Thursday, June 2, 2011

Remember Me's Message - Remember the Fallen

Bin Laden is dead. We remember the Lost Loved Ones.

-jessegirl- May 27, 2011

Anderson Cooper360, on May 3, 2011, released a message from the newscaster, which essentially went back to the idea of remembering. Bin Laden’s crimes should be remembered but his name should not be. It is the names of the 3000 fallen that should be remembered. Hearing his newscast prompted me to this place again and I will quote below, as accurately as I can:

“It’s a relief to know he’s gone...Someday...cannot give Bin Laden the satisfaction of speaking his name... “I keep thinking of him now buried at sea, wrapped in a white cloth in a weighted bag, slid into the icy ocean...think of his body sinking into the sea, disappearing into the dark depths of the oceans...this man who terrorized so many for so long has simply disappeared. The ocean is a very big place and in the end Osama Bin Laden was a very small man. There will be no grave marker for him, no place for fanatical followers to come and pay their twisted respect. He is gone. We cannot forget or should we ever forget the horrors that this man unleashed but as the months and years pass, I hope that his name is hardly ever uttered. I hope his picture disappears as well... I hope it’s not the wasted life of this mass murderer we remember; I hope instead we recall the lives of those we’ve lost. I hope we remember Leon Smith Jr. (firefighter)... In the years ahead I hope it’s their names we speak, not Bin Laden’s. I hope it’s how they lived their lives we remember...I hope we remember all they did and all that they never lived to do.”
Anderson Cooper360, on May 3, 2011

(On you can learn about those who died.)

The unfortunate thing is, we cannot remember the 3000 names. We do not remember the names of the victims of 9/11, of other massacres, whether large or small. We do remember the names of the perpetrators. I will not list any here. We know them. But we do not, nor can we memorize or know those whose lives were lost, who, in this, were innocent. That is just the way memory works. There are too many.

It is ironic that after Anderson Cooper made that statement, subsequent coverage on his show and other CNN shows covered Bin Laden and his demise in great detail from all angles, the murderer’s name repeated over and over. Should the picture of the dead terrorist be released, or not? What role did Pakistan have? How would the terrorist network continue? And so on. The focus was still on Bin Laden.

But the paragraphs I quoted reminded me that it has come full circle. It has brought back, for me, Will Fetters’ idea, the original inspiration for writing the script of the 2010 film Remember Me. To remember the fallen, through the story of one such imagined life, Tyler’s. Remember Me was never about Bin Laden or his terrorist network. It was always about remembering the individual lives lost, imagining what their families’ lives must have been like afterwards. And that’s where the focus should be.

For Will Fetters it began with the obituaries, The Portraits of Grief, New York Times "Portraits of Grief" the mini-biographies of those who had fallen on Sept. 11, 2001. It was from those that the writer had derived inspiration for his work, originally titled, Memoirs. (Therefore those who criticize the climax of the film as being a ‘twist’, ‘tacked on’, are sadly mistaken.)

The whole point of this movie was to remember an individual life. Granted it was a fictional character’s life, but this allowed everyone to become immersed in his world and come to love him, and then, grieve for him when he was suddenly snatched away in the most shocking way. Tyler died in the center of the first firestorm when the plane hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center. And that gave us all a chance to grieve. That is the genius of the film Remember Me.

Some of us took that rich source of emotional catharsis and were grateful for this chance. Others, to this day, felt cheated, angry, and manipulated, which are the common reactions to shock. These responses are still dividing viewers. But they tell us more about ourselves than they do about this film. About whether we allow ourselves to feel and to be open. About how grief affects us. Tyler at the window, the climax, is the culmination of all we feel about Tyler and all we will feel at his loss. If we felt nothing for Tyler—which I find an odd response—we are bound to feel manipulated. If we came to love him—and Robert Pattinson’s nuanced, authentic performance worked to make this happen—then we were put in the imagined position that those who suffered real personal losses that day felt. There was no better way to drive the point home.

Fetters was only 22 years when he wrote the script; he was a young man who shared with his protagonist, idealism. And in Remember Me, Fetters intended to force viewers to confront the horror of 9/11 in the most personal way, the only way possible for those who did not lose loved
ones there.

As I have written in another article, Tyler Hawkins, the imagined one, is the symbol, the human face of tragedy. [Tyler in Remember Me: the Human Face of Tragedy ] Through his story we come to understand the event intimately. We, the viewers, are brought to it by being shocked. And this is what happened on that bright Tuesday morning, almost ten years ago. Shock.

Some viewers recoiled, as the slap in the face was felt as an insult rather than the wake-up call Fetters meant it to be. Perhaps it worked too well, that shock. Shock makes one angry. The stunning force of it infuriates. And then comes the pain.

This is what is must have been like, Fetters’ story shouts. This is only one imagined life, cut short. This is an unfinished life. This is what 9/11 did. This is what hatred and terrorism did. There are 3000 stories, real ones, and 3000 families and their friends who have suffered immeasurably because their loved ones‘lives were taken.

If, for a few months, we walked in the footsteps of any of the 3000 who were brutally murdered that day, until their demise, we would get to know them. None were perfect, as none of us are. The fictional Tyler was not either.

One effective way we can remember the fallen—we who did not suffer the fate of a personal loss that day—is by remembering the symbol, like Tyler. Also, I have read a book one wife wrote about her loss and that kind of story can bring it to the level of a real person lost. Abigail Carter wrote eloquently of her husband, Aaron, who fell that day. If I can take the liberty of quoting her:

“Perhaps the nature of his demise had itself been the lesson: life needed to be lived and not spent at work. Life was not all about making money. Life was about those that you love. Life was short.”
(page 121)

This sounds a lot like the message of the film, or part of its message. Abigail goes on to walk us through her own grieving in detail, and shares with us her husband Aaron’s likes, his foibles, his character. For anyone wishing to remember a real life, her book is a good avenue. [The Alchemy of Loss: A Young Widow’s Transformation, by Abigail Carter. McClelland and Stewart, Toronto: 2008. ISBN-13: 978-0771019074; ISBN-13: 978-0771019050]

Every one of those 3000 families, the mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, children, all felt the giant fist in the face that day, the gut-punch which rendered them stunned, obliterating rational thought and giving way to an enormous, never-ending silent scream, a scream which has, in the almost ten years since, receded to an ever-present growl, but which threatens to overwhelm and be let loose anytime.

Families of the fallen held in front of them photos of their loved ones. Have you seen this man, this woman? Remember him. Do not forget her. The genesis of the movie Remember Me, its raison d’ĂȘtre, comes from such things, -one person holding a photo of his loved one. That person wanted the loved one to be remembered. And that’s what Will Fetters wanted when he wrote this story. Remember the fallen.


solas said...

Jesse, I think this newest work of yours has stimulated more thoughts and ponderings within me than anything previous you have posted. I need to post as 2 comments; my thoughts are not concise enough yet.
One major attribute and mandate of my people is to remember. 'Remember how you were treated; don't treat strangers that way.' 'Remember the Sabbath day.' 'Remember what Amalek did to you when he happened upon you.' We remember and we carry our memories around with us like backpacks sometimes filled with sweet cakes and sometimes with heavy stones. Yet, we are also told to erase certain memories sometimes; we are to erase the memory of that same Amalek whose ACTIONS we are to remember. It was a contradiction and quandary I wondered about as a child: We are to erase the name and memory of a certain evil nation, a certain evil person, and yet we keep mentioning the name! I came to understand that we are supposed to work on the world, with the world, for a better world, in such a way that the names of the evil ones are blotted out, that their names have no honour or tribute or respect, that their actions and their ways of thinking and behaving are wiped away from humanity.
One way we do this is to honour, respect, pay tribute to, remember, those who fell at the hands of the evil ones, and to not even mention the names of the evil ones--just call them--the evil ones whenever we can, whenever we need to refer to them yet know people will know about whom we speak. We keep lists of the names of those who perished and light candles and lights on the anniversaries of their slaughter; we interview survivors and keep records of them, we obtain mementos such as passports, photos, letters, and keep them safe and leave them in view for all to see and witness, even if not firsthand.
One of the most enduring mementos of one of the more recent almost-annihilations of my people is the Diary of Anne Frank, where readers do get to know Anne, her family, her thoughts and observations, her fears and hopes, and then are left at the end hanging, only finding out through history what actually happened. If the evil one was mentioned at all, it wasn't much; her story was HER story, certainly drastically tragically irrevocably affected by the evil ones, but still it was a story of HER life, not of the evil ones.
By writing Memoirs/Remember Me, Will Fetters gave us a twist on Anne Frank's diary. Tyler is fictional after all, and we do get to see his life and his angst and his love and his anger, but not affected slowly and daily as was Anne's at that time, yet his life, too, was still drastically, tragically, irrevocably affected by evil ones.

solas said...

Part 2--We are a people with memories, and when people pass on, whether 'in their time' or tragically taken before they have lived full lives, we say, when mentioning their name, 'May his/her/their memory be for a blessing.'
What a difference from saying about evil ones-'may their name and memory of them be erased!'
But as long as people continue the thoughts, inclinations, and deeds of the evil ones, as long as people honour them and rationalize or even G-d forbid praise their attitudes and deeds, their name and memory cannot be erased.
So I say it is our job, all of us, to stop, to thwart, the thoughts, inclinations and deeds of evil ones, to teach a better way, to model a better way, so that the names and memories of the evil ones are indeed erased, and so that the names of those they took away from us before their time, and memories of THEM, be a blessing.
Will Fetters showed a way, started a way to do just that. It is a pity that so very many did not understand or appreciate him and his work, and Alan Coulter's and Rob's interpretation of that work into film. How wonderful of you, Jesse, to dedicate so much time and effort to try to get this across. I only wish many many more could read what you have written and view the movie again. And again. And remember that each of the 3000 murdered was a person to be remembered for a blessing, and the evil ones and their actions are to be wiped away.

WhyIstheRumAlwaysGone said...

This is a brilliant article Jessegirl, and I'm so glad to see you back writing and sharing. (Kat, thanks for posting it, I've missed the updates on this lovely blog so much!!)
Jesse I love how you wrapped everything in such a concise, clear, crisp and elegant way. You have this gift for opening our eyes again and again. What better homage to the fallen could there be? I love the idea that the murderer's name should be forgotten but not the names of the many fallen, although the bitter irony is that we often don't know them. But I had thought, like Solas did, about the example of Anne Frank, one name of a victim agains the name of a mass murderer, although of course Anne is real and Tyler is fictional. It's an interesting parallel.
I love how you showed once more so clearly the real purpose of Fetter's story, which was so badly misunderstood by negligent and lazy critics or moviegoers.
Thanks for mentioning that book by Abigail, I think it will interest many people.
Thanks again for your beautiful, brilliant, tireless work of showing and explaining what the movie's true message is, and for touching our hearts with your crystal-clear words.

jessegirl said...

I know this article will get very little exposure--even though Kat does everything she can; thank you, Kat!--because it is a come-lately piece, because RM is being forgotten, and its day in the sun is over. I would like to respond now partly because I just love these comments. This site has always been blessed with really good, thoughtful comments.

Solas, Oh my your comments could make a fantastic post on their own. Your tradition is so rich in this area and I am humbled by all that you say. "Just call them the evil ones" seems perfect. Let's do that. And Anne Frank. I'd wanted to bring her up in another article but we thought people would react badly, emphasizing the fact that Tyler is just fictional. But I thought of that spirited, wonderful journal-writer right away, even though Tyler's journal and circumstances were different.

Oh I love: "May his/her/their memory be for a blessing." And that you keep lists of names, interview survivors and so on. Perhaps someday there could be, for 9/11, a place where such things are collected as a tribute to the actual people. I don't know whether that has been talked about.

And your thoughts about us all becoming models, to make it our job to try to thwart evil at every turn, is so very important. As a person, I always wonder whether I'm doing enough of that. One needs to be brave sometimes for that, even for the small everyday evils in our worklives.

And Rum, your lovely words of appreciation make me blush. I just try to write as I feel and think it. I'm sorry that even now, on some message boards, viewers new to RM still call the 'ending' shameful, still have no idea what it's about, and poor Will needs defending again. The way so many watch, as well as read, shows that they have no attention span, that their feelings are as undeveloped as their thought processes. Too much 3-D, etc.?

solas said...

Jesse, there is so much more I feel yet cannot put into words yet. But that which I can put into words, I will try to write perhaps with more brevity.
I think I have told you before that my grandmother was the youngest of 15 and had come to US for a visit and ended up staying when she married my grandfather. Her 14 siblings and their children, and for some of them, grandchildren, were also slaughtered in one day in a forest outside their village/town, along with their neighbours, friends, students, etc. ONe nephew lived by 'playing dead' when he was shot into the pit and other bodies fell on top of him in the pit as they were shot; he waited until he heard the evil ones leave, and then crawled his way out to survive in the forest and eventually make his way to the land of Israel. My grandmother found out the fate of her family. She saved the photos and letters from them over the years, and from my nephew eventually. She and he were able to give life to those relatives I never saw and enrich my soul with their memories, the jokes, pranks, the kindesses, the habits and hobbies of those who otherwise would be but enrichment for the soil.
It is good that the NYT wrote whatever they did for obituaries for those slaughtered in the attacks, but I do hope there will be some project, perhaps at the sites of the attacks, where we can visit and see photos, perhaps even family videos, and read and/or hear the memories families and friends have of their slaughtered loved ones, that their lives will be more than just years of breaths and heartbeats that have left the earth, that their lives will be a blessing. I would read each of these stories. I would read what their everyday lives were like, their concerns, their plans, leading right up to the attacks, in the way we got to see that glimpse of Tyler's life.

solas said...

As for being models, of working to rid the world of the evil thoughts and inclinations and deeds and to work to eliminate the admiration and emulation of the evil ones--it is not so easy. It is such a challenge to fight the evil and not become that which transgressed us. And yet, it is a challenge to find that right and good level of compassion and kindness so needed in the world, so lacking that the lack of it might lead people to damage and destroy, and yet to not be SO kind and understanding and patient that we leave room for more cruelty and other evil. We have a saying (I know, my people has a LOT of sayings and teachings!): those who are kind to the cruel end up being cruel to the kind. I am not totally sure that is always true, as I do believe some people DO evil but are not evil, and that if they were raised or educated differently they might change and turn from evil and do good, but on the other hand I do think it is true too too often. So it is dangerous tightrope walk, without a net. My only answer is kindness by default. But don't be stupid. And remember.

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