Twenty years have passed since the tragic events of September 11, and in all this time in cinema, television and literature stories have been told that review the facts, explore theories or rehearse with derivative fictions. However, what has barely been told is the story behind the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund.
The fund was an initiative created by the United States Congress with the intention of financially compensating the families of the victims of the attacks and thus avoiding class action lawsuits against insurers, airlines and other related companies. It is said that had it not been created, all those lawsuits would have destroyed the American economy in less than a year. What was “problematic” about the fund was that in order to achieve its objective, it had to answer, and satisfactorily, how much a person’s life costs. From a script by Max Borenstein and directed by Sara Colangelo, the film How much is life worth? (2020, United States) begins by presenting the “legal” answer to this question.
Everything is a matter of negotiating and finding common ground, that, in short, is what the jurist Ken Feinberg, played by Michael Keaton, tells his students. And having that idea as a banner, Feinberg “ties up” his partner Camille Biros, played by Amy Ryan, and a large part of the buffet where they both work, to take charge of a job that even President George Bush considers that “he does not know. he would not even give his worst enemy ”. Does a janitor deserve less money than a practitioner? Or a firefighter than a manager? How to find the amount that family members consider “fair”? That is the dilemma that Feinberg and company will face, which at the beginning they will believe to be solved by a formula that, for its success, should not take into account people, but rather their “cold data”: how much they earned, its seniority, was naturalized or original or illegal, among others. Feinberg appears to us as a pragmatist.
In his head, with his work he is contributing that grain of sand that will allow the wounds of thousands of people to heal and that will help the country move forward. For him, nuances get in the way. Individualism is a problem and what should matter to everyone is the “common good.” However, with the appearance of Charles Wolf, played by Stanley Tucci, a businessman, amateur musician and pilot, whose wife died in the attacks on the Twin Towers and who immediately calls himself “the greatest critic of the background”, the ideas of Feinberg and company will begin to change.
And just as Feinberg’s early intentions will be described as well-intentioned but erroneous, how much is life worth? it remains on the level of the story also well-intentioned, but that, from the outset, with that title and with that premise, simply posed an impossible challenge to solve in a satisfactory way and instead chose to present us with another story of growth, remuneration and values ” in the american way ”.