United 93: Boring.....and Captivating
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.
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.