“25th Hour” Opening Credits Sequence (Spike Lee, 2002)
There have been more obvious movies about September 11 (Oliver Stone’s “World Trade Center,” Paul Greengrass’s “United 93,” and, arguably, “Cloverfield”), but, as I’ve written here before, I’m convinced that Spike Lee’s “25th Hour” is the best 9/11 movie anyone has made. And this despite the fact that the story (which follows a drug dealer on his last night before a reporting for a prison sentence) only references the events of 9/11 obliquely.
To me, this film is one of a handful of artifacts (“Get Your War On,” which I remember reading obsessively at my desk at new job and despairing, is another one) that capture the feel of that time perfectly—Wall Street’s meltdown and the lingering recession (I personally was unemployed for about 9 months before finally getting a job offer on September 11th, if you can believe that), the atmosphere of uncertainty and dread, the rush to war, and the unshakeable feeling that America was headed to a dark place from which it might not return.
No one ever directly mentions the attacks, but evidence of them looms over the film’s post-9/11 New York: the “Tribute in Light” in the haunting opening credits sequence (see above, or a much better version here), the Osama Bin Laden “Wanted” poster in a Wall Street trader’s office, the firemen drinking in the bar owned by the main character’s father, the view of Ground Zero from a downtown apartment window, and, most poignantly, the visceral monologue in which Edward Norton wills his beloved hometown’s destruction:
Fuck this whole city and everyone in it, from the row houses of Astoria to the penthouses on Park Avenue, from the projects in the Bronx to the lofts in Soho, from the tenements in Alphabet City to the brownstones in Park Slope to the split-levels
in Staten lsland, let an earthquake crumble it, let the fires rage, let it burn to fucking ash, and then let the waters rise and submerge this whole rat-infested place.
“25th Hour” isn’t intended to be patriotic, polemical, or even comforting—it’s a sad love letter to New York and, to me, a vivid reminder of exactly what the post-911 era felt like.