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Roger Ebert on United 93

I saw United 93 and found it compelling and well made. Roger Ebert comments:

The movie is deeply disturbing, and some people may have to leave the theater. But it would have been much more disturbing if Greengrass had made it in a conventional way. He does not exploit, he draws no conclusions, he points no fingers, he avoids “human interest” and “personal dramas” and just simply watches. The movie’s point of view reminds me of the angels in “Wings of Desire.” They see what people do and they are saddened, but they cannot intervene.

Actually, one nugget in the DVD was a short documentary called United 93: The Families and the Film. It depicted families meeting the actor playing the deceased family member. The film itself was sparse and an objective description of the events. The documentary is the only place which allows room for reflection (if you leave out Paul Greengrass’s commentary). I actually found this one hour documentary much more engrossing than the film itself.

Some of Greengrass’s remarks I found interesting:

  • the film is about computerized systems and how they fall behind in imparting accurate information about the world.
  • he cut certain scenes before the airplane drama because he felt it wasn’t relevant
  • he used many actual participants in the day’s events
  • the jarring use of handhelds gave multiple points of visual interest, multiple points needing attention
  • he points out certain ironies: if the plane had taken off successfully, it would have had a decent chance of hitting its target
  • he consciously made parallels between victims and hijackers; also, he made sure the actors who played the hijackers never met the other actors until shooting began.
  • his cameramen took long tracking shots and sliced good stuff from it, rather than carefully scripting things
  • he remarked that nonactors were good at conveying routines and procedures and already comfortable with using jargon and processing information

In my mind the film was about how communication improvements change the way we react under pressure. The resistance arose from the crowd’s understanding of what was already happening around the world. Future terrorist attacks will aim to  eliminating these communication channels. Or else, they will find new and sadistic ways to manipulate them  (see the suicide bombers).

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