Friday, April 28, 2006


Today the new 9-11 movie, United 93, opens. I've read a large number of reviews, and not one of them has been less than glowing.

I'm sure I'll see it eventually, but not until I feel like it -- which will probably be a year or two from now, when it's on DVD and when the furor over its release has become distant memory. Kind of like the way I only watched The Passion of the Christ a few weeks ago. I'll see United 93 when it's easier to watch it as just a movie, which is what it is.

I have to note that I find slightly creepy the notion by some that United 93 will become some kind of tract that hopefully kick-starts American passion in the "War on Terror", and that it will bring people back round to full support of President Bush and his various adventures around the globe, both ongoing (Iraq) and "coming soon to a theater near you" (Iran). I'm not sure this will happen, frankly. Maybe it will. But two points: first, every single review of United 93 I've read makes it crystal clear that this film is absolutely, rigidly tight in its focus on the events on that plane, and on that plane alone. There is no exploration of the geopolitics of 9-11, either before or after, and there is no real effort to depict the backgrounds of the doomed passengers or to make truly villainous the efforts of the hijackers. As propaganda, United 93 as I've seen it described sounds wanting.

Secondly, if the hope that United 93 reminds Americans of the importance of "this war" (to use that sloppy, ill-defined phrase) exists, such a hope tacitly grants the premise that most Americans think the "war on terror" has gone awry, if it was ever on target in the first place. Consider what that means to the myth of George W. Bush as a war-leader of Churchillian brilliance, if he needs a movie to lead the nation where he has proven increasingly unable to get it to go.

Do I think that it's "too soon" for a 9-11 movie? I do not. Storytelling is probably the most inate human means of responding to events, whether mundane or traumatic. It wasn't "too soon" for comic books to meditate on 9-11 (albeit with mixed results); and I myself wrote a short story about 9-11 (and James Morrow wrote a better one). United 93 is different, of course, in that it dramatizes the actual events, rather than ruminating in story form on the emotional aftermath. The only "too soon" that matters is if the artists involved had enough time to really focus on what it was they were trying to accomplish with their particular work. For United 93, it is, according to reviewers, exactly soon enough.

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