While the serial killer film represents one kind of encounter with extremity, films about 9/11 have emerged as a response to a different horizon, one that is brought into focus by the sudden advent of disaster. In some ways this should not be surprising: a significant aspect of the impact of the attacks on September 11th was visual (the sight of the planes’ collision with the towers, the towers’ devastating collapse, the seemingly endless repetition of these images in the media, and the gaping absence in the skyline of the city). One response to the sense of visual loss has been a striving to suture this visual wound through image-making (see A. Young 2005, 2007). A number of films have been produced in the aftermath of September 11th, resulting in a new genre within the cinema of disaster, that of the ‘9/11 movie’, in which the film’s narrative and cinematography explicitly address the traumatic nature of the event.1 Trauma (from Greek) means ‘wound’; its connection with sudden physical injury derives from medical discourse, but its meaning has been extended by psychoanalysis and psychiatry to cover:

[A] blow to the tissues of the body – or more frequently now, to the tissues of the mind – that results in injury or some other disturbance. Something alien breaks in on you, smashing through whatever barriers your mind has set up as a line of defense. It invades you, takes you over, becomes a dominating feature of your interior landscape … and in the process threatens to drain you and leave you empty … Above all, trauma

involves a continual reliving of some wounding experience in daydreams and nightmares, flashbacks and hallucinations, and in a compulsive seeking out of similar circumstances …

(Erikson 1995: 183-4)

One year after the event, twenty per cent of those living within a twokilometre radius of the World Trade Center were said to be suffering Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a two hundred per cent increase, affecting some 422,000 individuals. As Young-Bruehl comments: ‘[On September 11th] many thousands of people were traumatized, at all degrees of intensity, and to degrees of transience or permanence that we will not know about for a long time’ (2003: 9).2 In seeking to interrogate the ways in which trauma reverberates through cinematic responses to September 11th, my analysis draws from trauma theory generally3 but is particularly indebted to the work of Caruth (1995, 1996), Felman (2002) and Bennett (2005). Caruth’s work has shown how ‘to be traumatized is precisely to be possessed by an image or an event’ (1995: 4-5). She further states that the ‘insistent re-enactments’ associated with ‘this singular possession by the past’ (emphasis in original):

… do not simply serve as testimony to an event but may also, paradoxically enough, bear witness to a past that was never fully experienced as it occurred. Trauma, that is, does not simply serve as a record of the past but precisely registers the force of an experience that is not yet fully owned.