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What Would People Think?

Sunday, May 07, 2006

United 93: Boring.....and Captivating

I saw United 93 last night. I'm not sure what I expected. I had read the almost universally positive reviews, so I wasn't expecting a cheap, sentimental exploitation of the memories of the heroes aboard that plane. Thank God, they didn't "Hollywood-ize" that day. I guess I was expecting to be carried back emotionally to that awful day.

I still vividly remember my own reaction on 9/11. I was sitting on the floor in my dorm room, surrounded by my notes, preparing for my Latin American Politics class (taught by a socialist, natch). Mike walked in from his room (which has a TV) and could only say "Shit!." From the tone of his voice, I thought The Slant - the controversy-prone college satire paper we had helped create - was in trouble yet again. Instead, he answered my question by telling me that somebody had flown two jet airplanes into the World Trade Center. We both went back into his room and watched in shocked silence as the 2nd tower fell. I will never forget that moment for the rest of my life......the shock, the helplessness, the slowly dawning sense of sorrow and dread as the enormity of what had just happened sunk in.

I suppose that's what I expected to feel watching United 93. Instead, for most of the movie, I felt......bored. It's an odd reaction. I mean, I wasn't expecting the film to entertain me with its witty script. But for, like, 3/4 of the movie you mostly see air traffic controllers and military personnel trying to figure out what the hell is going on and what the hell they are going to do about it. After a certain amount of confusion, it got boring for me as the outsider. I imagine boredom was the last thing on the mind of the participants on that fateful day.

[I'm reminded of the movie Elephant - a film inspired by the Columbine school shootings. I spent most of that movie being bored, too. Of course, Elephant had 10-minute long tracking shots following some jock walking around his unreasonably huge high school.]

I don't think my boredom was actually a flaw with the movie. I don't see how they could have done it any other way. If they amped up the drama, it would have been exploitive, cheap, sentimental.

Then, there were the events on the plane. I wasn't bored anymore. I was in the moment. The sudden, shocking violence interrupting what seemed like a normal, everyday plane ride. The frenzied whispers as all these people who don't know each other try to figure out what's going on and hear from phone calls about the World Trade Center. The terrorists watching on as people talk on the phones, not quite sure whether they should be letting them do that. The determination and desperate attempts at rational planning when they realize the enormity of the situation. (Would I have done that? Or would I have frozen in fear?) The passengers making tearful farewells to their loved ones. And those last, chaotic minutes of struggle and............yes, dammit, HEROISM.

And blackness.

Everybody in the theater sat there, stunned. (Except for this one couple sitting next to me who kept TALKING during the last minutes. I was ready to beat them over the head with my cell phone.) Except for that couple, you could hear a pin drop. It took a minute or two for everything to sink in...for reality to return and for us to realize we were in a movie theater. For me to stop crying.

This movie - complete with the boredom - is precisely the correct tribute to the ordinary men and women aboard that plane who saved who-knows-how-many lives.


  • Yet another positive review to add to the list -- and this one the first from a reviewer I trust implicitly. Guess I have to see this movie.

    Incidentally, did you not like "Elephant"? I was oddly compelled, particularly in the final 30 minutes. The tracking shot of the jock you mentioned, when it arrived, I was like "who the hell is this guy", and then to see him get mowed down before my question was ever answered was jaw-dropping. The boredom makes the suddenness of the attack all the more intense. I imagine "United 93" is the same way.

    By Blogger Mike, at 5/07/2006 10:52 AM  

  • You're thinking of the wrong tracking shot, Mike.

    I'm talking about the shot of the jock who ends up stuck in the freezer with the shooter taunting him in the final scene. There's a shot of him walking all the way from the field, into the school, up the stairs, past the 3 anorexic girls who admire his cuteness, and into an office or some place where he meets his girlfriend. The shot you are thinking of is amazing, I'll grant you.

    I was left oddly cold by Elephant. Same as here, I expected the conflicting emotions I felt the day I heard of Columbine...instead I felt nothing. Something about the way it ended.

    I dunno. I appreciate it more in retrospect than I did at the time.

    By Blogger Ben, at 5/07/2006 1:49 PM  

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