Thursday, April 20, 2006
A few weeks ago, when I saw Spike Lee’s new movie, I also first saw the trailer for United 93. It took me a moment to realize what I was watching, and then, in a way I didn’t expect, I started reacting physically to the images. My breathing stepped up a touch, my hands clenched, my eyes widened--it was far a far more visceral response than I would have imagined.
I’ve talked to a few people about the upcoming movie since then and nearly every one had a variant of “it’s too soon” come out of their mouths. This either immediately followed or immediately preceded a variant of “but I really have to see it"--which is the kind of confused response that an emotionally charged, controversial film is bound to have. I think it also tells us that it isn’t too soon if the movie has been done right. Americans are obsessed with the events of 9/11--that day has dominated our country spiritually, politically, and culturally. It’s a rare contemporary movie, album, speech, or television show that avoids referencing either the events or the fallout.
United 93 is just an extension--a logical extension aiming to deal with one of the key events of our national tragedy--of the thoughts that have been running through almost all of our minds. Thoughts about terrorism, fear, bravery, and what it will take to set our world back right.
There are so many ways to get this movie wrong (it could be a melodramatic study of an already overwhelmingly emotional subject, it could make excuses for a horrific act of terrorism, or it could, in a Pearl Harbor-style maneuver, insert a wholly unnecessary love story) and one way to get it right: being honest, unadorned, sober, and true to the horror of the day. Honor the bravery of the passengers and the loss that their loved ones must still feel.
Done well, United 93 could remind us of that terrible day in 2001 that brought us to where we are today: in a difficult war, hotly divided politically, and facing a future that requires more patience and strength of will than my generation ever expected to need. A somewhat isolationist President, set against the idea of nation building and planning to keep America’s eyes turned inward, was transformed into a man who believes that the demands of our time involve transforming an entire region of the world both politically and culturally through a mix of military power, economic inducement, strong diplomacy, and a faith in the universal desire of people to be free.
I actually hope that United 93 will be a reminder of not only 9/11 but also of all of the successes, mistakes, frustrations, and hopes that, woven together, make up the fabric of the entire world since that date.
And, yes, barring warnings from trusted friends, I will be seeing United 93.