United 93, the Film: Would You Watch It?

April 25, 2006
Sujatha Bagal

Last week's Time magazine carried Richard Corliss' report on the soon-to-be released movie United 93, about the fourth plane hijacked on September 11, 2001 - one that was intended as a missile as the other three hijacked planes were used that day, but the one in which the passengers heroically foiled the hijackers' plans. The plane eventually crashed near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The only fatalities resulting from that plane crash were all on that plane.

The movie, written and directed by Paul Greengrass, sports the following plot line: "A real time account of the events on United Flight 93, one of the planes hijacked on 9/11 that crashed near Shanksville, Pennsylvania when passengers foiled the terrorist plot."

It has a cast of virtual unknowns, most of them with real-life experience of the parts they play in the movie.

For example, according to the Time magazine report, "J.J. Johnson, who plays the captain of Flight 93, is a real United pilot. Trish Gates, who plays head flight attendant Sandy Bradshaw, was a real United flight attendant, Ben Sliney, national operations manager for the FAA [Federal Aviation Administration]...appears as himself. Lewis Alsamari, who plays one of the hijackers, spent a year in the Iraqi army."

All this seems to point to one thing: the production team has gone through considerable effort to make the movie as faithful to the real thing as possible.

Which leaves me with the question, do I want to watch this movie?

I haven't even been able to bring myself to watch the movie's trailer yet. One of the major reasons for this, I think, is that I know exactly what is going to happen in this movie. From the minute the movie starts, from the time the doors of the plane are closed shut, I know that it is building up to the horrific ending, no matter what transpires in between, no matter how heroic the passengers were, no matter that the terrorists did not succeed in their plan, no matter that the lives of hundreds, possibly thousands of people on the ground were spared because of what this movie will show me happened on that plane that day.

Part of it also has to do with what we went through that day, although it is next to nothing compared to what the passengers on United Flight 93 put themselves through or what the passengers on the other planes and the victims on the ground and their families must have gone through.

For all the utter confusion we all went through that day, it is a day whose events I can remember and recount with clarity, more than four years after it happened. It was a day that brought home the meaning of "foreboding". I watched the second plane ram into one of the twin towers on live TV, heard the third crash into the Pentagon eight miles away from my home on northern Virginia, and had my husband be stuck for more than three hours in the one of the most poorly managed evacuations from Washington, D.C.

To add to the confusion was the fact that there was no information forthcoming from any part of the administration. TV anchors were merely echoing my thoughts - what more could they do? They had as much information as I did; we were all watching live footage of our sense of safety, security and comfort in our chosen way of life unraveling. Two of my neighbors perished in the Pentagon and many came home shaken, unable to eat for days. For months after 9/11 we had to drive past a wounded, blackened and bruised Pentagon on our way to Washington, D.C.

I am not sure when, or if, I will bring myself to watch it.

Andrew Sullivan at the Daily Dish echoes this sentiment.

And yet, I will not see this movie, whatever its merits. The trauma is still too close. That day is still etched in me, as in all of us. It was a specific, unique trauma for those heroes on the plane; but it was also an emotional devastation for anyone who loves this country.

He goes on to say something more that raises the question, is it too early for a Hollywood representation (no matter how closely it tracks the real-life events) of 9/11?

In some ways, I regard the acts of those men and women to be an almost sacred moment in the history of America and of freedom. And sometimes, the sacred is best respected through silence. Sometimes, the greatest deeds, like the most monstrous acts, are best left unrepresented. They stand alone. They demand to be left alone. One day, commemmorate. But do not so swiftly represent. Shakespeare often left the greatest moments in his plays off-stage. They have more power there.

United 93 is slated for release in the US on April 28, 2006.

Sujatha Bagal is a writer currently based in the US. She recently returned following three years as an expat in Bangalore, her hometown. For a glimpse into the life of an expat, visit Blogpourri.
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April 25, 2006
04:11 PM

"sacred moment" -- it makes sense. That they should be left alone coz one never knows what really happened. No doubt that they were all brave souls up there.

But in the most of the intervews I saw when family members are giving out info, they were pleased with the movie being made.

Vikas Chowdhry
April 25, 2006
06:44 PM

Even though I know that I will come out deeply disturbed from the movie, I would absolutely go to watch it. Part of the reason is that most of the reviewers agree that the movie is shot very well and that there is no overt stereotyping of the characters. Another reason is that the producers of the movie were sensitive enough to seek approval of each and every family member of the victims of this tragedy.

On point on National Public Radio did an excellent show on this topic a few days ago. You can listen to it online here

April 25, 2006
06:56 PM

I too feel that people should be aware of what happened on that flight. And a movie is a good way to reach out to many.

After all they did save alot of lives !!

April 25, 2006
09:59 PM

Sam, that is one good thing about this movie - the family members were involved in the making of it.

Vikas, thanks for the NPR link.

Preeti and Vikas, I'll wait to hear what you guys thought of it. Schindler's List was like that - it was gut-wrenching, but it showed events that happened a generation ago, not less than 5 years ago, plus it was about people who escaped.

April 26, 2006
07:40 AM

Is it because it handles 9/11 that ppl are "Sensitive" enough not to watch it? I am pretty sure next year we'll have atleast 3 movies on Iraqi War too - will the audience think likewise then?

Its a sensitive issue allright, but whether its too early or too late is not an issue. Its a movie - I have seen the trailers, and at best I am expecting another movie filled with patriotic jingoism.

I so hope it doesnt turn out that way, and remains true to the events. I have a lot of respect for the passengers of United 93, and they deserve a justified approach.

Lets see how the movie is.


April 26, 2006
09:52 AM

good write up suj:

am not sure if i will watch this movie:

-we all know the exact sequence of events, the words exchanged, the aftermath

-any fictional depiction of this even is demeaning and belittling the efforts of those fine men and women who stood up to the terrorists and will be insulting to their memory

April 26, 2006
03:47 PM

Sujatha, did you refuse to watch Fahrenheit 9/11? (I am not being snarky with the question).

April 26, 2006
08:42 PM

Thanks all for your comments.

Suyog, a review please!

T, thanks.

Suyog and Shanti, it is not a question of "refusing" to see it on moral grounds or anything. I just don't feel up to it. I may change my mind in a few weeks, months, who knows? I may choose to watch it on DVD in the privacy of my home.

Shanti, I haven't watched Fahrenheit 9/11, but to be fair to your question, not because I couldn't bring myself to see it, but we just didn't get around to it.

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