I will make this short: This is not a film about September 11. Now, one might certainly lean towards that interpretation when alien forces take New York City by surprise, along with the rest of the world, as they start the destruction of humanity by the arbitrary dismantling of a church, then proceed chasing American citizens who run around in confusion and discover there is no hiding for the tremendous metallic war-machines that seem to have been hiding underground in their cities all along, perhaps even for thousands of years.
When, however, American soldiers appear and attempt to combat the alien forces, there is something familiar about the situation, and that familiarity does not date from 9/11. The lightly dressed soldiers are so powerless, their guns and missiles fail to impact the aliens’ heavy and highly sophisticated machinery at all … yes, the soldiers might as well be throwing stones and rocks at the tanks – monsters.
This is not the situation created by terrorist attacks in Western cities, it is actually the situation where a highly evolved military machine invades … Afghanistan. Or Palestine. Or Iraq. And stays. To get the job done. Steven Spielberg has quite subtly made a film about the suffering of those Muslim countries that have recently become victims of American foreign policy, with Tom Cruise starring as Middle East working class family father, in the disguise of a white American working class family father.
Even if the alien invaders do look a lot more like actual American soldiers than do the film’s American soldiers, who stylistically seem closer to WWII, or even guerrilla outfits, than the hi-tech cyborg-with-sunglasses sort of soldier outfit commonly seen on CNN; even if the blood being sucked from the Earthlings’ bodies to prolong the aliens’ life/economy does remind one of the main liquid interests being defended in current editions of the War on Terror; even if the aliens suddenly seem to be the world’s only superpower, etc. – this would amount to nothing more than an interesting interpretation, were it not for a decisive hint about the director’s actual intentions: the appearance of Mr. Tim Robbins.
During the first stages of the invasion of Iraq, Tim Robbins was Hollywood’s face of opposition, along with his wife, Susan Sarandon. Robbins actually wrote and directed a play named Embedded, about the involvement of the media and American citizens in the war in Iraq, mockingly described by a New York Times reviewer as “presenting a United States in which not only war, but also the reporting of it is carefully engineered by an elitist Washington cabal.” This play, among other things, has made Mr. Robbins highly unpopular even among left-wing New York liberals. You do not place him in a key role in the middle of a film about warfare against humanity – now – by accident.
And so, there he steps in, as the lunatic who wants to wait out the first phase of the invasion, then find the enemy’s weak spot and attack – certain that there are more passionate militias out there who will do the same and despairingly hopeful that the whole mess can somehow be turned around and the alien forces defeated.
Now, for those who actually hope to do something against the current militarizing of society, the film offers little hope, as the well-known end has the aliens die of influenza. Or something arbitrary like that. For Hegelians, however, who believe that any given situation carries within it its inevitable destruction and the birth of something new, influenza might come close enough.
In any case, Steven Spielberg has probably come as close as mainstream American cinema can get, at the moment, to awaking sympathy with humanity, even political sympathy, in the face of bizarre all-destructive powers. Not that the film is really any good, and not that it will change a lot – one may even see it as self-referential in that respect, Spielberg being one of those useless soldiers or militia members shooting one more missile at the monsters in a vain hope … – but it seems to be, more or less, an honest attempt. An honest sneaky little missile. We have reason to wait quite eagerly for Spielberg’s next film, on the 1972 Munich Olympics Massacre and the retaliation on Palestinian forces by Israeli secret service.