Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Scaring My Son

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.


Citizens For A Better Veterans Home and CARP said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Gruntled said...

I removed the first comment because I deemed it to be spam. If the author would like to comment on this post, I would welcome his return.

halifax said...

I would agree with your assessment of the first comment. By the way, the New York Review of Books has a review of the movie on its website. The review takes a very different view from yours, but it is, nonetheless, a very interesting argument against the aesthetic significance of the movie. I have pasted the link below.


Gruntled said...

I thank you for the link to the New York Review of Books' treatment of the film. I think the reviewer is wrong, though, that "All that United 93 can tell us ... is that many people are brave and some people are dastardly." The moral center of the story in the air is that ordinary Americans will act to fight evil. I think that the reviewer is unused to thinking of Americans as having distinctive national virtues, so may have missed this.

The reviewer also thinks that the decision to use real pilots, flight attendants, and air traffic controllers is aesthetically irrelevant. I mostly agree with this. One of the unexpectedly moving parts of the film, though, is the competence and authority shown by the FAA officials on the ground in the air traffic control center in Herndon, especially the boss, Ben Sliney. He, and those civilians working with him, judge rightly and act swiftly, as swiftly as conditions permit. The real Ben Sliney had been hired by the filmmakers as a consultant. In the end, though, he turned out to be the right man to play himself. The film is not more authentic because the central person plays himself. It is serendipity, or perhaps providence, that it worked out that way. But knowing that this competent character is in fact competent in real life gives me more confidence in the FAA.

David Albright said...

It is interesting. I was not a participant in this seminal, collective moment for Americans –- that is, a witness to the unfolding coverage of 9/11; this is increasingly an important distinction (for me) from the actual act of terrorism against humanity.

I was stationed at Fort Benning. My infantry battalion was conducting a combat exercise. I did not learn about 9/11 for several days. I have felt detached from many of my peers’ feelings of 9/11.

While I experienced the shock and numbness of the act, I lack many of the associations that others seem to hold. I find it interesting to watch movies, old coverage, and newspaper articles – popular culture’s treatment -- of the terrorist act.

While it seems intuitive that the media helps shape understanding, even identity formation and maintenance, I oftentimes lose conscious awareness of its very powerful role.

I suppose more than anything, I feel a real disconnect.

Gruntled said...

I am surprised at what you write -- I would have thought that a military base, of all places, would have been riveted by all the events of 9/11, exercise or not.

Edith OSB said...

I spoke with my students (all 18 year olds) about their memory of 9/11. Most said their school turned on TVs and they just watched the coverage.

The part of the media coverage that they remembered was seeing the planes fly into the towers over and over again - and the fall of the towers the same. One said, "We couldn't understand exactly what was happening, but we saw it so many times it burned into our brains."

It's noticeable that the NYTimes review makes attributions to traits of individuals: some are brave, some are dastardly. The event, though, points to the differences in the ethos of a culture, and the images that people have. The average people, who hadn't shown particular bravery before that day, grew up in a culture that fostered taking action to protect others.

I'm not culturally competent to express the socialization of the terrorists, but at least some segment of their society also shaped their actions - so that their violent actions against civilians were brave and good in their eyes.

I've wondered how this movie is; I appreciate your post.

Emma said...

Absolutely terrifying. Situations when you realize things like what Joe realized; that sometime we might have to face real danger.