Friday, May 19, 2006


United 93.

This movie, like the day it commemorates, can be divided into three specific segments or acts, corresponding to the reaction the day's events provoked from those of us who lived through it:

1. What the fuck?
2. Holy shit!
3. God damn!

What the fuck? takes us up through the first plane hitting the North Tower. We all have our individual memories of that day. My pedestrian 9-11 story starts with me arriving at work around 9 a.m., spilling my orange juice in the elevator, then turning on my computer, where a little news item said that a plane had hit the WTC. Accident? Injuries? Deaths? Who knew? What the fuck?

As this movie demonstrates, nobody keeping an eye on these things knew either. The FAA and the military (many of whom play themselves in the movie) suspected at least one hijacking, but they got their info on the first WTC crash from CNN like everybody else. CNN said a small civilian aircraft hit one of the towers. In clear skies? At 9 in the morning? What the fuck?

Of course, a few minutes later, a second plane hit the other tower. And it's at that moment that your spine has to snap straight up. HOLY SHIT! This is the moment when the sharp steel dagger comes into view. Hearing or seeing it that day, I knew, you knew, everybody knew -- this is no accident. This is an attack.

In the movie, the FAA guys are still going what the fuck?, when the live CNN feed behind them shows the second plane hitting the tower. HOLY SHIT! Even recreated in a movie, it's visceral, nauseating, terrible, and real. There's still a disbelief, a disconnect, shock, but they -- we -- get it. We understand what has happened. Everyone becomes very tense, and very frightened.

And now, I've gotta bash the president. Because when the rest of the country was going HOLY SHIT!, and calling their wives and husbands and sons and daughters and mothers and fathers, saying, "Turn on CNN," the president -- the president! -- was listening to second graders read The Pet Goat.

In the movie, these moments after the second plane hits unfold in car-crash time -- everything seems to happen at once, but take forever. No one can figure anything out. The military, stumbling toward a response, tries to get direction from the Commander in Chief. They can't contact him. The movie doesn't explicitly nail him on it, but we know he's sitting there listening to the kids read for something like 7 minutes. The third and fourth planes covered, what, 50 or 60 miles in that time? It is heartbreaking to watch the impotence and frustration of the FAA and military personnel during that time period, knowing, as we do, that the president is listening to a children's story. He is not Superman, and I don't know whether he could have accomplished anything. The case for impeaching Bush should begin with a split screen video of him sitting there while the towers burn and the FAA and military personnel try to figure out what to do.

The rest is a blur, a jumble, a confusion. God damn! Anger. Fear. Hatred. GOD DAMN! Get those fuckers! Let's roll! Vengeance. Desperation. Terror. Disbelief. Do they really hate us this much? What the fuck? Holy Shit! God damn! And the hijacker pilot chanting, shrieking almost, Allah akbar, Allah akbar, Allah akbar, Allah akbar, Allah akbar, Allah akbar, Allah akbar, Allah akbar, Allah akbar, 9 times, as the plane nosedives into the brown earth near Shanksville, PA. God damn.

The movies grants a kind of equivalence to the hijackers and the passengers, as both groups have their own long moments of unbearable white knuckle tension as they wait, wait, wait, until the time is right to rush to the front and take over. Sitting in the theater, I felt it too. We -- all of us -- have been hijacked. Are we going to fight back?

Let's roll.

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