Monday, May 01, 2006

United 93

United 93Katie and I went to see this movie yesterday. It is a good film and I do hope Americans go to see it, or check it out once it hits DVD. We all know the subject of this film, so there is no reason to go into all of that, and consider this your spoiler warning.

United 93 is filmed in documentary style. This means that there is "shaky camera" work, and to some viewers, that can be distracting and at times nauseating, as it was

"...the passengers of United 93 were quite nauseated by their experience..."

to Katie. To me however, the camera style takes the viewer to that moment in time. It conveys the confusion and chaos of that dreadful morning as it would have appeared to an onlooker. The shaky camera effect on board United 93 later in the film helps to create an unsteady feel and intensifies the ensuing "panic" among the doomed passengers. The plane makes dramatic sudden dives when the terrorists invade the cockpit and take control of the flight, and again later when the passengers attempt a takeover. I'm sure the passengers of United 93 were quite nauseated by their experience and if only for this reason I can tolerate the "shaky camera" work for what it is.

The opening sequence of the film finds the terrorists in their hotel room saying their morning prayers and shaving off all of their body hair in obedience, as commanded to do for martyrs preparing to enter paradise. The devotion to their god is highlighted in the film and is presented as a fact, with no political statement or suggestion being made about it. The terrorists are obviously very committed to their religion and are acting solely in obedience.

The director did an outstanding job of creating a sense in the viewer, who knows the final destination of United 93, that it was just another normal day to those boarding

"One terrorist, still in the terminal, called a loved one to tell them 'I love you'".

the flight. Sunny skies, busy airport terminals, personal cellphone conversations, and important, yet boring, safety instructions from flight attendants. That scene was contrasted with the terrorist's full knowledge of the impending death they were about to bring to innocent civilians going about their lives. It was interesting to watch the terrorists, who have full knowledge of what was about to unfold, in contrast with the people in the airport, and boarding planes, totally oblivious to their fate. One terrorist, still in the terminal, called a loved one to tell them "I love you". That scene gave the terrorist a humanity that is still hard to accept considering the ghastly deed they were responsible for.

The first part of the film was at times difficult to follow. It follows the air traffic controllers and military personnel following the "possible hijackings" in progress as they presented themselves in the confusion of that morning. The scene moves back and forth between airports and military bases with air traffic controllers tracking each of the planes that go off course. There is a lot of conversation going on, and we hear bits and pieces of it as the situation unfolds and controllers know something is wrong, but are not sure what to do about it. I think the only reason this works is because most viewers, if not all, already know the basics of what happened that day. Someone watching this who is ignorant of the events of 9/11 will probably not understand at all what is going on.United 93

There was much confusion and chaos, yet there were those who were making decisions based on the information they had and were leading their "teams" through the morning. One such man was Ben Sliney, chief of air-traffic control operations at the FAA's command center in Herndon, Va, whose professionalism and command probably helped keep things from spiraling into mass chaos and panic. The viewer is there in the rooms with the people responsible for making the decisions of that day and watching the plot unfold in disbelief. Many of the "actors" in the film, are not actors at all, they were the actual people playing the same parts they played that day. That added to the realism of the film.

The last half of the film puts us into United 93. The passengers that day were totally unaware of the events that were changing the world as they sat on the runway delayed. While the towers were collapsing and America was watching events unfold in horror, the passengers were ordering their in-flight meals and settling in for a long flight. In contrast, the terrorists were preparing their hearts and minds for their role in this drama.

It was interesting to me that the director brought out the difference in ideologies. While the terrorists were "submitting to god" and using planes as missiles and killing innocent people to further their cause, they were praying and as United 93 hurdled toward its final resting place, the passengers were also praying, but praying for survival. It was such a clash in the "heavenlies" and it was portrayed very well in the film. The terrorists were not portrayed as religious zealots, but rather as human beings.

Obviously the conversation among the people, terrorists and passengers, of United 93 is story. There is no way to establish it as fact, yet it can very well have been so as things were pieced together from abbreviated cell phone conversations, garbled radio transmissions, desperate answering machine messages, and character studies.

The movie ends with a black screen. No hollywood ending. No fireball explosion, nothing. Black screen. The audience sits in stunned silence. We all wanted a different ending to this film, but that would not be reality.

This film took me back to the feelings I experienced that day, and then emphasized even moreso the impact it has had on this country, and the world. There is an element out there, still out there, that wants to kill Americans. America must unite to fight these terrorists. Our existence depends on it.

And it isn't Too Soon.

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