I woke up feeling pretty happy yesterday, but kind of restless, so I decided that the best way to solve that problem would be to go see the 11:45 AM showing of "United 93" at a movie theater not too far from me. I've felt somewhat bad the past few days for thinking that I wanted to see United 93, because so many people seem not to. But I was curious, mostly about how the filmmaker would do it, and whether the concern that it's too soon to make a movie about 9/11 would be amplified in my head after seeing the film, or minimized. I expect I did myself a disservice seeing it in a pretty big theater with a pretty small crowd -- there weren't more than a dozen people there, and so it really didn't feel like a movie experience in the same way that a crowded theater sometimes does. I saw "The Aristocrats" in a similarly empty theater when it came out, and left a little disappointed because I think the audience reaction is probably part of what makes that movie work, and I wished I'd seen "The Aristocrats" in a theater with a lot of old people and small children, instead of with a half-dozen other people with no job to get to at 1:00 on a weekday afternoon.
In any case, the best way I can describe United 93 is that it's exactly what you'd expect it would be. The director made an interesting -- and very smart, I think -- choice to give us no backstory on anyone in the film and just let the events unfold. I could imagine an alternate version of the piece that lets us meet a few of the passengers as they're boarding, and gives us some characters whose eyes we'll follow the story through -- a guy saying goodbye to his kids as he leaves for the airport, a woman closing a deal at the office, grandparents on an anniversary trip, whatever. That would have been a different movie. Here we hardly know anyone's name, and we don't need to. We get a few snippets once people are on the plane, but, really, we don't know any more about these passengers than their fellow passengers did at the time. Nor do we know anything about the FAA personnel on the ground than we get from their actions as the events unfold.
What you end up with is almost the opposite of a horror movie. There are no surprises. There are no jolts. There are no moments of impact, because we've already played those moments in our heads before they happen on the screen. As soon as the first plane hits the towers, it became a slow and uncomfortable waiting game, knowing exactly what was going to happen next, but not knowing quite when. And seeing the characters on screen not knowing everything you know makes it hard to watch. Apparently once the plane is in the air, the story unfolds in about the same time frame as it did in real life. Watching the movie makes you realize how much time everyone had, and how little time everyone had.
There's no editorializing in the movie. There doesn't need to be.
I neither recommend the movie or don't recommend the movie. I'm glad I saw it, but I also don't think I'd have been missing much if I'd skipped it. Before I saw it I thought I'd be missing something to skip it, but, really, you already know this movie, basically. You know every plot point, and every image. It's exactly what you'd imagine it is.
If anything, I left the theater reminded that, really, if something like this happens, there's nothing you can do. Not in the plane, not on the ground. I don't have any sense at all that once the events started to unfold, that there was anything anyone could have done to stop them. And that's the scariest part.