Monday, July 31, 2006

United 93

"I want you to know why story-truth is truer sometimes than happening-truth."
-Tim O'Brien

Last Thursday, after work, I went to see Paul Greengrass's United 93. As can be expected, it's not an easy movie to like, but it's an important movie and a good one and one that needs to be seen. I know this because, like everyone else in the theater, I knew how it would end before the lights went down and yet I was nervous the whole way through. The film never once struck a hollow note and these characters whose names I never learned were painfully, painfully real.

When the film ended, I remembered where I was and realized that I was the only American in the theater. Gradually, as they got up to go, my fellow audience members started to chat in a language I speak fluently, but I honestly couldn't understand a word of it. I felt more American than I had in months and I was quite honestly paralyzed. I sat watching the credits roll past for what felt like fifteen minutes but probably was only five and then I walked to catch the Metro home, hyperventilating all the way.

As I struggled to catch my breath, I realized that this was the reaction to September 11 that I never really had and it struck me as ridiculous that I had to watch a movie on the other side of the ocean five years later before it all really hit me. At the time, the enormity of the event had eclipsed itself. It was too immense to understand and I (thankfully) lacked the kind of personal connection to the historical moment that would draw me into it all.

I remember at the time wondering why I felt so little. Whether I'd been desensitized by violent movies or if just the act of seeing the event filtered through television (I was away at college at the time) made it seem somehow like fiction. Whatever the reason, seeing it as fiction now had made it real.

To those who would argue that making a film such as this one is exploitative and disrespectful, then, I say that, for better or worse, making films like this is essential. Great art always rises from the ashes of immense tragedy, to give voice to the stifled, disenfranchised emotions universally almostfelt by the people who live through catastrophe, because straightforward reporting is never enough.

Perhaps it's bad that to understand something real I need to see it immortalized as fiction, but it's a fact of life I can't change and although I'm not necessarily prepared to call blogging an art, it looks as though I'm not alone.


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