McLoughlin and Jimeno never made it to their destination. They were on the concourse below when the building collapsed, leaving them pinned under rubble. Although Oliver Stone's new film, World Trade Center, uses the attack on the Twin Towers as a backdrop, this is their story of survival and of their loved ones waiting to hear about them.
But no matter how moving and personal and, in the end, hopeful, that story is, the bigger one -- about the destruction of the towers -- looms over it. Putting such a sensitive issue in a Hollywood film -- especially one from Oliver Stone, who has never shied away from political controversy -- is making some people leery about seeing it, about perhaps reliving the experience.
Stone seeks to set the record straight.
"There was no political statement to be made," says the director of JFK and Born on the Fourth of July. "There is nothing of that nature in this. This is a 24-hour story, and the two men never talked about [anything political] to me. Neither did their wives. They didn't express those feelings. The only politics is mentioned by a marine, Dave Karnes, when he says, 'I don't know if you people know this, but we're at war.'"
Nicolas Cage, who plays Sergeant John McLoughlin, had no qualms about doing the film.
"I had been looking for a project that I thought would be healing," he says of his own memories of that day. "I wanted to apply my skills as an actor to something that I thought would be immediately therapeutic in some way, both for me and for the audience. I'd made a lot of genre-based movies that were entertaining -- that were healing in another way. They're stimulating, they get your minds off your problems and can be relaxing and fun. But I wanted to do something that gave me a chance to dig a little deeper.
"When I got the script and heard that Oliver Stone was directing," he adds, "I thought it was literally the answer to my prayers. What I think is healing about the movie is that John is an ordinary man who becomes extraordinary through the way he faces the adversity that he's been put under. We're living in chaotic times. And I think collectively we're looking for some higher ground -- I know I am -- to give me support. We tap into these figures to give us strength. And how much more strength we get when we see that the person exists -- that we as normal people can overcome adversity like that."
One of the film's producers, Michael Shamberg (Erin Brockovich) insists that this is the right time for this film.
"Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941," he says, then pauses dramatically. "The next year there were six Hollywood movies about Pearl Harbor. They tended to be more propaganda films, but they were nonetheless reminding people of Pearl Harbor. The world has changed irrevocably in our lifetimes because of this event. These are stories that have to be told, and here is why: If we only leave the American public with the most negative feelings of that dark day as part of the artistic and historical record, then it's as if the terrorists have won."
Shamberg points out that, due to so many heroic efforts on 9/11, McLoughlin in real life and Cage in the film said, "I saw a lot of good that day."
"And it's really important we remember that," he says. "So you don't have to see the movie, but it's really important that Americans remember how much stronger we were that day, that we were not defeated that day, that we came together as a great nation that day. And that should be the record. Whether you pay $10 to see that or not is your choice."
Cage has a metaphorical approach to the subject.
"I was watching the history of Superman on A & amp;E, and they said something about the real supermen today are the firemen and the policemen who risk their lives for the benefit of mankind," he says. "That was ironic to me, because I was supposed to play the comic book version of Superman 10 years ago, and now that movie is out simultaneously with World Trade Center, which has the flesh-and-blood supermen."
Cage also wants to offer his own take on the reason the film shouldn't be categorized as just controversial. He feels there's a real need for this type of movie.
"No one is forcing anyone to see this is," he says. "It's a matter of your own prerogative. But if you want to see a movie that might help answer some questions from your children, who were 7 years old when this happened and saw the TV images, like the rest of us, I would say bring the whole family, and let them know what they're about to see, and let them know the price of what these men gave, and the sacrifice involved. Hopefully it'll keep you conscious enough that we try not to let it ever happen again."