United 93 lands happily in Tehran
Won't be going to see United 93.
Don't care if the reviews are glowing, the word of mouth compelling, the buzz electrifying.
I don't need to pay 10 bucks plus the cost of popcorn and babysitting to re-live that nightmare.
There's a part of me that's digusted the movie got made. I can't believe anyone would be so shameless as to try to turn the events of 9/11 into entertainment. I think it's horrible that anyone would see in the deaths of all those people an opportunity to tell a rattling good yarn, even an inspirational one about courage and the indomitable human spirit.
But that part of me has to explain itself to the part of me that enjoys war movies.
No, the reason I won't be going is that it will terrify me---plane crashes are a personal nightmare, worse than sharks and, as many of you know, I have never seen Jaws---and it will make me too sad.
It should make everybody who sees it sad, which is another reason I'm already prejudiced against it. I'm not sure it will make everybody sad. Hollywood doesn't make sad movies anymore. Hollywood likes to give us all a good cry, but after all the sniffling there must be a reason to leave the theater smiling. If there can't be a happy ending, there must at least be an upbeat one.
Nothing of the little I've seen or read about United 93 suggests it's vulgar, tasteless, or egregiously exploitive. In fact, it looks like a very serious film, 9/11's A Night to Remember rather than its Titanic.
But it's still a Hollywood movie and I'm dreading the upbeat ending.
There is no upbeat ending to that day. "Gosh, at least one of the planes missed!" won't sell many tickets.
"Hey, at least we won't have to rebuild the White House too," won't have anyone standing up to cheer either.
The filmmakers are left with trying to find inspiration in the courage of the passengers who went down fighting. Which is ok, but 300-odd firefighters, cops, and EMTs went down fighting that day too, as did countless others in the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. For all we know so did the stewardesses and pilots on the other two planes and some of those passengers too.
Focusing on their courage seems like an attempt to avoid facing the staggering awfulness of 9/11, and it's not likely audiences will find that much solace in such transparent denial.
Maybe, just maybe, the filmmakers will give us an honest, unhappy, downbeat ending and send everyone home feeling miserable.
If not, I can't believe they'll go with "Well, at least we showed those terrorists they can't mess around with Americans," because that's such a ridiculous lie that only President Bush and some Right Wing bloggers would swallow it.
Which brings me to another reason for my uneasiness about the movie and the real reason for this post.
I can imagine a "happy" ending United 93 could have had. You can too. All you have to do is imagine that the movie's been re-titled "Let's Roll!"
In 2001, the dreadful Pearl Harbor used the events of December 7, 1941 to examine the burning historical question, Which of the two boring leading men will Kate find the least boring, Ben or Josh? There were some things in it about battleships sinking and the Japanese, but all that was backdrop to the love story. But while Pearl Harbor was as much concerned with the bombing of Pearl Harbor as Titanic was with the sinking of the Titanic, it had one virtue Titanic lacked. It did not have to invent an upbeat ending to make us forget about all the real people who died so we could cry over a soppy love story. We won World War II.
The USS Arizona is sunk by about the middle of the movie. The rest of Pearl Harbor is taken up with resolving the insipid love story and Doolittle's raid on Tokyo (the subject of a truly good war movie), which shifts the story from the tale of a massive American defeat to the story of a moral victory that can be seen, legitimately, as signifying the real and total military victory to come.
We did show those Japs they can't mess with Americans.
I don't know how United 93 ends. Its mirror universe version, Let's Roll, ends with a montage. Firefighters raising the American flag on the rubble of the World Trace Center. George Bush with a bullhorn. Brave Afghani guerrillas raising their rifles in triumph. Saddam on TV looking defiant. Colin Powell at the UN. A nightime shot of Bagdad as the bombs fall. Tanks rolling. Iraqi children cheering. Statues toppling. Bush on the aircraft carrier. Mission Accomplished.
For a lot of people, the war in Iraq was supposed to be the happy ending to United 93. It was to be our raid on Tokyo, only bigger and more successful, the first victory that signifies all the others to come in the War on Terra.
Most of them belived this because they were duped by the Bush Administration and swept up in war fever by the cheerleading of the Media Elites, who seemed to want the war even more than the President did.
As the polls have been showing, more and more of them are coming to the conclusion that, whatever the reasons for the invasion were, there has been nothing like the promised victory and no sign the President and his men know how to bring one about or even want to bring one about.
There are two groups of people who are adamantly resisting this conclusion.
The first includes the President and his supporters and apologists in the blog world.
President Bush, of course, has tied up his vanity and ego with the War on Terra and making himself the Savior of the Middle East to the degree that admitting he's made any mistakes, nevermind that he lied us into a war he's now gone and lost, would amount to act of spiritual suicide. If he's wrong, if he's lost, then he has absolutely no reason to be President. He won't allow himself that existential crisis. He'll blow up the whole of the Middle East before that...or at least make a big glassy hole in the spot in Iran where Tehran was.
His supporters and his apologists have their vanity and egos, and careers, tied up in President Bush.
They need a victory almost as much as he does to justify their own selves in a dozen different ways.
As it becomes difficult for them to deny the bloody mess that is Iraq, they are looking around desperately for another path to victory. They see an open road to Tehran.
Iraq won't be a failure if it is seen as only a stepping stone.
The other group having trouble facing the truth is the Elite Media in Washington. They are heavily invested in the idea that "we are winning the war" too, which is why they've been so slow, grudging, and grumpy about giving credence to their own colleagues' reporting from Iraq.
As we move closer to September, these two groups' needs are going to become more and more entwined and their mutual delusions and denials more and more self-reinforcing.
Whether or not United 93 is a good movie, whether or not it should have been made at all, these two questions are besides the point here.
The point is that there was a reason United 93 is being released this year.
It's the Fifth Anniversary.
United 93 is just the first of a season of commemoration.
I don't expect that much of the media play will be subtle, tasteful, considerate, deeply thoughtful, or historically accurate.
Many people will take it all in and think, Five years and all Bush has done is lose a war and blow the cover of one our own spies.
But the Democrats better not be counting on those people making up a majority of voters.
The Media and the Bush Leaguers are going to collaborate in an attempt to whip Americans up into a frenzy of jingoistic anger that Karl Rove expects will save Congress for the Republicans.
Together they will write their own happy ending to United 93.
I haven't seen any sign that the Democrats are preparing for this, that they've even looked at a calender.
All I've seen are signs that they are hoping voters ignore national security issues entirely.
It's as if they think September 11, 2006 will pass by without remark.
Something dawned on me as I was writing this post. Pearl Harbor was being hyped as the big movie of the summer of 2001. It tanked at the box office but for weeks before its release it was being talked up about as if it was already that year's Titanic.
I've always wondered why the TV anchors were so quick on 9/11 to start calling the attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center our generation's Pearl Harbor. That day they had no reason to think that we were being attacked by another country, and no idea if the attacks were all over or if more were to come. A reasonable guess was that what had happened was what we quickly learned had indeed happened. Terrorists had gotten amazingly lucky.
Very different from what happened on December 7, 1941.
I thought that it was because they'd all been reading Tom Brokow's books and were infected with Greatest Generation envy.
Maybe it was just that they'd all been to the movies.
Remember what they were all saying when Clinton tried to go after al Qaeda and deal with Saddam?
Bill was wagging the dog.
These are not serious-minded people. They want easy and pretty answers for everything.
They want life to be like the movies.
God save us from what they will make of United 93.