2006Director: Paul Greengrass
Cast: Khalid Abdalla, Trish Gates, Christian Clemenson
n Sept. 11, 2001, I woke up far earlier than usual to grab breakfast and get an hour or two of cramming in before my first test of the semester. After throwing on some clothes, I stumbled bleary-eyed through my bedroom door and was immediately greeted by the sight of my roommate, Becky, having a rather agitated phone conversation with her mother. I started to walk past her, towards the front door of the apartment when she stopped me and mumbled something about an explosion in New York. I brushed her away, hopped in my car, and drove off to pick up some fast food.
As I walked up our apartment’s fire escape to the main entrance, my biggest concern revolved around the fact that in a few minutes I’d be ingesting some predictably awful Burger King breakfast. Upon entering the place and heading back towards my room, my worries changed. I turned to my section of the hall, and saw Becky through the open door. She was seated Indian-style on my floor, about 3 feet in front of my television. The channel was tuned to CNN, and she was weeping, head-in-hands.
Every time I see the video of the second plane hitting the WTC’s South Tower, I’m reminded of that moment. However, upon viewing Paul Greengrass’s United 93 I was transported to that moment; the emotion that shock had suppressed in me that morning came bubbling to the surface in a way that epitomized catharsis. Regardless of one’s politics, belief in conspiracy theories, or distaste for rallying around flags, the human drama that occurred on the morning of 9/11 can be considered nothing short of epic. United 93 does justice to that sense of gravity.
The victims and unsuspecting bystanders portrayed in Greengrass’s film carry out their early mornings with an upsetting degree of normalcy. With the inevitable conclusion looming, mundane conversations about anniversaries, children, and past sports glory become beacons of life. A pervasive feeling of “it could have been any of us” hangs over the proceedings, and the film achieves universality as the audience finds itself pleading with Death to lose this chess match. United 93 is so touching because the film taps into both the empathy engendered by human suffering and the deepest of human fears.
It makes sense that Paul Greengrass would be able to write and direct such an affecting account of what may have happened during a tragic and confusing day; he’d already done a masterful job with 2002’s Bloody Sunday. The two films are virtually identical apart from their subject matter. Both successfully attempt to present a hyper-realistic portrait of the day’s events by employing documentary-style camerawork, organic dialogue, and mostly unknown actors. And while one can quibble with Greengrass’s depictions in terms of disputed factual information (what types of weapons did the terrorists use to hijack the planes, which side fired first during the march in Derry), such comments are generally colored by political leanings.
An alternative critique would be to question the initial choice to dramatize the events of either calamity. Many of those who’ve lined up to protest United 93 ask why the film was necessary. A larger number of people asked the same question when The Passion of the Christ was released two years ago, and chances are, had Greengrass been tapped to make The Passion, the end product and subsequent cultural pissing contest would not have been far different.
The question, “why do we need to see this?” is only asked of films with truly controversial subject matter, provoking wholly personal reactions. Such is the case with United 93. If you do not care to watch a depiction of what happened aboard the fourth flight hijacked on 9/11, or the chaos that allowed terrorists aboard the first three flights to reach their targets, you may want to avoid this film. However, if a part of you wishes to reexamine your personal experience of that day, or to observe a number of possible experiences of those involved, this is an absolute must-see.
By: Kevin Worrall
Published on: 2006-05-01