Tuesday, September 19, 2006

United 93: A Journey into pain and heroism

On Sept. 10, I finally sat down to watch United 93, a raw journey into the confusion and surrealism of Sept. 11.
Paul Greengrass, in almost documentary style, paints a portrait of those moments before the planes hit the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, and it is a chilling one.
What hits you is how normal everything is. You see people yapping on the phones as they wait to board the plane. And while on the plane, you see them eating, working on their laptops and talking with each other. You see the two pilots, one who hopes to see his children and wife soon and another who can't wait for an upcoming vacation.
These were people who, like many of us on Sept. 11, were going about their day, never knowing that this would be the day that they died.
And as the plane finally takes off, you also see the news of the attacks come into focus slowly. One plane and then another suddenly veer off course, and you can hear someone saying something about a hijacking, but the message is garbled.
You see the disbelief in people's eyes as they see first one plane and then another crash into the Twin Towers.
You see the news begin, in bits, to make its way to the passengers on United 93, who have already watched four hijackers kill the pilots and take over the plane.
And as you watch, you wonder what you would do if you knew that the plane you were on was going to crash on purpose as part of some terrorist act. You wonder who you would call and what you would say in those last moments before your life ended.
You wonder if you would have the courage to do something to prevent the terrorists from succeeding in their plans, even if you knew that doing so would result in your death.
Greengrass is not interested in political sloganeering in this movie. What he does do is immerse you in the confounding reality of that day, where you couldn't quite believe what was happenening, when you were trying desperately to dig out of this tragedy some greater meaning.
This is a difficult movie to watch, precisely because it only happened five years ago. You still remember where you were and what you were doing when you learned about the attacks.
United 93 is a vivid reminder, a tale of both pain and awe-inspiring herorism.

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