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Tuesday, April 25, 2006

United 93 not as cheery as Salon's critic hoped

Pre-release reviews of Paul Greengrass's United 93 are almost uniformly spectacular.

But my favorite review comes courtesty of Stephanie Zacharek at the unbearably smug and French-sounding leftist e-zine, Salon, because it's an instructive look inside the heart and mind of the Nuanced.

Zacharek is upset because the film made her feel...well, upset.

Paul Greengrass' "United 93" is a movie made with tremendous care, and with almost boundless sensitivity to persons living and dead. But just hours after seeing the picture, I'm finding it hard to care about Greengrass' integrity: I've never had a more excruciating moviegoing experience in my life, and as brilliantly crafted -- and as adamantly unexploitive -- as the picture is, it still leaves you wondering why it was made in the first place.

Here's a hint as to why it was "made in the first place," Stephanie: look in the mirror. The people who need to see United 93 are the people who have had the horror of 9/11 removed from the eternal sunshine of their spotless minds, the people who want to pretend that 9/11 didn't really change anything, the people who condescendingly mock those of us who know it did. (More precisely, 9/11 didn't really change reality as much as it brought it into stark relief, but let's not quibble.)

Some other choice quotes:

And the movie's climactic sequence, in which several of the bigger, stronger passengers attack two of the terrorists, jolts us with a terrifying charge. We need the catharsis the scene offers, but Greengrass never allows us to lapse into moral superiority. Greengrass doesn't allow a comfortable distance between ourselves and these desperate passengers. When they lunged for one of the terrorists, I found I'd curled my own hands into fists, as if expressing some atavistic desire to choke the life out of him myself.

Here we find Zacharek clearly unhappy about not being allowed to assume her natural feelings of "moral superiority," angry at being made to feel an "atavistic desire" to kill a terrorist, a desire that should only be felt by unitellectual red staters who are brainwashed by our government in the service of the military-industrial complex. If the idea that wanting to kill someone who is trying to kill you is the moral equivalent of a prehensile tail doesn't perfectly sum up the bankruptcy and uselessness of the anti-war crowd, I don't know what does.

And while Greengrass must have his own strong personal feelings about how the U.S. government has co-opted the events of 9/11 for its own purposes (he's too politically astute a filmmaker not to have such feelings), "United 93" isn't intended to make a statement on the war on terrorism.
Okay, okay, we get the fact that you're sophisticated and nuanced, so relax. Also, I love how the Bush administration is always accused of "taking advantage of" or "co-opting" the events of 9/11 for its own nefarious purposes. I've never understood how waging an increasingly unpopular war, watching your approval ratings tumble into the low 30s and possibly leaving as your legacy your party's loss of its congressional majorities are the works of an evil mastermind. But then again, I'm not very nuanced, myself.

Zacharek concludes her review (and really I should get a promotion, or at least a medal, for reading the whole thing) by reiterating how unfair it is that she was forced to remember 9/11:
But while "United 93" offers a horrifyingly realistic evocation of pain and fear, it doesn't open itself out to any greater, more expansive truth. And it offers us no hope of transcendence. "United 93" spells out for us horrors that previously we could only have imagined, as if imagining them could never be enough. It's an expertly made picture that I wish I could stamp out of my mind. What's the value of artistry that sucks the life out of you?
I obviously haven't seen the film yet, but I'll take a wild shot in the dark that it doesn't offer any "hope of transcendence" because Greengrass sought to make as close to an honest re-creation of what happened to Flight 93 as possible, using all available information. And I'll take another stab that none of that information was particularly transcendent. [Edit: I've now seen the film, and I was right. But you knew that.] Sorry, Stephanie, but this really happened, and life doesn't always provide a sense of uplift. You may wish you could stamp it out of your mind, but that's your problem, not the film's.

Besides, you can always cheer yourself up by watching Fahrenheit 9/11, right?

Update: For an explanation of how the Washington Post bashes United 93 in a page A01 "straight news" story, see here. For my review of United 93, see here.

Update2: Welcome, Gay Patriot readers!

Update3: Welcome, Countertoppers!

Update4: Welcome, residents of Dean's World!

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