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Sunday, April 30, 2006

United 93

There were a lot of new movies opening at the Essex Cinemas this week, so I knew I was going to be busy checking them all out, but, to be honest, I had a pit in my stomach when it came to the idea of seeing United 93. I’m sure most everybody knows that this is a film based on the events aboard the ill-fated airplane that crashed in a Pennsylvania field on September 11, 2001 instead of reaching its’ target in Washington DC. Dale and Karen Chapman, managers of the Essex Cinemas, had already seen the movie and were blown away by it, so much so that they were pretty much speechless when trying to give me their thoughts on the film itself except to say it was extremely moving and intense. Okay, I thought, this is exactly why I’m seeing the movie second in my usual double feature afternoon. That way, if it gets too much for me, I can leave without the staff seeing me crying.

It seemed almost sacrilegious or disrespectful to go into a movie like this with a bag of popcorn and a soda, but I knew that the more nervous I might get the more I was going to need to do
something, so I might as well eat away my nervousness, which explains my tragic resemblance to Jabba the Hutt. Anyway, I settled in to a mostly empty house, which didn’t surprise me but also did in another way. I can understand the reticence of people wanting to relive something that affected us all in such a personal way, but I also wanted to think of United 93 as more of a tribute to the people on board the flight that day instead of an exploitation of the tragedy. I know that all of the families of the victims that day have made it clear that they not only support the film but are encouraging people to see it. The producers made it a point to involve them in the production and made sure that their loved ones would be treated honestly and also realistically.

That is the key element that makes United 93 so fascinating to watch. Director/Writer Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Supremacy) did his best to use actual transcripts of cockpit
conversations and material provided by those who received phone calls from the hostages on board the plane as the drama unfolded. Naturally, we will never know exactly word-for-word what transpired, but we do have a fairly good idea that the passengers aboard the plane, realizing that the hijackers were on a suicide mission like their comrades who had already successfully crashed planes into the World Trade Center, decided that they would rather risk their own deaths in the air than allow the hijackers to complete their evil undertaking.

Probably the most effective part of United 93 comes in its’ casting. Greengrass has a cast of
complete unknowns as his passengers and crew, which makes them so much more identifiable as being “like us.” There are no “Movie Stars” on board, no glamorous stereotypes, and no clever dialogue as one expects to find in action flicks. This is not Con Air, Executive Decision, or even Final Destination. These passengers look like the real people you see when you get on a plane to fly somewhere. Not everyone is dressed from J Crew and not everyone is young and catalogue-ready, and when the horror begins people don’t immediately have great plans spewing forth or reactions like one expects from their cinematic heroes because these are the real thing, not the faux images we’ve been trained to expect from our movie heroes with names like Cruise, Depp, Diesel or McConaughey. Instead, we see that real heroes are the ones who are willing to face actual wounds from the knife-wielding zealots who would destroy the Capitol. They are the ones who knowingly rush the bomb-carrying guard at the cockpit door and as a group bash their way in, knowing full well that in doing so they are most likely going to die in the process of trying to wrestle the controls away from the hijacker pilot before they can get the one passenger on board with any flying experience behind the controls.

We all know that their efforts to stop the madmen that day were successful, but the price to all of
them and to us ~ has been more than one can readily put into words. It is a coincidence that this film happens to have been released at the same time that construction is beginning on the Freedom Tower, the monument to the memory of those who died at the World Trade Center. So often the tragedy of September 11th is focused on that one spot and those victims in New York, and the bravery of the men and women of United 93 is eclipsed by the enormity of the loss in New York. Perhaps United 93 can provide a visual monument for the families and for all Americans who want to honor the crew and passengers who showed true courage that day by making the decision to sacrifice themselves rather than let their plane be used as a weapon against God only knows how many others.

While I can’t promise you will come away from United 93 feeling happier than when you went in, I
can assure you that it will fill your heart with pride in knowing that there are people amongst us who are so truly and wonderfully courageous, selfless, and good that they would lay down their lives for the love of their fellow Americans. For that alone, it is worth a trip to the Essex Cinemas to see United 93 to honor their sacrifice for each and every one of us.

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