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The Greatest Movie You Don’t Want to See

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I saw “United 93,” so you don’t have to.

Which isn’t to say it’s a bad movie, because it’s excellent, maybe even great–original, innovative, riveting, heartbreaking, unforgettable. Many had feared that the film would be exploitative, but “United 93″ is exactly the opposite of that. In telling the story of the fourth plane on Sept. 11–the one that crashed as the passengers attempted to retake it from the hijackers–the filmmakers do away with all Hollywood conventions and opt for a documentary-style reenactment. We don’t see the characters’ back stories or their surviving relatives; no husbands kissing their wives good-bye for the last time, no lucky latecomer who just missed the flight, no orphans remembering their lost mom. Nothing, in fact, that we’d expect from a disaster-of-the-week film.

Instead, director Paul Greengrass tells the story in real-time, from just before takeoff to its tragic crash in a Pennsylvania field, jumping back and forth between the goings-on inside the airplane, the confusion among air-traffic controllers, and the too-little, too-late efforts by the military to retake American airways. Even the passengers’ rebellion against the terrorists is presented without adornment, not as some sort of macho militaristic battle, but as what it was: The last desperate, heartbreaking attempt by a group of doomed people to take control of their fate.

Watching “United 93″ was truly like re-experiencing Sept. 11. My heart started pounding the minute the plane’s doors closed, and it didn’t stop until after I returned to my office when it was over. Yes, this movie is a respectful, fitting memorial to the deceased heroes who fought back and prevented their flight from destroying the Capitol or another Washington building. Yes, I learned a lot about what these passengers must have went through, and gained some insight into how the air-traffic controllers and military officers reacted–sometimes as heroes, sometimes as bumblers, sometimes as both at once–to an unprecedented situation.

But is all of that a good thing? Do we want to go to the movies to re-experience the greatest American trauma of our time? Not me. Don’t get me wrong; I am not someone who thinks all movies need to be happy, and I believe that film plays an important role in how we as a society talk about and work through important issues. But I don’t see how this particular film furthers that conversation; it’s certainly well intentioned and very well made, but it ultimately fails to go deeper than the surface. And we’ve all experienced that surface–in endless news coverage and in our own horrific memories–too much already. I can understand showing this movie at the planned United 93 memorial or at Sept. 11 memorial commemorations. But as one of the choices at your local multiplex, it’s hard for me to understand why people would choose to bring themselves back so viscerally to that traumatic day–or what they’d get out of it.



  • Anonymous

    I think there should be more movies about 9/11. Americans today, forget too quickly. 9/11 and its aftermath should be with us everyday, so that we don’t forget how much these fanatics despise us. More Americans were killed on 9/11, just at the WTC, than were killed when Pearl Harbor was attacked in 1941. President Roosevelt called Dec 7th, A DAY of Infamy. 9/11 is an even greater Day of Infamy for us. We’re doomed to be ill prepared or not at all prepared, for another attack, if we forget for a moment what happened to us, simply because we’re AMERICANS. My faith and love is for America, and personally I’d do whatever I could, to help and protect her.>

  • John Walter Davis

    UNITED 93 I found the movie riveting, particularly in the air controller center sections. 9/11 was a trauma for America, whether it was “the greatest American trauma of our time” may depend on what “our time” is — post Vietnam? post World War II? post Watergate? post JFK, RFK, MLK? Michael Kress assures us that he has seen the film and “so we don’t have to.” Thanks Mike, you’re a martyr, but in the future do me a favor, don’t do me any favors.>

  • Joey

    Haven’t seen the movie, and don’t know what to think of it. We do need to be reminded of September 11—as much as I hate to recall it, and how I simply couldn’t watch the news that terrible day, we seem to have forgetten it too quickly. On the other hand, it seems too soon—I mean, some people say five years have gone by, but really, I don’t know. Anyway, my meaningless thoughts…God bless!>

  • Rob

    I get so tired of the “it’s too soon” or “I don’t want to see this” or “haven’t we suffered enough” crowd. Quote: “Do we want to go to the movies to re-experience the greatest American trauma of our time?” I was in NY on 9/11. I bet this guy was in LA drinking merlot. The author must be the kind that only comes to church for Christmas. I bet you missed the whole holy week thing huh?>

  • Nancy

    Anyone who could forget an aspect of 9/11 would have alzheimers. I do not need to see a movie, regardless as to the respectful content, to remember the tragic loss of so many unsung heroes that day. Just waking each day and remembering that I have three families in town who directly lost loved ones is enough. If someone doesn’t have that, just look at the American flag – the reminder is right there>

  • Olen Doddridge

    Let us watch it and never forget the lives that were lost because of 911 and never take our life style for granted. May we each make sure it never happens again. We all have a part in this.>

  • Charles Billow

    America often acts like a spoiled child. And spoiled children, as any parent knows, needs to be reminded. Reminded of why the rules are there, reminded of how the rules were broken, and yes, reminded who is the boss. It is sad but true that *someone* is going to set the rules for the next millennium, and I would far rather it be America and Americans than some other misbegotten extremist ready and able to exploit uncertainty. We as Americans need reminding, reviewing, and re-affirming. Until we get it right. If United 93 contributes the least morsel to that end, I applaud it.>

  • Jennifer

    I am from NYC and living in LA for over 12 years now. My Mom called and woke me up as she drove in traffic on the bridge crossing into the city from Queens when she saw the smoke from the first plane and heard on the radio that a plane hit one of the Twin Towers. I woke up turned on the TV and watched the second one go in. My friend who worked near by watched the second one come up the river and go in in person and up close. My cousin was in the City and had to evaculate on foot with the hoards of New Yorkers. And later he found out thru one of his neighbors that one of the guys who did this had been living near them for years. Another cousin worked on the 80th floor of the south tower, and he never got past the 44th floor trying to get out as per the report. For me, having to watch something like this happen on TV was surreal and depressing and made me feel more helpless than when my grandmother died. It also made me angry that no one is watching from inside our country. No one in charge is smart enough to understand what others want to do to us before it can happen. No movie can hurt anymore than the real thing did, and when I am ready, I will see it. Maybe when it comes out on DVD, because I can not look forward to seeing it as an event like I do each week with regular movies. I am curious because I know how I would feel if I were in a situation like that. G-d forbid. Jen.>

  • ivy

    Mike…Bravo! Thanks for bringing back some very needed sensitivity to a society that lacks basic compassion. Is it anyone’s biz if Mike was drinking liquor or not going to chruch? I believe we’re discussing the movie here. I was born and raised in Brooklyn N.Y. I grew up in neighborhoods that lacked many things, but our view to the “other side” The “City” where the Twon Towers were..now that was a site for any tourist and native to behold! I went back. Had lunch a few blocks from “ground zero” my sister asked me if I was ready to visit the site. I couldn’t. My intentions are not to make anyone feel bad about watching their movie of preference. There are a multitude of movies out there for everyone to enjoy. Personally, I have not watch The Titanic. Shindler’s List…and I’m not about to watch “United 93″ Personally, and I repeat Personally, movies that exploit (no matter how fantastically well done the exploitation is excuted) human tragedies is not a movie for ME. I think that perhaps those of us that have some sort of tie be it by living in N.Y or having friends and relatives that may have been directly harmed-physically or emotionally by this tragedy would agree with me and if they don’t, it doesn’t change my opinion. And who knows…I may be writing this on my laptop while drinking a martini sitting in an airport across the street from a church that I never go to! -Stop hating and let’s really “Unite”>

  • Jack Schlatter

    This film reminds us of the type of monsters we have been forced to fight. The Nazis and Communists wanted to conquer the world and then ‘live’ in it.. These fanatics would rather ‘die’ than live in a world with Jews, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists or Angnostics and they have been that way for 500 years. This film is not explotive, it is REVEALING…Jack>

  • Joyce M.

    I haven’t seen the movie, but I think that many Americans have forgotten the horror of 9/11. The movie reminds us that we aren’t the safe nation we used to be, and may never be again. God has blessed this nation so much and we seem to just ignore that,too. We need to stand united and fight the evil that has entered our country. I don’t like war, but it is a necessity in these times. How can we stand by and let this happen again and again? I plan on seeing this movie, but I don’t need it to remind me, I remember. God bless the USA Joyce>

  • Tanya

    I haven’t seen the movie, but do plan on seeing it. I saw something amazing today on the internet. Put loose change up on your browser and then go to a quick movie about 911, there are a few, check them out. I thought it was very interesting and hard to believe, see what you think.>

  • LaurieK

    Why the questions about “too soon” or not? If you don’t want to go see it, don’t. No one’s forced to see a movie. Sure, it’s visceral, and I wanted to be reminded of this fact as often as possible. Too many people, only 5 years down the road, act as if it never happened, or if it did, it’s just a really sad event. There was nothing sad about it. It was brutal, obscene, and viscious. And these normal people, who could have been — might as well have been — you and me struck the first blow back at the attackers. 9/11 is a make-or-break moment in our history, and Flight 93 is an integral part of that story and should be told in the most unsparing way possible.>

  • Anonymous

    I didn’t want to see this film. I have no desire to go back through the wreckage of 9/11. It’s too painful. But I went anyway because my wife dragged me to it. This was an enormously hard film to make because of the potential for the filmmakers to be seen as exploiting tragedy. Lots of true-story disaster films do get made, but usually after more time has passed. Such films help raise awareness. Here, awareness is not an issue. Still, the film’s documentary style and its careful sensitivity made it an uncanny, extraordinary experience.>

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