|Index||3 reviews in total|
Rebirth follows the transformation of five people, over the past 10
years, whose lives were forever altered on September 11, 2001. Aside
from some brief footage depicting the day that the towers fell, to set
the stage, the focus of the film is almost exclusively on the life
trajectory of these five people.
The filmmakers, led by director Jim Whitaker, introduce us to Tanya, a young woman who lost her fiancé; Nick, a teenaged boy who lost his mother; Tim, a firefighter who lost all of his friends; Brian, a construction worker who lost his brother; and Ling, a woman who was badly burned in the attack.
At the emotional core of the film is Tanya, a young woman who lost her fiancé Sergio, a New York City firefighter. Tanya bares her grief with such authenticity that viewers were riveted to her every word and expression.
Nick was about 15 years old when his mother died. A few years after the tragedy he became estranged from his father who remarried, adding a complication to Nick's grieving. The openness with which Nick expresses his sadness and anger, offers us a rare window into an adolescent boy's grieving.
Tim and Brian, offer the perspective of two men who lost, respectively, a best friend and a brother. Complicating Tim's grief are his forthright feelings of survivor's guilt, reminiscent of a soldier at war struggling with the loss of his fallen comrades. Brian offers another angle, with his touching reflection on how heartbreaking it is for him when he sees other brothers doing simple things together, like shopping at Home Depot.
Last but not least is Ling, who experienced a different kind of loss. She was badly burned over her right arm and right side of her face and endured 40 surgeries over the intervening years. Ling offers us a multi-layered perspective of her pain, despair, resignation, hope and resilience. I found Ling to be a quietly heroic figure who handled herself with grace, dignity and humor throughout her ordeal.
The sixth "character" in the film is Ground Zero itself. The filmmakers, via multi-camera time lapse photography, artfully tracked the evolution of the space where the Twin Towers once ascended over lower Manhattan. Filmgoers will be treated to this visual marvel and sign of rebirth and growth in segments that are interspersed throughout the interviews.
Rebirth is not a political movie, although some reviewers criticized the absence of a political voice in the film. I strongly disagree. The film was made to tell the story of loss, healing, hope, growth and resiliency in the context of one of the most horrifying chapters in American history. The film does that and much more. The lessons about complicated grief taught to us by Tim, Tanya, Brian, Ling and Nick transcend 9/11.
The film has an afterlife it stays with you for days and weeks and you want to talk about it. Rebirth is a film best viewed with others. I would not recommend it for children under 13 years of age. If you have older adolescents in your life, watch it together and talk about it with them.
See Rebirth! You won't regret it and you won't forget it.
Andrew Malekoff - Long Beach, New York
I assumed that it was inevitable that in the tenth year since the
events of September 11th, documentary filmmakers would crank out one
retrospective after another. On the anniversary, basic cable was
flooded with retrospectives and remembrances and personal interviews
and, of course, those horrible images of the planes flying into the
Jim Whittaker's documentary Rebirth is not so much a film about September 11th, but about the lives of a handful of people who lost love ones in the tragedy. His approach is appropriately mournful, but also respectful in its simplicity. He speaks with five people who were affected in one way or another and follows the progress of how they have rebuilt their lives over the course of ten years. The film contains no news reel footage of the events of that day, save for some very brief audio clips at the beginning, and the subjects speak in front of a black background, talking frankly about how they felt at the moment. Each year, 2002, 2003, 2004 and so on, they are interviewed so that we can see the progression of their lives.
Beginning in 2002, we see interviews with the five subjects, all visibly shaken. The people are interesting. We meet Ling Young, a Chinese office worker who was badly burned at ground zero and undergoes surgery after surgery; Nick, was a teenager in high school at the time and lost his mother and afterward became estranged from his father; Tanya, who lost her fiancé Sergio; Brian, a construction worker mourning the loss of his brother; Tim, a New York City fireman who lost almost everyone he worked with.
The movie tracks the ups and downs of their lives, revisiting them every year up to the present. It has the same narrative structure as Michal Apted's "Up" documentaries that came back every seven years to interview the same set of school children. In Rebirth we see their grieving process, sometimes going into dark places. Nick has a falling out with his father and remains estranged for several years. Brian suffers PTSD but pushes forward through the clean-up at ground zero and the building of the memorial.
All are touching but, for me, the most emotional was Tanya, who was in her early 30s at the time and lost her beloved fiancé Sergio. She openly admits that she wasn't even sure which of the two towers he was working in. Each year, as we track her progress, we can see a woman grieving this loss, but coming to the realization that life must go on. What we get from her is a woman who sees her relationship with Sergio as forever unfinished, she mourns the loss of her love but also the loss of the life she never got to have. It is about the five year mark when she makes the difficult decision to start dating again. What her new boyfriend tells her about Sergio is one of the most beautiful sentiments I can think of. I'll leave it for you to discover. She moves on with her life, never forgetting Sergio, but ultimately arriving at a point where she knows that it is time to let him go.
Also touching is Nick, whose mother had recently started a new job at the World Trade Center not long before the attacks. He was a kid, a teenager who was already struggling to understand the world he would inherit. In his first interview we can see a broken soul. He remembers a moment while speaking at his mother's memorial when a sparrow landed on his head and didn't struggle when he took it in hand. Anger and resentment would seep into the cracks of his everyday life, he remembers, and it brought he and his father apart for several years. Through the years, we see him grow into a thoughtful man, graduating from college and then working on Wall Street with many people who knew his mother.
What makes Rebirth so compelling is its simplicity. We don't actually see the tragedy itself (the tragedy is present in the personal accounts) but we feel the resonance of this event in every single word. This is a film that sits down and intimately looks and listens to what the interviewees have to say. Whitaker is very respectful to all of his subjects and also to his subject matter. There might be a temptation to get cute or tricky with the visual to make them more cinematic but he knows that our understand of the tragedy is all the film really needs. He shoots each of the five people in tight close-ups so that we can see their faces, dark and sallow in the years just after the tragedy, then bright and more hopeful as the years go on. Intercut with the interviews are time-lapsed footage of the progress at ground zero to build the memorial, giving us the striking sense that life is moving on.
Watch this if...you enjoy documentaries and/or have interest in 9/11
and it's aftermath on those impacted. It is moving and relevant, but
somewhat hard to watch due to the content.
Acting/Casting: 6* - While the acting doesn't apply here, the casting does. A solid job of picking out a diverse group to follow over the last 10 years.
Directing/Cinematography/Technical: *6 - Well thought out directing and a nice job of keeping the viewer interested by switching the stories around frequently.
Plot/Characters: 6* - Interesting concept to follow around 5 individuals for 10 years that were impacted by 9-11. It is hard to watch just how much the lives of these people have changed, but it is also very moving.
Entertainment Value: 6* - It is a hard watch due to the premise and isn't going to keep you on the edge of your seat, but it extremely relevant and gives good perspective on just how much 9-11 changed so many lives. Worth a watch if you like documentaries or if you have interest in 9-11.
My Score: 6+6+6+6 = 24/4 = 6.0
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