The Providence Journal

Several movie-theater complexes have been providing patrons with a warning on the way to the latest blockbuster. Call it a reality check, or an escape clause.

The theaters have been posting small signs near ticket windows pointing out that on the way to "Clerks II," "My Super Ex-Girlfriend," "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest" or "You, Me and Dupree" a moviegoer might run into … Oliver Stone!!

Yes, that Oliver Stone, the guy who just can’t make a cozy flick, the guy who seems to take a perverse delight in peeling back the cover on the dark side of the American experience.

It is Stone who brought us "Platoon," the best of the Vietnam War movies. It is the movie that played a very big part in helping the public better understand what the war did to people.

Stone also brought us Richard Nixon in all his scowling paranoia in "Nixon." And he showed us the American culture of violence in the blackly comic "Natural Born Killers."

Now, he brings us the event that made us realize that the world is getting smaller and a lot more dangerous.

Stone’s "World Trade Center" opens soon. It tells the story of two Port Authority cops who are trapped when the twin towers collapse. If you’ve read anything about the movie, you have seen the inevitable question: After just five years, are we ready to see 9/11 on a movie screen?

Of course we’re not. But we won’t be ready for it after 10 years, either. We’ll still be bringing on the good times and shutting out the bad. We’ll still have no stomach for getting all bummed out about terrorists and people dying in New York City. Besides, there hasn’t been a single building in the entire United States assaulted by hijacked airliners in the years since 9/11.

So the signs are placed at the movie complexes. They tell people as they buy their tickets that a preview trailer for "World Trade Center" will be shown before the movie they are paying to see.

It is not spelled out, but this is clearly a way of letting people know that if they want to avoid this reminder of the darkest day of the new millennium they can do so. They might want to play a videogame in the lobby, grab a smoke, even talk to a date. Then, when the danger is past of walking into the theater in a Johnny Depp frame of mind and getting knocked loose from your popcorn by Oliver Stone, you can take a seat, settle back and get to wherever you want the movies to take you without any ugly bumps.

There are thoughtful theater owners at work here. They know as well as anyone that the events of 9/11 precipitated wars that have claimed tens of thousands of lives and continue to spread and threaten and destroy.

But they also know that right here, in the streets surrounding Cinema 120, there are no bombings, no firefights, no refugees heading for the borders. There is just that enduring American ability to disconnect from things that are unpleasant and far away.

I know that as I headed last weekend to "Clerks II," which features the fall-on-the-floor hilarity of a man having sex with a donkey, I wasn’t thinking about death from the sky or purple-coded terror alerts.

I was thinking: "Make me laugh till I darned near throw up."

There wasn’t an Oliver Stone Alert when I bought my tickets. There would be no need to hold back. The preview trailers I saw were just like the videogames that kids play _ all explosions and flying bodies.

I was able to watch the man and his donkey without the slightest feeling that anything bad was happening anywhere.