

The Guys

In 2002, Anne Nelson debuted The Guys, a play about a New York City journalist who assists a local fire chief write all of the memorial speeches for all of the men and women under his command who died during the Twin Tower’s collapse. Sigourney Weaver and Bill Murray starred in the production, which was shown in 2003 during two benefit performances for The New York Historical Society.

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Sigourney Weaver and Husband Jim Simpson during A Special Screening By The FDNY Fire Safety Education Fund And Focus Features Of The Guys at USS Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Mychal Watts/WireImage)

It would go on to become a film, directed by Jim Simpson and starring Sigourney Weaver and Anthony LaPaglia.

Falling Man

Falling Man was first published in 2007, just six short years after the devastating attacks on American soil. Written by Don DeLillo, the story follows a survivor of the initial Twin Tower attacks and delves into how they influence and shape his life in the aftermath of one of the country’s greatest tragedies.

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Source: goodreads.com

While other stories on this list were directly about the events that occurred after 9/11 on a larger scale, this book is a staggeringly exciting glimpse into individual lives that were touched, and as such, it is well worth your time.

Fahrenheit 9/11

Perhaps no creative work directly inspired by the September 11th attacks was as controversial upon release as Fahrenheit 9/11 was. Created by documentarian Michael Moore, the film delved deep into the conspiratorial theory that the Bush administration had allegedly leveraged the tragedy that occurred that day to justify going to war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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Michael Moore during ‘Fahrenheit 9/11’ Press Conference – July 6, 2004 at Essex House Hotel in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by J. Countess/WireImage)

For weeks after its release, it was hotly debated by all sides of the political spectrum, resulting in dozens of death threats against its creator. For all of its controversy, no film accurately embodied the troubled American mind the way Fahrenheit 9/11 did.