Wednesday, June 28, 2006
  Theatrical Review: United 93

I started smoking when I was 14 years old. I thought I looked cool. Stupid me.

For 23 years I've battled the addiction, going back and forth, back and forth. At present I'm a non-smoker. I might stay one for the rest of my life, or I might light up ten minutes from now. Who knows? I don't.

Anyway, I was at a point in my life where I was smoking about a pack a day on the morning of September 11, 2001. It was a slow day at work, due to a mechanical problem further up the production line. While mechanics worked on that problem, the people in my area were getting an unscheduled break. Somewhere in the 9:00 AM area I was sitting at a picnic table in our smoking area. I was smoking a Salem 100 and talking to a co-worker about how quickly children grow up. She was telling me that she couldn't believe that her son was already 18 years old and leaving home. I was telling her that I was divorced and didn't get to see my four year old son as often as I'd like to.

It was a friendly, trivial, absolutely meaningless conversation… and I've long forgotten it if one of our company mechanics hadn't approached us urgently, seeming to come from nowhere, saying "Turn the radio on! Turn the radio on! We're under attack!"

So that's my "Where were you" memory of September 11, 2001. The rest of the day at work was spent in a slack-jawed daze with my co-workers, sitting around our small battery powered radio, listening to the world change forever.

I said all that because watching Paul Greengrass's amazing film United 93 will manifestly force any viewer to relive the day, to remember exactly where you were, how you found out, and what the rest of the day held for you. It's unavoidable. This movie will take you back five years in time.

I remembered the trivial conversation I'd had with a co-worker that morning while watching this movie; while watching stewardesses and passangers and pilots have their own trivial conversations about their kids, their vacation plans, their current reading material. The difference, of course, is that as a movie goer, I was aware of the weight of their conversations. I was aware of what their immediate futures held. It was those moments... those brief shots of normal people leading their normal lives... that effected me far more than the scenes of chaos and crisis that followed.

United 93 is a difficult film to watch because of it's realism. It seems to have been shot with handheld cameras, giving it a documentary look. Watching the film makes you feel like you're watching video of real people and seeing the way they responded to the attacks of 9/11. It's urgent. It's very upsetting. I believe that it's something every adult American should experience. So much has happened since September of 2001. The emotions of that day have been changed into political bargaining chips, traded and contested by people with every imaginable political agenda.

United 93, with it's cast of unknown actors and, in some cases, people who play themselves (including FAA director Ben Sliney) is a demanding, arduous movie. Frankly, this movie cuts like a knife. It cuts cleanly and irrevocably through five years of campaigning, muck-raking, and one unpardonable example of malicious, disingenuous manipulation. United 93 had a sobering effect on me. It made me feel wide awake, refocused, and purposefully recommitted. We must never go back to the blind confidence we relied on before the events of that day. Neither as individuals, nor as a nation.

United 93 also gives the viewer a chance to pause and give thanks for some of the unsung heroes of 9/11. We've all expressed gratitude to the fire fighters, policemen, military and members of the port authority. Until I saw United 93, I don't think I'd stopped to consider the heroism of air traffic controllers, audio analysts, and even people with administrative responsibilities. I spent the day in a state of paralysis. They spent the day under unimaginable, urgent pressure.

See United 93. See it, think about it, talk about it, and keep it alive. We must not allow the visceral memories of that morning to disappear into a cloud of politics and posturing.

Nice review - we'll see it when it hits DVD.

Regarding the smoking at 14 thing - you say you thought you were so cool, and now don't you just think it looks stupid when you see a 14 year old smoke?

When I see that in public, like if I'm getting out of my car and a group of kids are standing around smoking, I usually ridicule them. They act tough and tell me to f**k off, but I know that inside them it makes an impact.
Darrell, as always, a thoughtful review. I can never forget where i was that day either: in St John's Newfoundland, where hundreds and hundreds of international flights were grounded and people from the outports sent schoolbuses to bring passengers back to their homes. I sat in a bar at 9:30 in the morning with a bunch of people who were as awed and teary as I was, and the waitresses sat beside us saying, "I'll just get you another cup, my darlin'", but going nowhere.....who could leave the TV?

But having said that, I don't think I'll watch that movie. I don't think it could influence the people who felt so strongly that they were acting for God, and personally, there's only pain in it.
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