The destruction of the twin towers on 9th September 2001 is a trauma that has not been recuperated by the American psyche and returns again and again as a fetish object in scenes of urban destruction in popular cinema. Since 9/11 it has been difficult to distinguish between images of the real and fictional space of the destroyed city. There is a referential aesthetic in the smouldering wreckage of high rise buildings, mangled metal and latent dust clouds that signals the post-catastrophe moment. In my article I conclude that future audiences of the real 9/11 images of a broken New York City may find themselves reading backwards from the multiple images of the destroyed city seem in the post-9/11 cycle of superhero movies, such as viewed in Age of Ultron (Joss Whedon, 2015) or in disaster movies such as San Andreas (Brad Peyton, 2015). Will future generations see historic footage of the events of 9/11 and say that looks like a movie because they have seen the oft-repeated fictional mimetic images? Whereas in the aftermath of 9/11 witnesses described what they saw as being ‘like a movie’, nowadays I argue the movies use a 9/11 aesthetic as shorthand to explain the devastation of the fictional city.
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