I think I shot myself in the foot on this one. Normally, I’m
supposed to tell you whether or not to see a movie, but I can’t
do it here. This movie was painful, chilling, informative, and a
little uplifting. Rest assured that United 93 was well made. If
you feel like watching a Holocaust documentary, then you’re
probably in the right mood to see this movie.
This film is supposed to be the story of United Airlines flight
93, which was the fourth flight that went down on 9/11 and the only
one that didn’t take a landmark with it. There’s a lot
of talk about what people believe happened on the plane. Just the
other day, the news told me that the last minutes of the black box
reveal what seems to be a passenger uprising ending in a crash to
the chant of “Allah is the greatest.”
A lot happened on September 11, 2001 that we’ll never know.
That leaves plenty of room for dramatization. The point of this
movie was to create a believable retelling of what happened on Flight
93. I believed it. That’s part of what made it so damn hard
Each and every character portrayed in the film is based on a real
person who has already been memorialized. It’s painful to
sit there and watch. You know what’s going to happen. Everyone
does. You know the passengers are going to call their loved ones.
You know they’re going to hear about the World Trade Center.
You know they will plan a mutiny against their suicidal overseers,
and you know that the plane will crash into the ground. But there’s
more to the film than what you know.
The majority of the film is spent in various air traffic control
centers showing us how the events of 9/11 slowly unfolded before
the authorities. The word of the day was not ‘terror,’
but ‘confusion.’ Nobody knew which flights were hijacked
or not. Nobody knew where the next strike was going to be. Nobody
knew which flights had actually hit the WTC and the Pentagon. From
the perspective of NORAD, things were even worse. Communication
between government agencies was far from perfect. And then, of course,
who would take responsibility if one of these flights was shot down?
We all know where the president was on 9/11 (unless you didn’t
see Fahrenheit 9/11 for whatever reason); he was sitting
with school children for a photo op and couldn’t be reached
to answer the question that command was shitting itself over: Do
we shoot down hijacked planes?
And then there are the stars of the day: infamous Muslim men without
whom 9/11 wouldn’t have happened. How do you portray the terrorists
in a film that’s supposed to be a believable truth? That’s
a really tough question. The last thing we need is another on-screen
demonization of Arabs. Paul Greengrass knew that.
But it’s not like they were good guys, either. They were portrayed
in a very interesting light: as humans who engaged in the most devastating
suicide pact in history. It’s not my job to sit here and tell
you why they did it. It’s not their job to explain themselves
to the people of a country that drove them to such an extreme evil.
It’s nobody’s job to explain the causes of 9/11. It’s
your responsibility as an individual to figure that out.
Whatever preconceived notions you have walking into this movie
will define the way you see it. For me, it was the painful telling
of one of the most severe human tragedies on American soil (except
maybe our history of genocide against the Native Americans and incarceration
of millions of Africans, but let’s not think of those). For
others, it might be the glorious rise of courage and resolve that
gave doomed men the power to fight back. Some will even see the
power of faith in times of crisis. United 93 is a magic
mirror that will show you whatever you really want to see.
I do have one beef, though… Greengrass did the smart thing
and left politics out of the movie, but somehow it got snuck back
in. Why was the only person who wanted to cooperate with the terrorists
a foreigner with an unidentifiable European accent? I call shenanigans
on that one.