Tuesday, August 15, 2006


War of the worlds

I saw War of the Worlds last week on cable. Although I'd usually be up for a Spielberg sci-fi adventure, the Tom-Cruise-is-a-freak grossout factor had kept me from seeing it.

But Tom Cruise is also a good actor, and I got hooked in right away by the scene in which he plays catch with his teenage son in the backyard (I missed the first ten minutes or so). That scene, well acted on all hands and scripted with a funny, gritty emotional realism, looked like a family drama flick I'd have really wanted to see. So I guess it worked, because it motivated me to settle into the sci fi ride.

People who I've talked to about the movie have called it "gross" or "upsetting," both of which are true, but I came away thinking it's a fine film, the grossness not gratuitous. What Spielberg did was to create haunting images of what war and destruction would look like if visited on the soil of the continental United States -- something that really hasn't happened here since the 19th century.

As horrible as 9/11 was, it was a very localized disaster. Spielberg forced us to imagine widespread destruction of entire regions: buildings and houses levelled, infrastructure put out of action, human carnage, of course -- and refugees. Dazed people migrating in an instinctive but diretionless throng hoping to escape the danger.

Cruise himself gets in it his head that he has to take his kids to their mother -- his estranged wife -- up from New York to Boston. But why? There's no reason to think that Boston will be any safer. Just having a destination at all seems to be a strategy for survival.

And his losing battle to keep his 9-year old daughter from seeing traumatic things -- to the point where he blindfolds her -- is pathetic and heartwrenching. There's no way he can protect her from the traumatic events all around them -- and yet a little girl should not have to witness such things!

Spielberg's images come straight out of his lifetime studies of World War II. And he's telling us "it could happen here" -- not wrought by sci fi invaders from another planet, either. Maybe we in the United States will continue our blessed existence of safety from massive invasion. But it happens on this planet all the time. Children have, and continue to, witness this.

Now, I'm surprised this post hasn't received a comment yet.

Bravo. A very nice post.

tapmxn (tap mex'n): Mexican tap dance
WotW was OK. It certainly had it's exceedingly tense moments. It's been a while since I watched this version of it (and the original, if it comes to that). I'm not sure if I liked the original better than the remake.

zcofp - trendy head-wear.
Was the ending as lame as the ending in the book? Did anyone else think that was a lame ending?
yes of course the ending is the same as the book's. It's a lame ending now, but taken in context and in the time it was written, it was pretty hoopy frood thinking.

inrusb - a typo for inrush.
We have had an event in the US like you described: widespread destruction of entire regions: buildings and houses levelled, infrastructure put out of action, human carnage, of course -- and refugees. Dazed people migrating in an instinctive but diretionless throng hoping to escape the danger.

It is called Katrina.
Katrina? Oh my gosh, I totally forgot that even happened!!!

Seriously, horrible as Katrina has been, it's not the same as an armed invasion. The death toll from Katrina has been put at just over 1,000. When the Germans invaded Poland in September 1939, they killed 5,000 civilians a day for an entire month. When the Japanese overran Nanking during their invasion of China, they killed 300,000 Chinese civilians in one month.

Holding up Katrina as an example of "it has happened here" shows just how sheltered we are.
Dude, do not get me started on Katrina. You said we didn't have an episode on American soil like the type you described. I nearly corrected you. Because we did. It was Katrina (and it still is Katrina because the aftermath of that disaster is not yet over).

Yeah, of course it's not like WWII where thousands of people were being killed everyday -- but so what. If we compare everything to WWII or to slavery or some other horrific event from history, it just serves to diminish the extent to which we acknowledge current tragedies.

Besides, it's not just about death tolls. It's also about the complete destruction of a city and the lives of the surviving people who lived in that city. And it's about the willingness and ability of the US to respond swiftly and adequately to that type of event. In the case of Katrina, they obviously didn't. We can't blame some invading enemy for what happened. It's something that was preventable. It happened to poor people. To black people. And nobody gave a shit . . . until the media began to focus attention on the severity of the conditions and how the federal government was doing almost nothing to address things. Then everyone starting pointing fingers at everyone else. Then help finally came and it was too little and too late for most people.

The real tragedy of Katrina -- as you say -- is that so many people have forgotten about it.

One more thing before I get off my Katrina soap box. Spike Lee made a 4-hour HBO documentary about it and it airs later this month. Here's an article from Newsweek.
The rapid transformation of warfare during the industrial revolution makes any comparassions to the Civil War moot as well. Except for the western theater, fighting was done in discret locals. The only example I can think of wholesale destruction of non-combtants was Sherman's march.

I think the point Oscar is making is the widespread nature of the destruction. Having lived through two major tornados in my life which required FEMA assitance and visiting Florida after their hurricanes last fall, destruction has a very immediate and personal affect on the psyche. To see a three story building that you know, that you've been in, that you drove by every day of your life now sitting as a pile of bricks is staggering. The only comfort I found was finally getting to an unhit area and saying out loud, "Well at least the K-Mart is ok." Yes, that sounds stupid now but to have something still standing as a landmark serves as an anchor of familarity.

I think the 9/11 tragedy wasn't personal to many people because the towers existed as landmarks, not as part of their lives.

creatfaef: The religion centered around the worship of the Minotaur.
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