patriots day

Because it does.

At a time when Americans are at each other’s throats, endlessly arguing about politics, we need to remember that the enemy isn’t each other, but rather the terrorists plotting to attack us. Patriots Day is a powerful film that takes us up close and personal with the victims, villains and heroes of the Boston marathon bombing of April 15, 2013, and the subsequent manhunt for terrorist brothers, Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev. The film’s intimate look at the people caught up in this tragedy, contrasts with the epic magnitude of the bomb blast scenes – with blood and body parts left strewn in the streets. It makes it seem a lot more real and ominous than you remember from the news on TV.

The film, based upon the book Boston Strong, highlights some intriguing issues that are as relevant today as ever, starting with the controversy over whether and when the public should be told that an event is an act of terrorism. FBI Special Agent Richard DesLauriers (played by Kevin Bacon) resists pressure to announce that the Marathon bombing was a terrorist attack, until he can’t deny that the residue he finds in the street has hallmarks of Al Qaeda inspired improvised explosive devices. Even today, some authorities still don’t seem to have learned that it is important that the public be warned when such an attack is suspected, so that we can take cautionary actions.

Similarly, the FBI Agent dragged his feet about publicizing photos of the two suspected terrorists, though their pictures had been identified from videos early on. He presumably didn’t want the public to know that the FBI had been warned about Tamerlan years before, but had let him drop from their radar. Eventually, he relented because the photos had been leaked to Fox News, and he didn’t want them to scoop the story. The take home message is clear. It’s best if such pictures are shown to the public sooner rather than later, so that we can protect ourselves, while providing tips to the police.

Another intriguing ‘plot twist,’ from a psychological viewpoint, is the scene where Dzhokhar runs over his older brother in his seeming haste to escape the police surrounding them. Tamerlan, who had never been able to fit in and make American friends, finally realized that his dream of making the Olympic wrestling team had evaporated. He bullied his younger brother into taking on radical Islamic terrorist beliefs, though Dzhokhar had been better integrated into American life and had a brighter future ahead. When Dzhokhar saw Tamerlan lying on the ground, bullet-ridden and dying, he realized that the promises of glory his brother had made were tremendously overrated. And running over Tamerlan might well have been intended, at least unconsciously.

Though today, the attorney for Tamerlan’s wife claims the film portrayed her unfairly as refusing to cooperate with the FBI, it strains credulity to think that she didn’t know what her husband was plotting. So, perhaps the most important lesson from the story is that families should be given a protected path to report family members who are becoming radicalized, without themselves being punished. This would help to stop at least some domestic terrorists before they go on to create havoc.

Patriot’s Day is a lot more than a Saturday night at the movies. It’s a must-see reminder that we should be grateful for the life we lead as Americans and ever mindful of those who would take it from us. Indeed, in the film, we meet the enemy, and he isn’t us. It’s time to put our political arguments aside so that we can become America Strong and fight the real enemy, those like the Tsarnaev brothers, who are out to destroy us.