United 93: A non-review

My brother asked me if I planned on seeing United 93, and I cringed. Philosophically, I don’t agree with many of the reasons people give not to see it, and yet I don’t want to go. At all.

I don’t believe that condemning the film for being “too soon” is fair. Determining whether something is “too soon” or not is a question for individuals, not the community at large.

I don’t believe that the fog lingering around the circumstances of that doomed flight’s destruction should preclude dramatists from choosing one theory and depicting that, even if their interpretations might not be completely accurate. Art should not be mistaken for journalism, nor should it be judged using the same criteria.

I don’t believe that movies, even summer movies, must be escapist entertainment. Limiting so powerful a medium to such a narrow purpose would be a tragedy.

I don’t believe that making a movie about September 11 is necessarily exploitative. Art — high and low — helps us understand and cope with tragedy, and by all accounts, writer-director Paul Greengrass approached his subject with sensitivity and respect.

I’ve heard nothing but good things about United 93, but I desperately don’t want to see it, and I don’t think I will, at least not in theaters. My resistance is raw and visceral. I’ve been known to force myself to watch certain movies out of a sense of obligation or pride, but in this case, I can’t even muster the resolve to do that.

Why not? In a strange way, I guess I don’t see the point. Everyone comments on how documentary-like Greengrass’ movie is. The filmmakers scrupulously refrained from editorializing or even providing much in the way of context as that, too, would be a subjective frame. I understand that choice — even the most benign of artistic decisions would have been perceived as alienatingly political — but if the movie isn’t going to challenge me, teach me anything, or offer me a new perspective, what am I going to get out of it? I don’t need to be reminded of what happened that day. I remember it, I’ve read about it, and I’ve seen what’s happened since then.

I don’t want to relive that day as it happened — shocked, confused and overwhelmed. Shouldn’t time give us greater wisdom? Not a complete understanding, of course, but some sort of insight, something to indicate that we know more today than we did nearly five years ago.

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