Last April, I reported on my reaction to seeing the trailer for United 93 one night at the cinema. Until then, I had not even known of the film’s existence. I was rather cynical at the time, and could only think of pessimistic reasons why the film had been made.
When the film came out, it was met with overall good reviews by both the public and the critics. Some went out of their way to point out the film’s lack of sentimentality and it’s apparently non-political/propagandistic stance. I didn’t manage to see the film in the cinema during its run, but Martine and I decided we would rent it someday.
That day arrived last week. I must say, I agree with the critics and I revoke my previously cynical view. The film was very well done, with a keen dramatic sensibility (despite our knowing its ending in advance), and a sharp sense of immediacy. It’s not about casting people as saints and sinners, it’s about trying to understand what might really have happened. It also had the full approval of the families of the victims.
Despite all that, it’s not an easy film to watch, but that was never the intention. We never really get to know the characters very well – no better than if we had been on board ourselves. They’re just people around us, some of whom are more noticeable than others. Combined with the close-quarters camera work, that is a counter-intuitive yet excellent way to give us, the viewer, a stronger sense of identity with the event and an uncomfortable sense of realism with the film.
But one thing hit me over the head like a cast iron frying pan, and it wasn’t even in the movie – it was something in the DVD’s special feature documentary about the making of the film. In the documentary, we meet a number of spouses, parents, and children of the victims of the real flight 93. We see them talk about their lost loved ones, see photographs of the victims and the occasionally fuzzy home video. We even see them meeting the cast member who will play their dearly departed. It sounds rather sentimental, and I suppose it was to some extent, but given that it isn’t the film itself, rather a documentary about the film, it is forgivable.
Towards the end of the documentary we see the director of the film welcoming a small group of the surviving family members to a special private screening of the film. I’m thinking “that must be very hard for those people to take. Imagine the queasiness they must be feeling, sitting there in the cinema, about to watch a realistic reenactment of how their loved ones were slaughtered in a murderous plane crash.”
Then I noticed a guy sitting there munching on a bag of popcorn! Whoa! What the…???
I was speechless. I still am. I’m not even going to comment any further. Just look at this screen grab and try to conjure up an explanations for this. I certainly can’t.