Well, I took a deep breath and watched United 93 during the Seattle snowstorm.

And it was just as harrowing as I feared, just as harrowing as it should be.

As a recreation of the events, I’d say it’s about as perfect a film as we could hope for.

But when I start considering the value of a film like this, I find myself conflicted, and I doubt I’ll come to any conclusion anytime soon.

VOICE #1:
United 93 is immensely powerful in several ways, including

– the way it delivers us a concentrated portrait the growing Isalmic hatred for Western civilisation;

– the folly of pretending that terrorists are reasonable people with whom we can negotiate;

– the unpreparedness of our nation for this kind of threat;

– the DANGER of thinking that because we are a world-power “Goliath” we are immune to zealous Islamic “Davids”;

– the inability of secular society to comprehend the power of religious conviction;

– the capacity for Americans to respond with discipline, concscience, and selfless valor;

– the severe weaknesses in communication between government, defense, and civil services;

– its pristine example of artistic excellence and restraint, devoid of any familiar Hollywood glamor;

– its ruthless adherence to the details of ordinary life;

United 93 is a fantastic piece of work, easily one of the year’s most remarkable achievements. Americans should preserve the film as an active agent fighting our forgetfulness, our ignorance, and our denial.

VOICE #2:

Sure, it’s an impeccably detailed re-creation of those events. But how can you wish a film like this on anybody?

I sincerely doubt I’ll ever watch it again. It’s a horror and a heartbreak that anybody should have to suffer what those passengers suffered. What good does it do us to subject ourselves to those disgraceful acts of barbarism?

If we have to live through it, moment by moment, with them in order to appreciate their sufferings and the severity of the hatred confronting us, I think that’s a sad reflection on us.

I don’t find revelation and comfort in mere clinical attention to the factual realities so much as I do when the imagination is employed to tell a story, and the description arranged like a net to catch something more than mere “footage,” more than mere documentation. Sure the film has been ruthtlessly researched. But what does it give us that we do not already have from the countless piles of news reporting? What effect does it have on us greater than the re-opening of the wound, and throwing fuel on the fires of our fear and grief?

Our days immerse us in the particularity of reality, but it is the noble endeavor of the imagination to see the transcendant in the particular. If we need movies to wake us up to the particulars of an atrocity, that is because we are lazy and forgetful. Art should train us in how to see, not merely show us what other people did see.

VOICE #1:

Yes, but in stripping away the glamor, flash, and dazzle of Hollywood… the tricks to which we have become accustomed… and reminding us of what the conflict is like in reality, this film is performing an admirable service. It’s much preferable to the glossy, star-studded portrayals that are already arriving which employ sentimentality to make us feel patriotic or merely emotional.

VOICE #2:

Yes, but while I don’t want a sensationalized, glamorizied Hollywood production, I would prefer an artist more inquisitive than Greengrass… someone who has a clearer purpose than “SEE WHAT IT WAS REALLY LIKE! WHAT A NIGHTMARE!” The film lacks seems almost entirely uninclined toward metaphor. And that is a strange aspect of something presented as a work of art.

This film is more about informing than revealing. And those who need to be forced through a sensory experience of this horror in order to understand and respond appropriately are like those who need to see a detailed, real-time depiction of human sacrifice in order to respond appropriately. What does it say about our culture that we *need* a film like this in order to appropriately “remember”?

VOICE #1:

Flannery O’Connor would say that a deaf culture needs artists that shout. A numb culture needs to be awakened with a sledgehammer. Maybe that’s why we need this film.

VOICE #2:

Okay. But how very sad a state we are in if we need this kind of reminder. Perhaps it’s a cynical response, but I tend to think that those who haven’t already taken to heart what this film will show them are unlikely to take it to heart for more than the few hours that it takes them to see the film and then shake it off before buying a ticket to Casino Royale.

That’s a generalization, and perhaps a mean one, and I’m sure there are plenty of meaningful observations and interpretations to be found here. But I can’t say I learned anything from this film that wasn’t available in the countless articles documenting the events of that day. I merely sat and watched, saying, “Yes, that’s how that probably happened. Yes, that’s what that was probably like.” And then I felt sick about it all over again, and I’m still trying to shake it.

September 11 left deep, deep wounds in all of us. What do we gain by treateing those wounds through reliving it liek this? Isn’t like having a doctor prescribe we treat the ailment by subjecting ourselves to the cause again?

CONCLUSION:

I am still processing this experience. And I don’t know what to make of it, or if I’m glad I decided to watch it at all.

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