Tuesday, May 09, 2006

United 93

I hadn’t planned on seeing United 93 because I didn’t like the idea of someone making a profit off the deaths of the people on that plane. But Saturday night rolled around and having nothing better to do, my friends and I went to the theater. And geez… is Hollywood having a dry spell. Not much out there right now. So my friends convinced me to see United 93.

First of all, let me say how hard it was to watch it. I’m not an overly emotional kind of person and the only two movies I’ve ever cried in were “Mask” and “Steel Magnolias” (you know the scene too… when Sally Field loses it in the graveyard). I shed one or two itsy bitsy tears in United 93. I couldn’t help it. The movie brought back everything… all the emotion, the utter helplessness and the fear. September 11th was the day Americans finally realized that we, too, are vulnerable. It was the day we all ceased to become black or white or Republican or Democrat… we were all Americans that day. Just Americans. From the white woman who patted my hand through the Wendy’s drive-thru window to the Middle-Eastern gentleman at the convenience store who had tears in his eyes as he watched his small television in the store. We came together that day and we bought flags and proudly displayed them in our cars and outside our homes. I remember eating dinner in Red Lobster on Thursday of that week and everyone left the restaurant at 7pm and walked into the parking lot. 75 or so strangers held hands and prayed for those who had died. I’ll never forget that day as long as I live.

So yeah… it was hard to watch and all the emotion came flooding back.

Another friend of mine said… “I didn't want to come out of this movie feeling warm and fuzzy about our stupid President and full of hate for Muslims.” And you don’t get that from the movie. In fact, the movie stays about as far away from a political statement as you can get. If you walked into the movie as a supporter or a detractor of the war in Iraq, you’ll probably walk out the same way. There is mention of the President a few times in the movie when the military is trying to find him so they can get orders on the ROE (Rules of Engagement). As plane after plane was reported hijacked and air traffic controllers tried to get 4500 or 5000 planes grounded and international flights turned around, our military did not know if they could engage because the planes were civilian. Only the President could make that decision and as it turned out, he eventually did give the order to shoot down the planes but military leaders did not pass this order on to the pilots for fear of there being an accidental shooting… there were still many, many planes in the air trying to land. But other than that, there was no mention of anything or anyone political at all. The movie was straight forward and told the facts as we know them.

The actors and actresses were unknowns and not your normal Hollywood types by any means. You or I could have been in this movie. That adds a touch of realism to the whole thing. The whole movie is almost like a documentary and follows the people that were on United 93 from the moment they got to the airport and into the plane until the moment the plane goes down in a field in Pennsylvania.

Where it gets a little sketchy for me is at the end. We don’t really know if the passengers made it into cockpit before the plane crashed or if the pilots were killed. The movie speculates at the end and I don’t care for the fact that many people will probably walk away from this movie thinking that the end of the movie is actually fact, when in actuality we don’t know what happened up there and probably never will. Despite the speculation, however, the movie is well done and stays true to the facts up until the very end when facts simply must give way to our most educated guesses.

At the end, the packed theater was completely silent. There was no clapping, no shuffling of popcorn bags and sodas, no crying… nothing. No one stood up immediately to leave. After several minutes people slowly begin to file out of the theater. There were many tear-streaked faces and I know if I had seen my own face it would have looked dazed and shocked, just like it did on September 11th. For all of its simple, understated qualities, this is a powerful movie that packs a punch. I don’t know if it’s “too soon” or not, but I know that the movie will elicit a very strong reaction for anyone that lived through that day.

I was driving to work on September 11th, when the first plane hit. By the time I got to work and turned on my small desktop television, the second plane had hit and the rumors were already starting to spread. I remember Peter Jennings telling people not to panic… not to believe everything they were hearing. Instead of the media’s usual habit of playing up the smallest drama or tragedy, all our news reporters were doing their best to keep the country as calm as they could. Anyway… I remember very clearly, Jennings said at one point … “America will never be the same.”

You were right, Peter… you were right.