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About the Blog

The thoughts and theories of a guy who basically should have gone to bed hours ago.

I know, I know - what's the point? But look at it this way - I stayed up late writing it, but you're reading it...

Let's call ourselves even & move on, OK?


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Sunday, May 07, 2006

Movie Review: United 93


Wow.

It's hard to find words to describe what I just saw. The most apropos concept I can come up with is INTENSE. From beginning to end, it's intense. And uncategorizable (if that's a word). It's not a documentary and it's not a dramatization. As other reviews have said, it offers no opinion and no sappy backstory. It has no point to make - it's just telling you what happened, and what may have happened in the places where we can't know for sure.

At least for me, the emotions began before the film even started. I started to doubt whether I really wanted to see it. Wouldn't it be easier just to look away? Yes, but as I said earlier, I really didn't want to do that. So I kept my seat...

As the film began, the first thing I was struck by was how normal everything was. People boarding the plane, going through security checkpoints, flight attendants and pilots talking to each other about their day & their plans for upcoming vacation time, maintenance folks fueling the plane, and so on. It's normal, and yet ever so stressful to watch.

As the events begin to unfold, you get a stunningly clear view of the confusion, urgency, and best efforts of the people in the control towers, air traffic control headquarters, and military headquarters. This stuff isn't dramatized. We know exactly what happened in those places, and according to the credits, more than half of the "main characters" on the screen were the actual folks who were actually there that day. In the space of a couple of hours, a normal Tuesday morning turned into their worst nightmare. Yes, some mistakes were made, but they all seem drastically beside the point. These people had no dress rehearsal for this - no advanced warning, no training. They followed their procedures as best they could, they maintained cool heads at all times, and while they didn't prevent any planes from hitting any buildings, they did manage to land 4,200 aircraft in a matter of hours, shutting down U.S. airspace for the first time in history.

Then the movie focuses exclusively on the events inside the plane. Other reviews have called these folks heroes; the first people to live in a post-9/11 world; the first soldiers in the War on Terror. My impression was a little different - it was more like "They're obviously going to fly this plane into a building. We have absolutely nothing to lose. So let's try and do something." No matter. What's obvious is that in a situation where they all would have been completely justified crawling up in a fetal position and crying out the last few hours of their lives, they (like the folks on the ground) kept their heads about them, organized, and made an attempt.

Obviously, there are some very poignant moments. The one that caught my eye most was just before they rushed the cockpit: just about everyone on the plane is praying. The hijackers are praying in Arabic, and passengers are praying in Hebrew and English (the Lord's Prayer). Each of the world's major religions, all in the exact same situation, all praying to their respective Gods to help them out of it - one way or the other.

As I've said, I've attempted to learn as much as I could about what happened that day. Unlike a documentary, there is no omniscient narrator here. No one stopping the action to explain what was going on elsewhere at the time, no interviews with participants offering opinion or commentary. So while historical details need to come from other sources, this film gives you a sense of the emotion of the moment that a documentary would not. It offers a glimpse into how it might have felt to have been there. It's showing you, not teaching you.

No one will ever know for sure exactly what happened on that plane. That said, this movie is so well done that I'm happy to accept it as fact in my own mind. The people on that plane were American heroes. Their last moments, by definition, are undocumented. And while we can't document them for certain, I think United 93 can serve as a fitting tribute to their legacy.

God Bless Them All. May They Rest in Peace.

posted by Brian at 1:17 AM


4 Comments:

  • i completly agree when you comment on it showing not teaching...

    i think people who try to say this movie is "about" something have missed the point and just want to chatter.

    --RC of strangeculture.blogspot.com

    By Blogger RC, at 2:00 AM, May 07, 2006  


  • Lord, you've gone and made me put on my Annenberg hat.

    Here's why I have zero interest in seeing this film: your comment, "This stuff isn't dramatized." This is dramatized, because that's what it's called when you go back and re-enact what you once did for real in front of cameras while wearing make-up. It might be a very good drama, and it might be cinema verite, but it's still dramatized.

    This is not to speak against it for that reason alone -- I think anything under the sun is grist for drama, or comedy for that matter. I just question the motives behind the filmmakers and the moviegoers here -- about which, more to say in that other thread.

    By Anonymous Jeff Porten, at 6:17 PM, May 08, 2006  


  • OK, fair point. What I meant to say was that the sequence of events in the towers & control rooms wasn't dramatized. They've been well documented and even involved the actual participants, not actors.

    This in contrast to what happened on the plane, which is made up almost entirely out of whole cloth (using piecemeal data from the flight recorder and cellphone/airphone calls to family members).

    By Blogger Brian, at 9:27 AM, May 09, 2006  


  • This from the guy who told the story about the Penn Band doing the Franklin Institute opening twice, the second time for the cameras. Think about the third syllable of the word "reenactment". If I do something I've done before to *show* someone what I've done before, I'm acting. Engaging in drama.

    Perhaps a better way to describe what I'm talking about are passion plays. Everyone knows the story of the crucifixion. You don't go to a passion play to see if this year's Christ is better than last year's Christ. You go for the community religious event in dramatic form. United 93 is a passion play, tickets for $9.50, and a large bucket of popcorn for six more. It's American secular religion, complete with martyrs and commercial marketing. (Cf. Carolyn Marvin's thesis that the flag is the American equivalent of the body of Christ.)

    Historically, the passion play also had its popcorn -- markets sprang up around the largest performances, trade routes followed the paths of the pilgrims, which in turn beat down more dirt roads, which in turn dictated the locations of the following year's performances. But the play itself wasn't created with commercial principles in mind (excepting, of course, the sale of Christianity to illiterate masses). United 93, on the other hand, has 1,000 spreadsheets in Burbank forecasting ticket and DVD sales, and even should a portion of that money be given to charity, everyone involved knows damn well that THAT can then be the upside, since forever after they're remembered for being generous with your passion donations of ticket and popcorn money.

    In short, this stinks to me as much as, well, The Passion of the Christ. Mel Gibson makes a movie, generates tons of money, gives some of it away, and half the nation wants to beatify him. This is the latest version of "buy some Christ and enjoy your popcorn." Feel moved and humbled and maybe a little closer to God or sainthood, on His cross or on the plane. Works the same either way. Or in my case, leaves you equally cold.

    By Anonymous Jeff Porten, at 4:10 AM, May 15, 2006  


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