This is not a film proposing conspiracy theories; this is not even a film exclusively about conspiracy theorists. The Elephant in the Room takes a broad view of the impact of 9/11 on society, starting with the 9/11 Truth Movement and the views of young British Muslims, their very identity demonised by the events, before plunging us into the emotionally moving story of the first responders. The Elephant in the Room acts as a mirror held up against those aspects of the post-9/11-World that the media ignores and those in power would rather pretend were not there, and the reflection is at once beautiful and disfigured.
The film starts with the shaky footage of a young Puckett (who was coincidentally in New York following 9/11), and then jumps forward to the present day - the change in time frame is matched by the development of Puckett as a film maker. From the moment the film joins us in the present day the film is aesthetically flawless - every shot perfectly composed, the direction and editing is delightful and shot in rich HD - this is a far cry from the grainy internet films which have covered 9/11 over the years - this is a real film by a real film maker and one of not inconsiderable talent.
We then launch into a well-paced traversing of the world of conspiracy theorists. The calibre and breadth of personalities Puckett has managed to track down is impressive and gives the viewer a good indication of just how diverse and widespread this movement is. From William Rodriguez (a hero of 9/11 turned celebrity “9/11 Truther” for his insistence that he experienced and witnessed multiple explosions in the towers), to Cynthia McKinney (the ex-congresswoman who challenged the government narrative of 9/11 and lost her place in congress) and supported by a huge cast littered with colourful activists, this section of the film is at times intense, at times very funny and always entertaining. Puckett guides us from quaint English towns and the hilarious antics of a "9/11 Truther" who hijacks supermarket public announcement systems to tell hapless shoppers that "9/11 was an inside job" through to a volatile protest in New York on the anniversary of 9/11 where Puckett himself and his crew are arrested live on Fox TV ,at all points remaining objective in his story telling, allowing others to tell us their views and never proposing his own.
The final third of the film is of a very different tone and takes on a subject which is very hard to deal with - the appalling treatment of the first responders of 9/11. In the aftermath of 9/11 the EPA was leant on by the White House to remove warnings from their report about the safety of the air; the levels of concrete powder, asbestos and other toxins were potentially deadly. The aim was to get Wall Street up and running, the consequences are that those who risked everything to help out in the clean up following 9/11 have now lost everything. Some have died; thousands are ill and many of them terminally so. Their benefits have been cut, they receive little support and their story is blacked out by the mainstream media. The care with which Puckett treats his subjects and the real-life tragedy their collective story weaves left members of the audience in tears as the film finishes on a final emotional twist of the knife. There are no happy endings in this film, just big questions.
While this final third of the film carried the strongest emotional punch; compared to the tight pacing of the first two thirds it is quite unstructured, almost a collage of these men's experiences and suffering. The film slides from one section to the next without the narration giving a clear divide between the two and this perhaps served to amplify the sudden change in pace. Puckett seemed unwilling to stand in front of his subjects getting their message across and while in juxtaposition with the first two thirds of the film you are aware at points that time is passing, there is no part of it which does not deserve, indeed demand, to be heard. Ultimately Puckett traded aesthetics for ethics; the audience, indeed the world, needs to hear the story of these men, and having caught your attention he is going to make sure you take in every last word of it. For the large part I am thankful he did.
The Elephant in the Room is a film that everyone should see. It challenges the viewer to ask some hard questions without ever picking a side regarding which answers they should rest on. These questions are ones which can no longer be ignored with the "War on Terror" now in full swing. The world has changed, Puckett reminds us, and how we react to that change is up to us, but the time is long gone for treating 9/11 and the War on Terror as an elephant in the room which we can ignore in the hope it will go away.