April 28, 2006


'What the hell is going on?' (PETER HOWELL, 4/28/06, Toronto Star)

Those who say it is too soon for a film like United 93 should ask themselves if fear is keeping them from the truth.

On that terrible day of Sept. 11, 2001, we all kept wishing it were only a movie. I recall interviewing a woman who said, "If only Harrison Ford would come and save us from this."

Now the terror attacks of 9/11 have become a movie, one that paradoxically makes the horror seem more real. As real as the stomach ache I got watching United 93, brought on by the almost unbearable tension it achieves merely by presenting what we already know.

And yet this is a picture we all must see. It is a movie that matters.

The best films show without telling. There is no need for elaborate voiceovers or character exposition if what you are imparting reaches the corner of the brain where understanding is instinctual.

United 93, sensitively written and skilfully directed by Britain's Paul Greengrass, is such a work. It seeks not to take sides — both hawks and doves can and will embrace it — but rather to light history's lamp, so that clearer insights can be gained.

It continues to amaze how we've dropped the images of that day down the memory hole even as we fight a war.

Too Soon to Forget (James Pinkerton, 28 Apr 2006, TCS)

"United 93" is a paradoxical film.

On the one hand, it reminds us of the power of cinema. It's a difficult film to watch, but it's even more difficult not to be affected by it. Yet on the other hand, "93" uses few of the tricks directors use to enhance effect. It doesn't have to -- the thing speaks for itself.

Hijacking the Hijacking: The problem with the United 93 films (Ron Rosenbaum, April 27, 2006, Slate)
Could it be that the three films are a symptom of our addiction to fables of redemptive uplift that shield us from the true dimensions of the tragedy? Redemptive uplift: It's the official religion of the media, anyway. There must be a silver lining; it's always darkest before the dawn; the human spirit will triumph over evil; there must be a pony.

That's always been the subtextual spiritual narrative of media catastrophe coverage: terrible human tragedy, but something good always can be found in it to affirm faith and hope and make us feel better. Plucky, ordinary human beings find a way to rise above the disaster. Man must prevail. The human spirit is resilient, unconquerable. Did I mention there must be a pony?

9/11 is no different. Flight 93 has become 9/11's pony. The conjectural response to the hijacking has become (even more than the courage of the rescuers in the rubble) the redemptive fable we cling to, the fragment we shore against our ruin. Or so it is as envisioned in The Flight That Fought Back and Flight 93 and now United 93. A film in which, we are told by its production notes, we see "the courage that was born from … the crucible" of 9/11. A story of "something much larger than the event itself," Greengrass tells us, a story in which "we … find wisdom." One almost hears the subtext: This is "the feel-good film about 9/11."

To question this is not meant to take anything away from the heroism of the passengers on Flight 93. (Although to imply that they were the only ones who displayed courage in the face of the events of that day is to slight the cops and firefighters who rushed into the Twin Towers, many of whom never returned alive.)

Still, the director makes a case that, even more than the "first responders," the Flight 93 passengers were the first to recognize and confront the barbarism of al-Qaida, "the first people to inhabit the post-9/11 world," the first to discover the "shape [of] something larger than the event itself—the DNA of our times," Greengrass—who seems to want to control the response of the first responders to his film—tells us.

But is the fable of Flight 93 the recompense that it's been built up to be? Does what happened on Flight 93 represent a triumph of the human spirit, a microcosmic model and portent of the ultimate victory of enlightenment civilization over theocratic savagery, as the prerelease publicity about the new film insists? Or is the story of United Flight 93 a different kind of portent, not "the DNA of our times," but rather the RIP?

I guess it depends on your definition, your threshold of uplift. Yes, it appears from the cockpit recordings recently released that something noble—a passenger uprising that disrupted the hijackers' plans—happened on that flight. But is it possible to separate it out from the other events of the day? In three out of four cases savage mass murderers prevailed. A "war on terror" has ensued; a war in Iraq followed. In neither case is it clear that the outcome is going to be favorable. The story of 9/11 as a whole increasingly seems a portent that Flight 93 was an aberration, and that those intent on suicidal martyrdom may well prevail over those who value human life over holy books. This possibility is something no one likes to dwell on, and in that sense the "triumphant" fable of Flight 93, genuinely heroic as it is, represents a comforting diversion. There must be a pony.

As a matter of fact though, rather few people--though obviously far too many--have been killed by al Qaeda while America has rapidly defeated it and radically altered the culture of the Middle East. The takeaway from 9-11 isn't ultimately nutbags killing Americans but Americans retaking control of history. After all, there are a fair number of Pear Harbor flicks too and it's hardly because we're afraid that Japan won.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 28, 2006 7:59 AM

"light history's lamp" is not a phrase the media or academia or anyone in the Democratic party is going to use when describing either the war on Islamofascism or even the nation's immediate response to Sept. 11.

Posted by: jim hamlen at April 28, 2006 8:18 AM

C'mon OJ and Jim, this is really simple to understand. The images keep going down the memory hole because people who are in control of Legacy Media firmly believe this war is not theirs. And if it's not theirs, why should they support or give credence to it.

Posted by: Brad S at April 28, 2006 8:34 AM

"If only harrison Ford could save us....."

Now, maybe this woman is a miltant terror-warrior, but, being Canadian, I'd be she isn't. She'll bitch about Bush, and crave Harrison Ford. You know, that wonderful, heroic, movie President who said.......

"The dead remember our indifference. The dead remember our silence.

I came here tonight to be congratulated. But today when I visited the Red Cross camps overwhelmed by the flood of refugees fleeing from the horror of Kazakhstan, I realized I don't deserve to be congratulated. None of us do. Let's be clear. The truth is, we acted too late. Only when our own national security was threatened did we act. Radek's regime murdered over 200,000 men, women, and children. And we watched it on TV. We let it happen. People were being slaughtered for over a year, and we issued economic sanctions and hid behind the rhetoric of diplomacy.

How dare we?

The dead remember. Real peace is not just the absence of conflict; it's the presence of justice.

Tonight I come to you with a pledge to change America's policy. Never again will I allow our political self-interest to deter us from doing what we know to be morally right. Atrocity and terror are not political weapons. And to those who would use them, your day is over. We will never negotiate. We will no longer tolerate, and we will no longer be afraid. It's your turn to be afraid."


Point is, as long as Mr. Ford does his heroics on the movie screen, she'll support him to the hilt. It's when reality hits, when "doing what's morally right" means killing the bad people and sometimes the innocent unfortunately with them, etc. Harrison Ford would NEVER let that happen... in the movies.

This woman, like millions upon millions of us in the West, is basically a child. Playing at grown-ups with people who want her dead. Harrison Ford will never save her, Bush might, and she'll fight him every step of the way.

Posted by: Andrew X at April 28, 2006 11:05 AM

"both hawks and doves can and will embrace it"

There's no way this story can be told even close to truthfully without being unabashedly pro-American, and hence, tragically, it can't be embraced by "doves."

Posted by: b at April 28, 2006 11:20 AM

Thank you, Mr. Rosenbaum, for proving my point...

Posted by: b at April 28, 2006 12:29 PM

It's certainly been disappointing not to see any real propaganda movies since 9/11. I wouldn't expect movies in the WWII mode because tastes have changed and the circumstances are different, but anything that celebrates American patriotism, values Western civilization, and encourages fortitude in the face of adversity would do.

At the very least, here are my recommendations for films that should have been:

"Martel" - The story of Charles Martel and the Battle of Poitiers. Shows the unprovoked aggression of Islamic invaders (some 350 years before the Crusades), and Charles resurrection of Roman discipline to create an army that defeats the superior enemy. Showcases the importance of history and tradition of the Western legacy.

"Shores of Tripoli" - Thomas Jefferson's war against the Barbary Pirates. Shows how Europe saw fit to pay bribes, but that Americans wanted millions for defense and not one cent for tribute. Continued piracy provokes American response in a war many thought we could not win.

"1683" - The last Siege of Vienna by the Ottoman Empire. Lots of apocalyptic sentiment as the Turks attack Europe, and the slow diplomacy as Europe rallies for its collective defense and eventual victory. Showcases Poland as the hero of the day.

"The 300 Spartans" - Classic story of Thermopylae, told in several movies over the years. But the theme of the struggle of Western freedom against Oriental despotism is directly relevant now. That the enemy is Persia/Iran is a plus. Actually, the movie "300" is in the works, based on the comic series by Frank Miller. But Miller has certain idiosyncratic views that may make the film fail as a propaganda vehicle. We'll have to see.

Posted by: Chris Durnell at April 28, 2006 1:34 PM

One wonders at the mental straightjacket required to come up with as fevered an interpretation of the events on Flight 93 as Rosenbaum's.

Or is the story of United Flight 93 a different kind of portent, not "the DNA of our times," but rather the RIP?

Yeah, just like Midway was the RIP for our war in the Pacific.

Posted by: BrianOfAtlanta at April 28, 2006 3:28 PM


You see the inexorable march of Islamicism but you close your eyes to it.....

Posted by: oj at April 28, 2006 3:32 PM

How could there possibly fail to be redemptive uplift in the story of doomed men and women rising up -- mere minutes into the 9/11 tragedy -- and sacrificing their lives to save what at least some of them must have suspected was either the Capitol building or the White House? As for this movie being the celebration of an aberration, as the mighty totalitarian force is surely going to conquer all of us -- tell it to Winston Churchill.

Islamofascism will be left in the dustbin of history just like every other asinine idea to come down the pike in the last hundred years.

Mr. Rosenbaum needs to search his conscience and decide to do the right thing: shut up.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at April 28, 2006 4:24 PM

Now, now, let's recall that Mr. Rosenbaum is still just groping towards the side of the angels:


Mustn't be too hard on him.

Posted by: oj at April 28, 2006 4:30 PM


That's wonderful to hear but that column is offensive and completely wrong. There is obviously no other way to characterize what happened on Flight 93 than this:

[S]omething good always can be found in it to affirm faith and hope and make us feel better. Plucky, ordinary human beings find a way to rise above the disaster. Man must prevail. The human spirit is resilient, unconquerable.

That's a great description and Rosenbaum's rejection of it indicates he doesn't really understand 9/11 or America.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at April 28, 2006 4:51 PM

Well, if you don't have that faith to have it affirmed in the first place you're likely to have trouble grasping America, no?

Posted by: oj at April 28, 2006 5:11 PM

The Rosenbaum article misses the point about courage and the War on Terror.

Police and fire personnel going into the Towers, like the Ukrainians going into the burning reactor are one kind of corage. In both cases worthy of our praise and respect.

What happenend of Flight 93 was different. It was running against the enemy, being enveloped by the battle-cry. It was, "You get his right arm, you get his left; I'll get his eyes!" And then, "Let's roll!"

The slate article fears that ". . .suicidal martyrdom may well prevail over those who value human life over holy books." On the contrtary, I answer that we value human life enough to give out full assistance to suicidal maryrdom.

We have met suicidal martyrdom before, and reformed it thoroughly. Rosenbaum's fear is of his own squeamishness, not to carry through. He and his fellows would have us paralyzed like a bird before an approaching snake, just because he lacks the will to kill the enemy.

Posted by: Lou Gots at April 29, 2006 6:34 AM

Saw "United 93" yesterday and it's far from the hard hitting emotional roller coaster the media is bleating about. Most of the movie is confusion and odd close-ups and askew camera angles making the military and air traffic controllers look inept at best.

The passengers and crew were depicted as reluctant heroes who almost waited too long to act and the terrorists were depicted as scared, nervous and ill-prepared.

The pseudo-documentary style didn't allow for any explanation for the attack and other than opening shots of terrorists on their knees praying and their speaking Arabic, the terrorists weren't identified as belonging to any particular group.

What was particularly galling was that the word "Allah" was translated as God in the sub-titles at the bottom of the screen and since many passengers were also shown murmuring to God, it made the point that both the terrorists and the those they were terrorizing were asking the same "God" to help them.

IMO "United 93" shouldn't be put into the pro-America, anti-terrorist column and we'll have to wait for someone else to make that movie.

Watching this movie provoked a lot of anger especially knowing the aftermath of anti-war, BDS and the rest of the moonbat reaction which would ally itself with the terrorists simply to regain political power of the U.S.

Posted by: erp at April 29, 2006 9:35 AM

Um, Erp, we're all monothesists here.

Posted by: Robert Mitchell Jr. at April 29, 2006 11:23 AM

Yes, and that's the point the film wanted to make.

Posted by: erp at April 29, 2006 12:13 PM

Saw it yesterday. It is a transcendent, profound work of art of highest thoughtfullness and skill. Highly recommended.

Posted by: Res at April 29, 2006 5:35 PM