United 93

United 93 dredged my anger and hate about September 11, the silt of my soul that is never far below the surface.

I wasn’t sure whether I should see the movie. Some of you who have come to this page more recently and find mostly blathering about media may not know that I started this blog after September 11, because I was there. It’s personal for every one of us. For me, the memories and emotions are inseparable. Before I went into the theater, I even made sure to take my heart pill, because fear triggers my arrhythmia. I really wasn’t sure I could take it.

The planes hitting their targets one more time hit me as those scenes always do, except these images usually are not part of a drama; they are the drama. The sound and sight of the people on this plane calling home to tell their families goodbye was so sad and so close to home it was about unbearable; as I’ve told you before, since September 11, my children still no longer let me leave the home without saying that they love me and hearing me say it to them.

But the movie starts and ends not with the victims but with the criminals who committed these murders, praying to a God who surely must disown them or there is no God. They are the objects of my anger and hate.

The meme running through many of the reviews of United 93 is that it is carefully made, but the critics wonder why it was made. Let Salon’s Stephanie Zacharek speak for most of the critics (and more eloquently than many of them):

I’ve never had a more excruciating moviegoing experience in my life, and as brilliantly crafted — and as adamantly unexploitive — as the picture is, it still leaves you wondering why it was made in the first place….

But I went into “United 93” with a feeling of dread, and ultimately, I’m not sure Greengrass did much more than pluck at that dread with dogged, if scrupulous, persistence. I walked out of “United 93” feeling bereft and despondent; my stomach muscles had tensed into a seemingly immovable knot. But the picture didn’t make me feel anything I hadn’t fully expected to feel.

Yes. The movie is meticulously and masterfully made. The performances — including especially those from the people in the FAA and military control rooms who play themselves — are incredible. The entire effort is restrained, respectable, and respectful. It tries hard not to tell you what to feel because it doesn’t have to. And I can’t tell you whether you should go because only you know whether you could or should bear it. Nor can I tell you why director and writer Paul Greengrass made this film.

All I can tell you is my reaction, beyond that dread and sorrow and admiration for the heroism and humanity of the victims. I felt the anger and hate again. This is a movie about a crime, a mass murder, a Godless sin.

But not according to The New York Times. In a parody of Times reviews, Manohla Dargis — who also doesn’t know why the film was made — finds, or rather injects, a political agenda:

“United 93” is a sober reminder of the breakdown in leadership on the morning of Sept. 11. Unlike Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11,” the film doesn’t get into the whereabouts of the president that day, or why Osama bin Laden ordered the attack; its focus is purposely narrow. But that narrow focus, along with the lack of fully realized characters, and the absence of any historical or political context, raises the question of why, notwithstanding the usual (if shaky) commercial imperative, this particular movie was made. To jolt us out of complacency? Remind us of those who died? Unite us, as even the film’s title seems to urge? Entertain us?

To be honest, I haven’t a clue. I didn’t need a studio movie to remind me of the humanity of the thousands who were murdered that day or the thousands who have died in the wars waged in their name.

No, I don’t think it is a “sober reminder of the breakdown in leadership.” I think it is quite clearly a sobering reminder of a crime perpetrated against thousands of innocent people by deluded fanatics.

And so perhaps we do need that reminder.

As I went into the theater to buy my ticket, I heard two young women talking about what to see.

“United 93,” said one, “that’s the one about the terrorists who take over the jet.”

Her friend replies, “You know I don’t like action pictures.”

“It’s not really scary,” says the first.

It’s just another thriller to them, about a story apparently forgotten.

Yes, perhaps we need to be reminded of the anger and the hate. We need to be reminded to be scared.