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.