Last night, as part of the family's commemoration of 9/11, we saw "United 93." We made sure that our son, who is 12, saw it with us. He was 7 when 9/11 happened, and doesn't really remember it. We wanted him to know.
He fell asleep soon after it began, and didn't wake up until the last half hour of the movie.
"United 93" is a superb film. It is done in a documentary style, without famous actors, and with real flight and air traffic people in critical roles. It unfolds in the real time of the flight, and was largely improvised, using official records and the recollections of the passengers' families as checkpoints. It is so powerful because it is not at all sensationalized. It is hard for me to imagine how this film could have been made better.
When the passengers hear that two planes have been flown into the World Trade Center, they realize that they are not in an ordinary hijacking, but a suicide mission. They have a few minutes to figure out what to do, and do it. Ordinary American guys size up the threat, coordinate quickly, and act. As we all know, they did not succeed in taking control of the plane before the terrorists crashed it. The text on the screen at the end said there were "no survivors."
But there were survivors – probably thousands of them. All the people survived who might have died had that plane reached the Capitol. The passengers on the plane died, but they died doing the right thing.
When the film was done, my son was in tears. He is a tough kid. He faced down a bully in elementary school and got a broken arm for his trouble. He has been studying martial arts to give him discipline as well as skill. And, like most boys his age, he had seen thousands of virtual deaths on television and in video games.
This was different. This was real. He doesn't really want to talk about it yet, but I think he saw that you could really be in a terrifying, life-or-death situation, and be called upon to act.
I assured him that the grownups would try to make order in the world so that he wouldn't have to face terrorists. But I know that he, like me, like most American men and many American women, would be ready to act in the face of evil, even unto death.