Had I seen United 93 prior to coming up with the main page’s poll question last week it might have read differently: “Are New Yorkers ready for United 93?” In this week’s Entertainment Weekly, Lisa Schwarzbaum says that we don’t need to see this film but then states we stand to benefit from recognizing in it “that there’s no difference between those who died and us, in fear and in courage.” Why, then, an A-minus for something we don’t need to see? Equally confounding, how can we adopt this message Schwarzbaum speaks of without actually seeing the film? Schwarzbaum sends out all sorts of mixed messages in her review, which is swollen with sweeping statements about how “we” deal with and resolve tragedy. But her confusion is in keeping with what is a very confusing work of art, the most suspect, difficult-to-dismiss film I’ve seen since The Passion of the Christ. The other day, Matt Zoller Seitz likened United 93 to an adaptation of The Accused that showcases only the gang-rape sequence. I thought of it more as a Universal Studios theme park ride—a machine optimally designed to make one feel as miserable as humanly possible. (I’m serious when I say it wouldn’t be entirely out of line to present audiences with barf bags going into the theater.) Though Seitz’s correlation explains how the film simulates what might have happened aboard United 93 on September 11, 2001 with little in the way of context (just the occasional bits of conjecture—which, when they don’t constitute bones thrown at people on both sides of the political divide, reaffirm affecting but easy truths about our common humanity), it doesn’t account for the fact that no two people cope with tragedy the same way. Just as a woman would respond to The Accused: The All-Rape Edition a lot differently than a man would, anyone who eyewitnessed the events of 9/11 or lost friends and family on that day has dealt with this tragedy—and will cope with this film—a little differently than others across the country (and the world). Do we need to see this? I can’t answer that for you, these women, this boy, or anyone for that matter who did or didn’t see this or this happen in person or on television. Given how little United 93 illuminates, all I can say is that I didn’t need to.
This blog entry was originally published on Slant Magazine on the date above.