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Sunday, April 30, 2006


ModFab On...United 93

Paul Greengrass' powerful and powerfully-made docudrama, United 93, has received a mountain of publicity and reviews...by this point, you've probably decided whether you want to see it or not. Capturing in tormented detail the only unsuccessful terrorist hijacking of September 11th, the media has gone bananas...not over the film's quality or its dramatic impact, but with questions of propriety. "Is it too soon for a 9/11 film?" Ridiculous. As if art has ever waited for public opinion to grant it permission to do its job.

For despite what Republicans would have you believe, Art serves an important public purpose...it gives context and illumination into the shared experience of humanity. It may do so directly or indirectly, but that illumination is vital to any healthy society. It is asinine, then, to ask if it is too soon for an exploration of our national tragedy; the question should be, rather, why have artists taken so long to respond? No major works of art have appeared in any discipline to help us cope, memorialize and remember. Beyond the occasional play (Neil Labute's The Mercy Seat) and sensationalist TV movies, our collective artistic response has been virtually nonexistent.

This absence is made all the more poignant by the fact that United 93 is not merely a good film, but a great one...a moving yet histrionic-free portrait of a crucibled moment in our collective consciousness. Like all great art, it requires focus and demands attention. It has more to say about our collective failure, our rage, our sadness, our faith, our courage, our mistakes, and our regret than a million reviews (including this one).

My point is not to tell you to see United 93 because it is good, although it is. You should see it because it is necessary. Whether you want to relive that experience or not, it is important that we ALL remember it, in a room full of other human beings, as part of a community. It is why the Greeks listened to Antigone, why the British experienced Hamlet over and over again. It is part of our story, and like all cultures, we need to hear our stories from time to time, in new ways, to make us realize new things. (And you will.) It is the only way we can proceed forward as a people, making sure of our past and learning our lessons from it.

And for what it's worth: my opinion? Paul Greengrass is a hero...an artist who went to the survivors' families and asked to tell this brutally important tale, and did so without succumbing to emotionality or pseudo-patriotism. He is exactly what we need now, in this time.

United 93 is a movie, sure. But it is also an airplane, turning over the hills of Pennsylvania and Ohio, full of strangers, who experienced something extraordinary...and changed the course of our lives. Attention must be paid.
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