While purchasing my ticket for “The 15:17 to Paris,” I thought about why I chose to see a film about a real incident where people could have died and the way it actually happened.
The Clint Eastwood directed film depicts the events that occurred during an attempted act of terrorism on the Thalys train from Amsterdam to Paris on Aug. 21, 2015. However, unlike most films about terrorism, this film tells the story of the heroes who were on the train that day instead of focusing on the terrorist’s actions and the devastation terrorism causes.
In retrospect, I chose to see the film because it tells a story of heroism and not terrorism. Not only did Eastwood want to tell a story about people being heroic in the face of death, but he cast the three men who acted in that decisive moment and prevented a tragedy.
I felt a connection to these men as the film showed their childhood and the struggles they went through, which brought them together as friends and helped shape the men they became.
The film tells the story of how Spencer Stone, Alex Skarlatos and Anthony Sadler met in junior high school and became friends. It then follows the three of them on their vacation in Europe leading up to the events on the train. It explores the relationship they have with their mothers, each other and themselves. This enabled me to relate to them as they faced challenges as children and as adults.
My strongest connection was to Stone, who as depicted in the film, struggled to fit in with other children and to get good grades in school because that was me growing up.
Like Stone, I dreamed of being in the military so I could make a difference, save lives and protect the country and family I love. Unfortunately for me, my handicaps kept me from service in the military. This was not the case for Stone, and he was able to receive training that aided him in facing a life-threatening situation.
The most cathartic aspect of “The 15:17 to Paris” is Eastwood’s decision to cast the real-life heroes as themselves. It brought a realism to the film that would not have been accomplished with A-list Hollywood actors in their place.
In addition to the three Americans, Eastwood said in an interview with Jimmy Kimmel that others, including the one American who had been shot by the gunman, wanted to be part of the film. This included several of the passengers from the train and police who showed up to the scene.
The idea the real-life people who experienced and lived through a terrorist act were willing to reenact the scene as it had actually occurred is unprecedented and the aspect that affected me the most.
I had tears running down my face after the scene with the terrorist ended. Not because it was a tragic scene, but because I could feel the emotion of the moment as Stone, Sadler and Skarlatos confronted the gunman in the film. Knowing these were the very people who were there and did what they did added to the emotionality of the scene.
After the film, that knowledge had me thinking of how I would act in a similar situation. Would I run and hide, get away from the danger, or would I stand and face the attacker, risking my life — possibly losing it — in order to save others? Would I be brave in that moment just as these three men were, unarmed and not knowing if the terrorists gun would work or not?
“The 15:17 to Paris” is not the standard “true story” film that interprets true events and depicts them as envisioned by the filmmakers. It is a film that chronicles the lives of three men who became heroes and stands as an example of what humans are capable of when danger and adversity enter our lives.