Monday, May 01, 2006

Change of Heart

After reading many of the reviews of United 93, I decided that I would go see it. I fully expected an emotionally draining experience. What I saw instead, was a documentary film for a little over an hour, and then a testament to the bravery of a group of desperate people who were more afraid of passively awaiting death than taking their lives into their own hands.

What was fascinating was who emerged as the real hero of the day. FAA director Ben Sliney, who plays himself in the movie, is the movie's only star. He took it upon himself to initially order a nationwide ground stop on all departing air traffic. Then, he also made the call to order all planes in the air to land and all inbound international traffic to be turned away. The movie portrays Sliney as making these decisions in the best interests of the country and not waiting to see if he had the proper authority to make such broad decisions. Mr. Sliney needs to be recognized in this country for what he did.

As to the actual passengers on the United 93 flight, they are not depicted as heroes. They are depicted as ordinary people who, when they became aware of the true intentions of the hijackers, did what they did in an attempt to save their own lives.

As information slowly works its way around the cabin, one of the passengers says, "This is a suicide flight." At that point, the passengers realize that they counterattack or perish.

Perhaps this is the real message of the movie. True heroes don't have to be thinking about some greater good when they act. They don't think about self-sacrifice to save others. Heroes simply act. Maybe heroes aren't born, but are created by circumstance. Yes, there is also clearly the message that terror will always fail when fear can be overcome. But perhaps the idea that people acting in their own self-interest can also be heroic is the larger idea.

I also kept thinking how smart it was to have few recognizable actors among the cast. Thinking about Brad Pitt leading the charge against the terrorists would make you think about how you are watching a movie and lose focus on the events (got that Oliver Stone and Nicholas Cage?). Because the actors were unrecognizable, all I kept thinking was that these were the real passengers. And, because of that, this was the chance for these people to finally say good-bye to their families and loved ones. They were deprived of that chance on September 11, 2001.

Paul Greengrass has brilliantly allowed these people to get that opportunity back.

Strongly recommended.

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