CINEMA: by Len PhillipsNews Weekly
September 11 heroism remembered in United 93
, September 16, 2006
Len Phillips reviews the harrowing film, United 93.The film United 93 is about the hijacking of one of the United Airlines passenger aircraft on September 11, 2001, during which the captive passengers learned through their mobile phones that other American aircraft earlier that morning had not only suffered the same fate but that the passengers had all perished as those planes were deliberately crashed into the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington.
The passengers therefore conspire among themselves to take back control of their plane from the hijackers. They end up invading the cockpit, but are ultimately only able to cause the plane to crash into a field in Pennsylvania, a few minutes' flying time west of Washington.
They are thus bravely able to prevent the plane from being flown into its intended destination, which was either the Capitol Building or the White House, but in doing so they lose their lives.
It is a great piece of cinema and highly entertaining. In portraying this story there are, however, two noteworthy and interrelated aspects.
The first is that the hijackers are Islamic terrorists. Although in many ways this form of terrorism is the defining issue of our times, we seldom see films that depict Islamic terrorism.
In old-fashioned patriotic films about World War II, it was the rule rather than the exception to depict "us" pitted against "them". Today, even though we are technically in the midst of a global "War on Terror", the appearance of a film such as United 93
is a singular rarity.
The second aspect is that it is, of course, a true story - or as near true as a Hollywood film is likely to get. For this reason, and for this reason alone, we get to see Islamic terrorists in action.
Emotionally, the film is quite gripping, all the more so since footage of aircraft crashing into the World Trade Center is so seldom seen. Since the audience knows already how the story must end, each moment, from the very first, is filled with a tension that is quite startling. It is like seeing a documentary, not only because the events are real, but because of the docudrama format of the film.
For me, however, the idea that this was the moment that America first struck back - an hour into that fateful date of 9/11 - was made to feel hollow. If the film showed anything, it showed not only the insanity of those who took over that plane, but also the relentless, fanatical determination of the people against whom this current world war is being fought.
The film itself has no politics. It is an action flick for which all of the background has to be supplied by its audience. Mid-film, for example, I found myself thinking of the Islamic hijacker-pilot as a proxy for the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. A man at the controls, filled with determination to destroy - for reasons incomprehensible to most of us and against whom normal forms of deterrence are probably useless.
The Iranian President has said that the destruction of half of Iran is worth the obliteration of all of Israel. If you can't bring yourself to believe such views exist in the world, think only of the September 11 Islamic hijackers whose aims were no less self-destructive but which were carried out with grim and remorseless determination.
What I found even more disturbing was to recognise in this film the difference in the timeframe of the two sides. As far as the terrorists were concerned, that this aircraft did not end up crashing into the White House was no setback of any particular consequence. Others had succeeded, an example had been set, and more would follow. Our world is forever a different place.
Stop us, stop a hundred others, stop a further thousand, this film unintentionally implies, and yet more will come. You will look forever to find some compromise with us but we are not the compromising kind. If you want a quiet life, if you want to fly in safety to your holiday in Bali, if you want to fill your cars with Middle Eastern oil, then it is you who will have to find some way to satisfy us.Repression and intolerance
If you had asked me on September 11, 2001, whether I would have thought there was the slightest chance we could lose in such an encounter with an ideology whose aim is the suppression of every hard-won political victory over repression and intolerance - a victory that has taken thousands of years since it was first briefly and incompletely realised in a handful of Greek city-states around 2,500 years ago - I would have thought it was impossible.
I am not so sure anymore. I know which side I am on; but in a war that might go on for 50 or a 100 years, I am no longer certain our side is going to prevail. Unless we become as determined as our enemies are, I no longer even see how we can.- Film reviewed for News Weekly by Len Phillips.