Review of United 93

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Written by May Warren

United 93 tells the story of the fourth plane hijacked on September 11th. The one that never made it to its intended target, supposedly because it’s passengers stormed the cockpit and overtook the terrorists, crashing the jet into a field in Pennsylvania.

Based on the 911 commission and cell phone calls placed by passengers to family members in their last minues, the movie recreates the supposed events of the day in real time. It flips back and forth between the events unfolding on board the plane and the bewildered confusion of employees at air traffic control centres on the ground.

First we see the passengers of United 93 fastening their seatbelts, making small talk, and being served breakfast. Then we see them being hijacked by terrorists and attempting to fight back. As a piece of art the film is chilling in its realism. The actors deliver eerily on target performances and manage to gain audience sympathy without any of the preachy oversentimentality seen in a lot of other 9/11 pieces. The film effectively draws audiences in to its recreated world and, although a bit slow at first, consistently builds suspense until its terrifying climax.

However, we have to remember that this film was not made in a vacuum. Given the current socio-political context, is a film like this really necessary? Useful? Responsible? Although the terrorists aren’t necessarily portrayed as monsters, and there is one interesting scene where everyone on board is united in prayer to their respective Gods, they aren’t particularly humanized either. The final scene of the “good” Americans fighting back against the “bad” Arabs is one that resonates, and could very well serve to mobilize public support for American political objectives.

There is also the little problem of how much of the film is actually based on what happened and how much is the director’s interpretation, or misconception. For instance, in the film the men on board the plane play a leading role in organizing resistance and have to calm panicky female flight attendants and persuade them to help. How do we know it wasn’t the women who were the brains of the operation? Besides the pilots, who get murdered early on, they were the most well equipped people on board to deal with situation.

What exactly are we supposed to get from this film anyways? Entertainment? Paranoia? A crash course in how to deal with hijackers? Perhaps most importantly, one has to wonder how the families of the victims of the hijacking feel about their loved ones becoming a form of entertainment. Although this movie is very well done, we have to wonder why it was made in the first place, and we should think about its very real world implications.

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