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Alternate History

In Search of Understanding (Al Gore's 9/11)

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Released on March 1, 2002, a film starring Leonardo DiCaprio, and the first of a series of movies known as the “Tolerance Trilogy.”

Plot

DiCaprio stars as Dylan McNeil, a recent graduate from Harvard who rejected a high paying career on Wall St. to take a job with the Anti-global warming division of the United Nations. McNeil is finishing his work with the Peace Corps in Guatemala and is returning through Texas when his car breaks down, and he must spend a few days in a local town while he gets his vehicle fixed. McNeil’s primary antagonist is “Cleeter” Ray Bob Whiteman, played by Joe Don Baker, who does “not take kindly to y’all hippie types.”

During his time in town, McNeil befriends two Saudi youths passing through town on their way to New York to study physics and chemistry at Columbia University. They educate McNeil on the principles of Islam and make him see the way of Islam as the religion of peace. McNeil’s key line in the film comes when he says, “if only Christianity could be this way.”

McNeil’s main confrontation with Whiteman comes when two Saudis are harassed by Whiteman in the local diner. Whiteman accuses them of attacking the World Trade Center and assaults one of the youths. McNeil steps in and confronts Whiteman. A fight between the two ensues, with McNeil eventually topping Whiteman. McNeil then gives a speech about tolerance of others and understanding of other cultures, which turns the opinions of everyone in the diner. The restaurant patrons then assemble, and order Whiteman from the building.

Near the end of the movie, McNeil and his Saudi friends in New York six months after their meeting in Texas. At the site of the 9/11 attacks, the Saudis leave a flower at the site and apologize to McNeil for the attacks on US that day. McNeil responds by saying he understands why others would want to hurt the US, and agrees that sometimes the country deserves it, but he does not hold them responsible. The film ends with trio departing from the area as the camera pans out across New York, with a closing shot of the Statue of Liberty before rolling to credits.

Public Reaction

The movie, though not well received by the general public, was praised in the media and film critics as a “positive step forward.” Baker’s portrayal of Whiteman also received acclaim. In an interview, Baker stated he wanted to play Whiteman as one of those “gun-toting Texas idiots who think Bush won the election.” The derogatory remark “Hey, Cleeter!” would play prominently in Michael Moore’s film Hateday.

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