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Regarding James Bowman’s curious “review” of United 93, it is a pity that the gentleman lost his spectacles and was unable to view the film the same way most of the rest of us did. Surely the film he writes about could only have been shown in his imagination and not in any real world setting where audiences were horrified, mesmerized, and finally moved to tears by the movie’s unrelenting realism and intimacy. Otherwise, his grousing about “too soon” and “no heroism” ring hollow indeed when measured against the film’s power to prick the memory and gnaw at our emotions, still for many an open wound from that awful day.
I actually sympathize with Bowman’s reasoning about why United 93 might be too soon. And if we were talking about looking at events with a historian’s eye, I would agree with him. There is much to be said for space to be created not “between illusion and reality” as Mr. Bowman thinks but rather between “news and history.” The great Civil War historian Bruce Catton half-joked that the French academy never used to allow the study of any subject more recent than the Napoleonic Wars, believing that at least 100 years should pass before the historian can approach a subject with the proper perspective. And while it may be proper to allow an event to age and ripen in our minds before gaining a valid historical outlook, no such stricture needs to be placed on an artist. In fact, immediacy can add to the emotional impact of the artist’s work. It certainly did in United 93.
Mr. Bowman really leaves the tracks when he posits the jaw-dropping notion that United 93“shows some signs of being influenced by the liberal and revisionist view of the events of 9/11, namely that the attacks were at least partly our own fault.” Where? How? There is not one single moment in the film that I can recall where I felt director Greengrass played overt politics with the story. There was certainly some subtext in the film that was critical of the government response that day. Good God! Bowman can’t be thinking that the response of the FAA or the military was adequate, can he? If, by extension, that means criticizing the President then Greengrass certainly went a lot easier on Bush than the 9/11 Commission. Beyond the confusion and the disbelief shown by the people who perhaps could have mitigated the effects of 9/11 (how that could be possible is not even hinted at in the movie) what the response of the United States government in the film showed above all else was that we were woefully unprepared for those kinds of attacks. The 9/11 Commission pointed this out regarding FAA protocols: “On the morning of 9/11, the existing protocol was unsuited in every respect for what was about to happen.”
“In every respect” would seem to absolve the administration of the sin most frequently cited by its critics: that they should have expected hijacked planes to be used as missiles to destroy tall buildings. It also points to a theme that I believe came through loud and clear when viewing the government’s response during the course of the film in its totality; that the United States on September 11, 2001 had spent the previous decade sleepwalking through history and that the looks of astonishment on the faces of everyone from the FAA, to the air traffic controllers, to even our military said as much as the 9/11 Commission Report could ever say about this subject.
Finally, Mr. Bowman’s complaint about there not being any true “heroes” in the film and that some aspects of the passenger assault on the cockpit were downplayed is factual but misses the point. If Greengrass was going to make a film that highlighted the heroism and courage of the passengers — especially Messrs. Burnett, Glick, Beamer, and Bingham — the audience would have been catapulted out of the intimate, existential universe created by the director and thrust into fantasyland. I thought that the assault on the cockpit was an extraordinary piece of filmmaking and, ironically, in some ways mirrored the terrorist’s assault from earlier in the film. The looks on the passengers faces just prior to launching their attack was a carbon copy of the expressions on the terrorist’s faces just before they nerved themselves to carry out their mission. What struck me about this was how it reminded me of the faces of men at war. Whether intended or not, Greengrass reminded us all that, at bottom, 9/11 was an attack on American sovereignty. And the film’s power is in reminding us what it felt like to be an American that day.
And giving the hijackers more than one dimension by portraying them as pious men who had loving relationships with their family is no more a glorification of their cause than portraying Hitler as a man who loved children and dogs as was done in the powerful recent film Downfall. In a way, it makes what the hijackers did even more chilling and adds to the film’s overall realism. I daresay that if Greengrass had portrayed the hijackers as unemotional killers, it would have jarred the audience out of the world created so superbly by the director.p>Hollywood, with its ability to turn reality into myth, is uniquely situated to add events like 9/11 to our national narrative in such a way as to bring understanding and closure. It is a pity that Mr. Bowman failed to absorb the nuances of the film and instead chose to judge the film from such an erroneous and superficial viewpoint. br> — Rick Moran br> Algonquin, Illinois /p>
Thank you, Mr. Bowman, for a fine review.p>If I should ever have the misfortune of finding myself in like circumstances to the passengers of United 93, my most urgent prayer would be that John Farmer and David Thomson were not aboard, but back at their desks sucking their thumbs as usual, while I and a few other commoners are bashing in the door of the cockpit.
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