‘United 93’ Dramatizes American Tragedy

2006 will prove to be the year of ‘9/11’ in Hollywood, with three movies coming out dealing with the tragedy to different degrees: the indirect ‘Great New Wonderful,’ Oliver Stone’s less than subtle ‘World Trade Center’ coming out later this year and ‘United 93,’ which opened this past weekend.
‘United 93,’ written and directed by Paul Greengrass (‘Bloody Sunday,’ ‘The Bourne Supremacy’) chronicles the one Sept. 11 plane that didn’t make it to its target, which was suspected to be the White House.
The passengers of this flight allegedly became aware of what was going on and charged the cockpit in order to prevent a catastrophe.
Though audiences may see this movie as an homage to the men and women who acted courageously in one of the worst attacks against U.S. civilians in American history, we see it differently, as a piece of art that, even if done tastefully and with skill, could ignite the very ignorance that many suspect put us in the position to be attacked in the first place.
Another more cynical view and obvious problem with the film is that it is a Hollywood glorification of a terrifying event, in which civilians were essentially forced to sacrifice themselves.
The other obvious concern with this film has to do with the issue of timing. If one says that it is too soon now, the question remains: When is it OK to make a movie like this?
Though it is hard to put an exact time limit on this type of issue, the issue of timing seems to have to do more with circumstance. With al-Qaida still growing, troops still in Iraq and the never-ending war on terror, it seems that making a realistic movie about a terrifying event that, though unlikely, is still a possibility, will do more harm than good.
The effect the film could have on Arab-Americans, though positive because it is explicative of a problem the United States, is still a very real possibility. If this film reminds just one person that they should be afraid of the fellow flight passenger with a turban, then the ‘real’ negative effects of the film have outweighed any positive theoretical ones.
The kind of good that this movie will inevitably bring is not the kind the United States needs right now. These men and women on those planes were indeed heroes, with an unfathomable sense of courage and responsibility.
But a movie like this will more likely incite the ‘let’s roll’ attitude seen at the beginning of the Afghanistan war, rather than a consideration as to why these people were put in a position to act so courageously.
Another problem with this film is an issue of historical clarity. Movies that recreate historical events should aim to present the event in a way in which the audience learns something new or interesting about a certain situation.
The story was well-publicized and most people know what took place and understand the kind of struggle that went on. Any new details are going to be assumed on the parts of the filmmaker.
‘United 93’ has received positive reviews and Mr. Greengrass is a competent and insightful director. Unfortunately for Greengrass, and this is not something he should be faulted for, many of the problems surrounding the film, specifically issues with timing and American backlash, may increase directly with how well-done and realistic the movie is made.
We don’t want to censure art, but rather recognize possible real-world effects, despite intentions and a possibly tasteful approach.

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