The film doesn't replay the well-known but still shocking footage of airplanes flying directly into the World Trade Center's Twin Towers and exploding, nor of the collapse of the massive buildings, nor of the carnage that was exposed and cleaned up during the ensuing months.
Instead, Whitaker guides us to reflect upon the effects of that tragic day -- and, for that matter, of any such overwhelming and tragic incident -- by following his subjects as they struggle to come to grips with their losses and learn to move on. Rebirth is about healing.
Whitaker has commented that he decided to make this film shortly after the death of his mother, and that it reflects his own search for answers to the profound questions about life and death, and his need to grieve.
Rebirth's emotional impact comes from the compelling stories presented by each of Whitaker's lead characters. Each story is specific and unique, yet each can be considered representative of many others.
Characters With Compelling Stories
Nick, who was a high school student when his mother was killed on 9/11 and who had a truly extraordinary (no spoilers) experience at her funeral, has found ways to alleviate his grieving and overcome his feelings of hatred.
Tim, a NY firefighter who was quickly called to action at the Twin Towers site, has had to overcome the overwhelming guilt he felt at not being able to rescue his best friend and mentor, Captain Terry Hatton, or die along side him when the first tower collapsed.
Brian, a construction worker who had been married atop the World Trade Center, knew that his brother, a firefighter, had been called to duty at the Twin Towers, and rushed to the scene to try to find him, rescue him after the buildings collapsed. Brian stayed on for the entire clean up, and then to rebuild.
Tanya, a lovely woman in her early 30s, was planning her wedding to Sergio, a New York City First Responder, who was killed in the line of duty on 9/11. She must find a way to carry on after the devastating loss of her "soul mate."
Confronting Your Feelings
In on camera interviews conducted periodically during the nine year period after the 9/11 attacks, the subjects deliver deeply personal status reports about their evolving state of mind and changing circumstances. Linking these chronologically arranged interviews are sequences in which stunning time lapse photography chronicles changes at the World Trade Center site, with the removal of debris and the beginning of construction.
Philip Glass' original score orchestrates the time lapse photography to a stunning effect, reminiscent of the way in which image and score are integrated in the Koyaanisqatsi, Powaqqatsi and Naqoyqatsi documentaries, which also featured original music by Philip Glass.
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