March to the movies

Well, both left and right are telling you to go see United 93 (note that I wasn’t so presumptuous).

Via Glenn Reynolds, I see that George Will says you have to go because:

Going to see “United 93” is a civic duty because Samuel Johnson was right: People more often need to be reminded than informed. After an astonishing 56 months without a second terrorist attack, this nation perhaps has become dangerously immune to astonishment. …

The message of the movie is: We are all potential soldiers. And we all may be, at any moment, at the war’s front, because in this war the front can be anywhere.

The hinge on which the movie turns are 13 words that a passenger speaks, without histrionics, as he and others prepare to rush the cockpit, shortly before the plane plunges into a Pennsylvania field. The words are: “No one is going to help us. We’ve got to do it ourselves.” Those words not only summarize this nation’s situation in today’s war but also express a citizen’s general responsibilities in a free society.

Now from the other side of the pond and the political spectrum comes Mary Riddell in The Observer of London, who sees the same movie and comes away with the same imperative to go watch it but for, as n ear as I can tell, the opposite reason:

Like the passengers, we all sat that day in the departure lounge for another world.

That’s not what I would call British understatement. Anyway, I interrupt…

But, as the politicians and the generals flailed, the hijack victims were the only people who saw that the global order was shifting. Although they would not live to see its consequences, they spent their last minutes doing what they thought right.

And now, their gravestones are etched with the West’s variable tributes to their memory: Afghanistan, Iraq, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo. George W Bush’s war on terror, ordained by their fates, has claimed many thousands more lives. Each day, 35 to 50 bodies pass through the Baghdad morgue, stacked up in freezer trucks when the storage rooms overflow. Other ordinary citizens, in Bali, Madrid or London, have suffered or died as al-Qaeda turned their normal routines into a theatre of barbarity….

See Paul Greengrass’s film. It will stop your breath with fear as it breaches the thin margin between power and vulnerability and between normality and carnage. But its message is not just of doom. In averting an attack on Washington’s seats of power, a handful of people shifted the course of history. And now, five years after they died, they are the ushers between their yesterdays and our tomorrows. For all their reason, optimism and courage, those who boarded United 93 had no chance to avert their fate. We do.

But only if the West is not paralysed by fear or drawn further into the clash of evil against virtue espoused by democrats and jihadists alike. The passengers of United 93 took a plainer view. They saw a universe where those of good faith must take all necessary risks to ensure that the earth keeps turning round the sun and that they are there to see it rise again.

I certainly do not get her metaphoric view of the movie and the world. The passengers fought back. They met violence with violence. They fought evil.

  • OMG, read the comments section on that review.

    I am glad that I no longer live in Britain. I understand there’s now a practice “happy slapping” where they slap someone full out in the face, video it and put it on the net. I am utterly against physical violence, but I now realize, they have a point. There are simply too many good targets who fully deserve it. I would start with Ms Riddell and then take on all of her readers in turn. SMACK.

  • Mike G

    But Jeff, the hegemonic imperialism of the passengers in attempting to take control of the airplane from the pilots (what we call, with racist bias, “hijackers”) was…

    Okay, I’ll stop talking Chomsky-crap now.

    I’ve had a few days to think about United 93. My feeling is, the utter objectivity of the film is admirable and necessary– people needed to have a picture, provided by Hollywood, of what happened in certain places on that day. All that is good, so far as it goes. Now we have seen that.

    But the movie also demonstrates the limits of its own views. It keeps us so narrowly focused on micro-events that now I want more. I want to see the madrassas where jihad hate is preached. (Actually, I have seen Kandahar, that’s a start.) I want to see Saudi Arabia, that deeply sick and bizarre society where sloth and sexual starvation have produced such pathologies. I want to see the real Iraq that I read about in a tiny portion of the journalism that goes beyond the daily car-bomb report. Merely seeing inside an airplane and a few command centers is only the beginning.

    So far all Hollywood has give us is Jarhead, that pointless movie about a pointless army, and Syriana, that West Wing fantasy of a middle east in which the Arab prince is a good Hollywood liberal (so he must die at the hands of American baddies). Can they avoid such a rich and fascinating subject as the war we’re in forever? I suppose one can say they are dealing with it metaphorically, because they can’t face it directly. The Lord of the Rings told us that there is no safe place to hide when evil is on the march, every person must make choices. Batman Begins gave us a coolly charismatic Osama Bin Laden figure who was perfectly willing to kill millions in the name of purity. 24 asks us every week what we would do if the bomb was ticking (and the answer is always the same– whatever we had to). But I still wish for a movie which would show me all the things and all the places that figure in the post-9/11 world. I have a feeling I’ll be waiting for a long time.

  • I cringe every time I here things like “they fought evil”…evil doesn’t exist, nor does “good”.

  • Mike G

    You go right on believing that, Leon. Maybe you’ll be fortunate enough to get through life that foolish.

  • Azaleas

    Leon, this is evil incarnate. The TimesOnline advises us that 30-year old Iraqi journalist Atwar Bahjat was tortured by a drill then beheaded by a knife while alive. Her execution was captured on a cell phone video. Part of me died when I saw this cruel killing

  • leon,


    1/2 j/k

  • hey

    there is no good, there is no evil, just differeing perspectives. I, John Kerry, will do my all to ensure that americans come to understand this crucial point. And that Republicans are evil, especially the Ghengis Khan types who fought in Vietnam and believed in what they did!

  • Mike G

    So all this made me curious to find a lefty review of United 93 and see how they dealt with the issue. First stop, The Nation.

    Stuart Klawans has reviews of four “stellar” films this week– including the third movie in a Korean action series and a 40-year-old French film. United 93 is not among them.

    I check the past reviews. He made sure and caught The Notorious Bettie Page. He saw at least one recent Hollywood hit, Inside Man. But he has yet to even mention United 93.

    It doesn’t exist on his radar screen.

  • PSGInfinity

    Undertoad, I like your understated elegance.

    [rolls up an entire Sunday Times, cinches it up using hemp rope]
    [starts smacking Leon with it]

    Leon, either you’re pulling our legs, or you’re dumb a box of rocks.

  • i think frank rich made a better point:

    Thanks to the administration’s deliberate post-9/11 decision to make the enemy who attacked us interchangeable with the secular fascists of Iraq who did not, the original war on terrorism has been diluted in its execution and robbed of its support from the American public. Brian Williams seemed to be hinting as much when, in effusively editorializing about “United 93″ on NBC (a sister company of Universal), he suggested that “it just may be a badly needed reminder for some that we are a nation at war because of what happened in New York and Washington and in this case in a field in Pennsylvania.” But he stopped short of specifying exactly what war he meant, and that’s symptomatic of our confusion. When Americans think about war now, they don’t think about the war prompted by what happened on 9/11 so much as the war in Iraq, and when they think about Iraq, they don’t say, “Let’s roll!,” they say, “Let’s leave!”

  • All that metaphorical mush is just plain ‘ole bad writing.

  • It’s interesting to contemplate what Mary Riddel would have done had she been on that plane. Waffled on to her neighbor about Evil America till the plane crashed into the White House.

    One thing you learn living in both America and Western Europe (as I have). The Western Europeans take their security and wealth for granted in a way the Americans simply do not.

  • weboy

    I am sick to death of being lectured by the reviewers of United 93 that I must see this movie, that my resolve must be stiffened, that I have forgotten what 9/11 was like, or what it “taught” us. Thank you, I get it. I lived it. I read the 9/11 commission report. I read 102 Minutes (and I highly recommend it). I can still find myself moved to tears thinking of events on that day, and I cannot get through the sentences that describe seeing those planes fly into those buildings. I do not need your lectures.

    And frankly, I did not sign on to your endless war. I do not go around afraid that we will lose, or that we will forget or fail to understand the “meaning of 9/11.” We are right, and they are wrong and we will prevail. And if you have doubts about that, I suggest the resolve that needs stiffening is yours, not mine. I am not forgetting, and I don’t need a Hollywood exercise in fastidious re-creation to make the point. One day, I may see United 93. But at this point, probably not. And as long as I have to put up with hectoring, lecturing critics, I plan to avoid it like the plague.

  • Mike G

    The Western Europeans take their security and wealth for granted in a way the Americans simply do not.

    Which raises an interesting point– has anyone commented on the fact that the one passenger on United 93 who objects to the plan of stopping the terrorists, even to the extent of trying to collaborate with their side and appease them, is the guy with the Dutch or German accent? I was amazed by this, it seemed such a Mark Steyn strong America-feckless Europe moment in the movie, yet I haven’t seen anyone comment on it.

  • Mike G

    So Weboy, we’re going to prevail because we’re right without fighting “your” “endless” war?

    Please explain in more detail.

  • Azaleas

    I went to see United 93 last Saturday because my closest friend believes everything we know about September 11th was fabricated by our government. This friend of mine could have written one of those comments found after Mary Riddell’s article. I went as a testimony to those who fought back.

    And, I too was struck by the portrayal of the European on the flight. Given that certain elements are fictionalized, I thought this particular depiction was gratuitous.

    I also had misgivings about the partially sympathetic portrayal of the hijackers, especially notable in the plaintive eyes of the handsome actor cast as the pilot. Would we have ever depicted Japanese kamikaze in the same manner? (Of course, I have not seen the most recent film version of Pearl Harbor where is was reputed they softened the depiction of the Japanese.)

  • A semi-fictional film pundits and true believes of all political persuasions can use as an echo chamber.


    Just what we needed.

    I just don’t know how we survived the gap between Passion of the Christ and Farenheit 9/11 and now.

  • celcus

    “…shortly before the plane plunges into a Pennsylvania field. The words are: ‘No one is going to help us. We’ve got to do it ourselves.’”

    In my Katrina addled mind, I completely agree. Unfortunately, there are things gumption alone cannot fix

  • Sherard

    Leon says

    I cringe every time I here things like “they fought evil”…evil doesn’t exist, nor does “good”.

    Cue the moral relativism. Terrorist murderers aren’t evil, bad, or wrong in Leon’s world, just different. If you really believe that, especially in the context of 9/11, then you definitely qualify as one of the biggest dumbasses I’ve run across.

  • weboy

    You’re right Mike, I wasn’t exactly clear (I was too pleased with being impassioned, and finally letting this out) – I’ve never loved the “war on terror” metaphor – it’s a vague, non-specific sort of thing. Our War with Islamic Fundamentalism, or however one wants to put it, I think, is a finite thing that is more recognizable, and in that I know we will prevail. I find too many people – and often the sort who talk about United 93 as if it, finally, will bring us all around to the Right Way of Thinking – who go with War on Terror see something big, shapeless, and out of their fear convince themselves that it is just so big and so scary we won’t have the will to carry on. The mistake, I think, lies as much with the vagueness of War on Terror as it does with the kind of doubt I simply do not have time for. We will stop these fanatics because we must. I don’t have doubts about that. I don’t think we will ever fully stop terrorism. And I’m not signed on to an endless war footing because we must, somehow, succeed in ending all terrorism. That seems terribly unrealistic.

  • clinton

    again i ask. to what end do we remember? is “remember” a code word for some modification of our day to day behavior? does “knowing that any of us could become a soldier” entail some sort of vigilant praparation. if anything the story of those passengers shows what a bunch of unprepared people just living their lives can do to save their own asses (yes and even the lives of other, i dont deny some heroism. but i hope the supposition is not that all these people were patriots motivated by love of the motherland.) this is what americans should do. we can call it “forget” if you like. we should go in unembittered, calm, happy, open and just live our lives. when it really comes down to it thats all we can do.

  • Toblerone2

    From the Wikipedia philosophy portal…

    “Ethics: Is there a difference between ethically right and wrong actions (or values, or institutions)? If so, what is that difference? Which actions are right, and which wrong? Do divine commands make right acts right, or is their rightness based on something else? Are there standards of rightness that are absolute, or are all such standards relative to particular cultures?”

    Now, think about the answers that the Islamic extremists would give to these questions. Perhaps, not unlike Christian fundamentalists, they would refuse to answer, preferring to let their religious beliefs speak for them.

    “The church says the earth is flat, but I know that it is round, for I have seen the shadow on the moon, and I have more faith in a shadow than in the church.” – Ferdinand Magellan

  • EverKarl

    clinton (appropos enough) wrote:

    if anything the story of those passengers shows what a bunch of unprepared people just living their lives can do to save their own asses (yes and even the lives of other, i dont deny some heroism. but i hope the supposition is not that all these people were patriots motivated by love of the motherland.)

    clinton, everyone on the plane died. They did not save their own asses, as you so eloquently put it. I’m sure they hoped they could. But if anyone doubts the need to remember 9/11, you need look no further than clinton’s comment, not just the part quoted above, but this too:

    this is what americans should do. we can call it “forget” if you like. we should go in unembittered, calm, happy, open and just live our lives. when it really comes down to it thats all we can do.

    The passengers on United 93 can’t do that. Nor can their families. Nor can a bunch of other people whose great crime was to be in the WTC that day. Nor can their families. Ignorance is bliss, until some fanatic kills you or someone you love just for living that “open” life, free of an imposed Islamic fundamentalist theocracy.

    And on the off-chance that you have trouble grasping those simple points:


  • clinton


    had the passengers on the plane been embittered, fearful, suspicious post 9/11 patriots what would have been different?

    can you recommend a course of action that will save us next time around? if you cant dont feel bad, all the kings horses and men cant seem to come up with a viable solution either. whats important is that we stay afraid and angry.

    so EverKarl, while your federal government works on solving all the problems in the world, including yours, you stay bitter and afraid until they do.

  • Eileen

    clinton says,

    “had the passengers on the plane been embittered, fearful, suspicious post 9/11 patriots what would have been different?”

    They only would have moved Even More Quickly to do the very same thing. Gee, wonder why the jihadis haven’t tried THAT one again since 9/11?

    What would YOU have done, ‘clinton’? I know:

    Zilch. Zero. Nothing.


    Long time…..hope all is well – no, Wonderful – in your world.

  • Eileen

    Oh, and “clinton”?


  • clinton

    ouch, that was the same spot EverKarl got.

  • Clinton

    Now that I have the attention of at least two beleivers in the “remember 9/11” mantra, I would like to take the opportunity to pick your brains, so to speak, without the intent to be inflamatory, and ask, what exactly is entailed in remembering 9/11? certainly its more than keeping in remembrance the happenings of the day or even the emotion that all of us felt. Please define (a dictionary wont suffice) what it is to, as the bumper sticker etc. demand, remember 9/11? Noone has provided a satifactory answer for this. So if you please, answer this and give a rational explaination and you might make a soldier out of me yet.

    Please, no more *smacking*. Im just a peace loving hippie.

  • Although I’m glad this very good and very powerful flick, I can’t bring myself to tell anyone else to see it … I think it should be up to each individual to decide if he or she is ready for this very visceral experience

  • When I say there is no evil I meant there is no force that causes humans to do bad things. I don’t believe in God and conversely don’t believe in Satan etc. Hence acts of inhuman barbarity aren’t evil in that sense. Not that I expect a few arrogant Americans to understand such subtlies…

  • Kat

    leon– You are such an imbecile,albeit an arrogant one.. You don’t need a belief in God to do evil–just ask Stalin, Mao Zedong, Pol Pot,Kim Il Sung, Enver Hoxha,etc.

  • clinton

    come on Eileen, Oh i swear…

  • Eileen

    clinton, capitalized or not, if you’re old enough to know that song then you’re old enough to read – and learn – about our enemy. It isn’t my job to teach you.

    As I said in an earlier thread, an 80 some year old woman who I walked with out of the theatre after United 93 said: “Hell, Anything can be used as a weapon, even a knitting needle.”

    Will you just sit there and make daisy chain necklaces, hmmm? Will you “turn into a soldier” or hug the jihadi who then cuts off your own head?

    It is entirely your choice.

  • Although I’m glad I saw this very good and very powerful movie, I would never tell anyone to go see it … it will effect everyone differently, so it is up to each individual to decide if they are ready or not

  • [URL][/URL]