Today is the 20th anniversary of 9/11 which, here in America, is still especially charged with emotion. The replayed images by the media that forever seared, the images of the after effects of the attack on the World Trade Center, into the memories, subconscious and conscious, of a generation.
I think it’s time to reconsider a film titled LAND OF PLENTY by Wim Wenders. At the time of it’s release (2004) it received only fair reviews and was not widely received and was quickly released on DVD. Maybe three years after 9/11 was still too soon for a film like this or maybe America just didn’t want to hear what the movie was saying. It is a contradictory film of desperation and quiet meditation. The title of the film comes from a Leonard Cohen song (that was also featured in the film) from his album TEN NEW SONGS which was released in October 2001. The film stars award winning actress Michelle Williams and television and film actor John Diehl . Williams plays Lana, a 20 year old who has spend most of her life living abroad in Africa and the Middle East with her missionary parents, has been described as a true citizen of the world who most recently was living in Israel and Palestine. She has a rich and active spiritual life and she has just come back home, to the United States, to see her Paul, her uncle (played by Diehl) who lives in his own home-made surveillance van and is a bigot and paranoid Vietnam veteran that spends his time spying on Arab Americans and sees conspiracy around every corner and has racist views of all people who do not represent his idea of America.
In the year 2000 America was still living as if it held and projected “a thousand points of light” – a phrase which comes from (then candidate) George H. W. Bush during his acceptance speech for President at the 1988 Republican National Convention. In the song, LAND OF PLENTY, Cohen writes, (possibly addressing Bush’s phrase?) “May the lights in the land of plenty shine on the truth one day”. And that phrase is key to this film as it seeks to shine on the truth of what happened to America in a fictional environment. What happened to American was not so much the attack on the World Trade Center but the attitudes, fear and behavioral changes that to often accompany a traumatic event where people have lost any connection to moral foundation. Now, sometimes, the only way to get to truth comes “time” and “being/looking outside the context”. When LAND OF PLENTY (film) was shot, in 2003, perhaps not enough time had passed for most people to form objective perceptions but Wenders, a masterful director of German birth, was able to be a light on the outside looking in. And that is an important factor in the truth-telling of this film. In their engagement and struggle to understand each other both main characters are constantly at odds in addressing the philosophical questions like “What happened to my country?”, “Where are we going?” and “How did we get here?” It is an engaging, challenging and important discussion if we are ever to regain our footing as citizens of the world.
There is plenty of dramatic tension thru-out the film that is balanced my moments of quiet, thoughtful meditation. Near the end of the film Lana (Williams) suggests they “listen to the voices” of those who had died because “I don’t think they would want any more killing in their name”. The characters then journey from Los Angeles and arrive in New York City at the 9/11 site (which was in the final stages of clean-up in 2003 when this film was shot). Both of the main characters, struck by the immensity and overwhelming sense of tragedy located in one place seems to bring them together into a final understanding as they “listen to the voices” . The viewer of the film is left with a sense that not only the attack should never happen again but also that our failed American response to such an attack should never happen again.
In the “making of” interview, on the DVD for the film, Wim Wenders states, “I tried to make a political film about America… patriotism, misguided patriotism, paranoia… I just didn’t want to make an opinionated film…. I wanted to depict where it was all coming from…. It’s a film with a lot of sympathy. Sympathy for the Americans, for their particular condition in the 21st century – the condition of lostness.” One of the persistent backdrops, settings, in the film is poverty, and Wim says, “It had also dawned on me that this rich country was, also in many ways, one of the poorest – not only economically but also culturally.” And speaking more about what his personal reasons were for making the film, “This film is totally from the heart and from my deepest convictions, politically, religiously, morally and it’s a relief to make a film like that.” And on the commentary track on the DVD at the very end of the film Wim says, ” I want this film to be a part of the healing”.
I think this is an important film and highly recommend we re-watch this film as we look back at the “anniversary” of one of the most horrific events in American history.
The trailer for the film (below) does not do justice so please watch the film.
Check out the Leonard Cohen song LAND OF PLENTY. https://youtu.be/YIs9rsroVas