Kathleen Parker

WASHINGTON -- Only five minutes or so pass before you realize that people have stopped eating their popcorn. It's right about the time you see the plane's shadow crossing the New York City skyline.

At that point in Oliver Stone's new movie, ``World Trade Center,'' everything comes back. Even though Stone never shows the planes hitting the towers, you remember everything, and you put the popcorn down.

In a quiet that is rare for a packed movie house, it is surprising to find yourself riveted by a replay of what you already know. How many times have we watched those buildings collapse? How many hours of footage have we seen of stunned people choking on dust and tears? How many times can we be shocked?

Once more.

This time it is different. This time Stone takes us not just under the rubble and into the hearts and minds of two trapped men, but into our own.

It is the function of art to take us where we can't easily go on a random afternoon in a soulless mall theater crammed with strangers. To see things in a way we couldn't without the artist's brush, or the director's lens, or the musician's score. With this film -- whatever his other identities as conspiracy theorist and provocateur -- Stone is an artist.

The story is about two Port Authority police officers, numbers 18 and 19 of just 20 people pulled alive from Ground Zero after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Their names are John McLoughlin and William Jimeno, played by Nicolas Cage and Michael Pena, respectively.

For two hours, we experience 9/11 through their eyes as they were trapped in an elevator shaft in the concourse between the two towers. The movie shifts from McLoughlin and Jimeno -- who try through conversation and humor to keep each other alive amidst crashing debris, ricocheting fireballs and bullets exploding from an overheated gun -- to the paralyzing dramas of their respective families on the outside.

It is no small feat to hold an audience's attention with little more than conversation between two men, who for much of the movie are just two heads barely visible in the dark, but Stone succeeds for this reason: We are also in the movie.

As we watch the actors perform their roles, we are also actors performing our own roles as spectators that day. Thus, in an instance of interactive movie going, horror both relived and recalled meld into one.

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.
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