From the ads on TV, Remember Me looks like your everyday college dramedy. (Spoiler alert: Surprise plot points discussed ahead!) It stars Robert Pattinson making goo-goo eyes at his college girlfriend (Emilie de Ravin). The film's poster shows the sweethearts clutched in a passionate embrace with the cryptic tagline: "Live in the moments."
What it doesn't tell you: the moments this movie is living in is the summer of 2001, and September 11 figures prominently in the final scenes. The end is so controversial, a number of blogs—from New York Magazineto Gawker to even Perez Hilton—gave every detail of it away. This isn't a story for the faint of heart. A junior-high-school-aged girl at my screening left the room weeping. Adults had tears in their eyes. The movie is poised to be one of the biggest tear-jerkers to come out of Hollywood since Titanic.
The question: does Remember Me earn its tears, or exploit September 11 for a cheap cry? If you haven't read about the film online, you'll probably go to the movie (with a tween or two in tow) expecting a sweet romance. And that you'll get, for most of the film. There's the prerequisite cheesy first-date dialogue at an Indian restaurant, and the scene where de Ravin gets so drunk at a college frat party, Pattinson holds her head back while she throws up. None of this prepares you for what ultimately happens, though a violent act in the first scene serves as eerie foreshadowing. When the Twin Towers are hit—we never see an airplane crash, just the debris—it's a complete shock that will leave you sad and stunned for days.
But if you think about it, wasn't that the way we all felt after September 11? The attack was completely unexpected, just like the conclusion of this movie. Other films about September 11 (World Trade Center, United 93) have presented their grim subject matter from the very start, in every TV ad and theatrical trailer. Remember Me is targeted to a different demographic: teenage girls, many of whom were very young in 2001. For them, September 11 is probably a distant memory or maybe even just a lesson in a history book, especially for kids who didn't live in New York or Washington. Given that measure, this movie accurately depicts the horror, danger, grief, rage, meaninglessness, and brutality of that day. It actually honors history, albeit in a strange and unsettling way.
Until now, most of the art to come out of September 11 has been targeted to adults. A lot of it has tried to give us "closure," to explain what happened to us because of the attacks. A reoccurring theme—from Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close to Don DeLillo's Falling Man—is the difficult road to healing. If there's a literary equivalent to Remember Me, it's Claire Messud's 2006 novel The Emperor’s Children, another story about how young, spoiled, 20-somethings are affected by the suddenness of September 11, which ends the novel. But in that case, the introduction of September 11 felt over the top, like an escape from resolution rather than a natural ending point. It just didn't feel real.
That's not the case with Remember Me, which makes us grieve all over again. It shows us that no matter how horrible that day was, it should never be erased. In the immediate aftermath, it was wiped from the skyline of Spider-Manand the coffee talk on Friends. Now we have the biggest star in the tween world building a memorial dedicated to September 11. When it's taught in classrooms, September 11 is presented as a historical atrocity. The key word: historical. For those who weren't old enough to pick up The New York Times in the days that followed (like the screenplay writer of the movie, who found his inspiration in the paper's mini-obituaries of the victims of that day), the faces of the men and women who perished are simply relics from the past. Remember Me exposes a new generation to what happened in American nearly—can you believe it?—a decade ago. The title isn't a request. It's a command.