I remember September 11, 2001 as a normal day like any, when I was inside my room and my mother started calling me to turn on CNN. Knowing her preference for drama, I took my time, even as I had a growing sense of foreboding. I remember regretting this, because as soon as I switched on, I caught the second plane crashing into the World Trade Center, throwing a heap of debris across the opposite side.
Approaching this movie, I understood fully America’s hesitation to show such a sensitive period in their recent history. It is not only considered as a turning point in shaping world foreign policy, but as a story of how quickly the lives of many of their countrymen were so easily snuffed out by the wayward opinions and goals of a misinformed few.
So easily was this achieved, as this movie will so dramatically display.
The ‘protagonists’ as it were, are the US FAA (Federal Aviation Administration), NORAD (North American Air Defense), any of several air traffic control centers involved and finally, the flightcrew and passengers of United Airlines Flight 93.
Much of the 1.5 hour movie deals with the first three, as the FAA struggled mightily to get a handle of what was going on, constantly barraged by information (and misinformation) about hijacked planes, its flights, direction and the occasional plane reported to be hijacked, but was not. Information re these were coursed via traffic control centers across the US, many of which were utterly confused again from planes not responsive to their requests for information, and deciding whether to consider them hijacked or otherwise.
Then there was NORAD, whom the FAA thought was unresponsive too, except that they were on the situation even before the first plane struck the WTC, but had their own problems trying to get permission from higher ups (such as the President) and even finding fighter planes to intercept, most of which were unavailable, unarmed, or in one frustrating moment, going the wrong way.
All of this going on as we observe scenes of United 93 going about its business, dealing with a delay in take off and the usual airport traffic, flight attendants gossiping and making small talk, and passengers just being your normal everyday passengers.
It is the very casualness that puts you at the edge of your seat, your hands gripping the armrests as you await what you know is about to come.
Suspenseful and Frustrating are the words I will use to describe United 93. It is one of the most terrifyingly nerve-wracking, in fact, movies I have ever seen. In many cases, I felt like begging for some form of comedy relief, de rigeur for your commercial action movie. At some point, you would want Steven Seagal or Wesley Snipes to jump out and karate – chop the bad guys, but you know that’s not going to happen, and you know all this is real.
That is the part that gets you breathing so shallow as United 93 nears its traumatic and tremendously unsettling end.
From the moment after the FAA and NORAD situations, it is understood however, that many of the events in the actual flight are dramatizations, assumed likely from whatever transcripts made of phone calls by distressed passengers to their families, air traffic controllers, the FAA and NORAD, even 911 and the plane’s flight data recorders.
However, this does not relieve you of any of its gravity. Those phone calls by the passengers to their families, explaining the situation, being told of WTC and reporting their impending doom, are real, and no manner of theatrical license can damper the sincerity and utter hopelessness these convey. These scenes are the last with which I’ve felt so terribly, helplessly lost for the characters. I knew of these tapes and I knew these would be acted out, but I desperately felt for them no less.
Tale that must be told.
There is no doubt in my mind that United 93 is a tale that must be told, not only for the Americans to remember but for the world to look and ponder at.
I will not venture nor pretend to preach what good may come of it, nor do I know how exactly it will. But a tragedy the likes of United 93 cannot have transpired without some moral lesson brought across.
It is assumed that the terrorists were on its way to Washington DC in a bid to crash into the White House. The fact it crashed way before it got there seems to be the primary reason why United 93 is remembered, as they are regarded as heroes.
It is a heroism however that obviously these passengers were unaware and likely unwilling to be a party of. Like many heroes, they just wanted to survive, and quite frankly possibly had little concept of the repercussions further to this goal.
The movie graciously avoids the trap of making them out as such, heroes as regardless they turned out to be, and for this I commend them. It is after all that’s said and done, an event that involved ordinary people. Not ideologies or religions or politics or countries or borders or leaders or foreign policies. But ordinary people along their ordinary way, so quickly removed from this earth by terrible circumstances.
United 93 is an important movie, and whether or not the Americans are ready for it, the world deserves to learn and decide what to make of this immense tragedy.
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