I’m Awake, It’s Mourning

You know when you’re lining up for an amusement ride, you get a rush of anticipation. But then the second you get on, there’s this “uh-oh” moment, as if you suddenly remembered to be scared. That’s what I felt when I sat to watch “United 93.” I was so caught up with its huge critical buzz that I almost forgot to be afraid. As the theater dimmed, the screen began to flicker images of the darkest day I’ve known. I leaned back and swallowed a lump of sadness. I realized I was to relive September 11, 2001.

Relive is the keyword. Before I sat down to watch “United 93,” I was already midway through the experience. The first half is living through 9-11. On the last half, the movie attempts to exhume my memories and feelings of the day. It’s a unique process to go through. Maybe it’s like being cut open and the filmmakers dug in deep and got hold of my emotions. My reaction was to bleed in tears. It’s horrifying, but undeniably powerful. No doubt, this film of incredible drama might also deliver the most jarring horror of the year.

What’s scary is the movie’s effort to capture reality. It’s purposefully lacking in movie stars, rhythmic dialogue, crazy camera movements, surround sound orchestral score, and eye-popping special effects. We associate these with fictional movies. Had they been used, it would have been too easy to distance oneself. On the other hand, the movie doesn’t quite work as a documentary. There’s nothing substantially new to learn and we always know more than the characters.

I guess a valid question to ask is whether the movie is predictable, since we know what happened to flight United 93. My answer? It’s predictable in a good way. There’s no way the film could have generated so much dread if the ending is not known. In fact, it almost makes you wish the movie never ends. As for quibbles, the movie hits its turbulence at the start because of the calm and slow pace. September 11 did begin like an ordinary day and the movie shows us the passengers going through the protracted period of boarding and riding on a plane. The movie also takes us to different air traffic controls, where overwhelming fear and chaos accumulate when planes are suddenly being hi-jacked. It reminded me of “24” and I think the movie would have better if they sometimes showed the actual time, just like the FOX thriller. The movie seems to unfold in real time anyway.

I tell you what the oddest thing is for me. It was seeing the explosions on screen. When I see explosions on a movie theater, I’m accustomed to reacting with a “whoa,” but this time, the big bang was met with a whimper. It was strange. The whole thing was strange. The story has stuff made for action thrillers – a world in peril, villains with grand schemes, and ordinary men becoming heroes. I’ve always enjoyed such movie scenarios, but now, it’s not the same. I look back at the other movies now and realized something has changed. What a difference a day makes, huh.

Grade: A

JJ Johnson, Polly Adams, Cheyenne Jackson, Opal Alladin, Starla Benford, Trish Gates, Nancy McDoniel, and David Alan Basche
Screenplay by
Paul Greengrass
Directed by
Paul Greengrass
Rated R for language, and some intense sequences of terror and violence