Monday, September 11, 2006

United 93

I understand the concept of catharsis, but I rarely experience it. I look at art, whether it be paintings, fiction, or movies, from an intellectual perspective. I appreciate and enjoy style and technique. I savor the moment when an artist tries something new and creates innovation. I love things on an aesthetic level. But I'm rarely moved. Emotion doesn't tend to factor into my appreciation of works of art.

United 93 is an amazing exception. This film is a work of art which not only bowled me over with its handheld aesthetic, but it also provided an emotional catharsis that I can't remember experiencing before in my life. If you asked me today about my favorite movies of all time, this one would near the top, because I can't think of many more perfect blendings of intellectual and emotional pleasure. Pleasure's the wrong word, of course, because this movie is brutal and painful. But to watch such a masterful film, even one that tears you apart as you watch it, is a pleasure of a sort. It's horrible but beautiful, and it's not beautiful in the way that most movies are beautiful--it's not bright and pretty and colorful--it's beautiful in the sense that it perfectly recreates a time and a place that we need to revisit.

The movie is surprisingly devoid of political sentiment even though, contrary to what I've read about the movie, it doesn't take place entirely within the confines of United Flight 93. In fact, the movie jumps from location to location, providing a context about what we knew and what we didn't know on this terrible day five years ago. The contextual information is part of the catharsis. We need to see that second plane strike the World Trade Center, even if we don't want to, if the full impact of the events is to be felt (not only by us, but by the characters in the movie).

(Future generations will watch this movie, and they will not feel the devastation we feel when we see that plane hit the tower--it crushes us because we experienced that day--when we see the image, we recall the feelings we had when we first heard and saw what had occurred--our children will not have that context--so I wonder what they will make of this film. Will they see it purely in intellectual terms, as I usually do when I watch movies, or is the film good enough to provide catharsis to someone born after the events of that day? I don't know, but I suspect the greatness of this movie will not last. It will become just another movie about a historical event when our children are old enough to watch it.)

United 93 has no stars and no main characters. It is not a conventional narrative. Yet it is a movie that everyone should see because of its power and truth (and I don't mean literal truth, although it apparently is based on the facts that could be pieced together--I mean emotional truth). Watch it at night, though, because you won't be very useful for the rest of the day.

1 comment:

Reel Fanatic said...

Great review ... Mr. Greengrass did indeed do a great job of leaving the politics out of this, and his real-time re-creation of these horrific events is a real accomplishment .. that said, I have to confess that, knowing well how it would all end, I had to turn away from the screen at several points in the final act.