Advice Goddess Blog
« Previous | Home | Next »

Flight 93 Again
My old NYC pal Ron Rosenbaum, always a compelling read, wonders why United 93, now in theaters, is the third film made about the heroic passengers on that hijacked plane:

Could it be that the three films are a symptom of our addiction to fables of redemptive uplift that shield us from the true dimensions of the tragedy? Redemptive uplift: It's the official religion of the media, anyway. There must be a silver lining; it's always darkest before the dawn; the human spirit will triumph over evil; there must be a pony.

...But is the fable of Flight 93 the recompense that it's been built up to be? Does what happened on Flight 93 represent a triumph of the human spirit, a microcosmic model and portent of the ultimate victory of enlightenment civilization over theocratic savagery, as the prerelease publicity about the new film insists? Or is the story of United Flight 93 a different kind of portent, not "the DNA of our times," but rather the RIP?

I guess it depends on your definition, your threshold of uplift. Yes, it appears from the cockpit recordings recently released that something noble—a passenger uprising that disrupted the hijackers' plans—happened on that flight. But is it possible to separate it out from the other events of the day? In three out of four cases savage mass murderers prevailed. A "war on terror" has ensued; a war in Iraq followed. In neither case is it clear that the outcome is going to be favorable. The story of 9/11 as a whole increasingly seems a portent that Flight 93 was an aberration, and that those intent on suicidal martyrdom may well prevail over those who value human life over holy books. This possibility is something no one likes to dwell on, and in that sense the "triumphant" fable of Flight 93, genuinely heroic as it is, represents a comforting diversion. There must be a pony.

This is not a message anyone wants to hear. I recall when working on a documentary on the theodicy of 9/11 for PBS' Frontline, Helen Whitney's Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero, I had to threaten to take my name off the piece if they changed the title from our Faith and Doubt to just plain Faith at Ground Zero. No one wants to hear any doubt that "God is in charge," as the orthodox theodicy has it. But what if no one is in charge?

If you missed the book party Cathy Seipp and I threw for Ron a few years back at my house, you can get his collection of stories, The Secret Parts Of Fortune, here.

Posted by aalkon at April 29, 2006 1:03 AM

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.advicegoddess.com/mt4/mt-tb.cgi/1291

Comments

Who needs this film?

Movies can be good clean fun, but the first function of a movie is to make money. This is not cynicism! People have weird ideas about the expressions of morality and closure that attend the release of films, and it's not a form that deserves this kind of respect. People who need the emotional goosing that come from cinematic depiction of narrative in order to sort things out are probably not thinking clearly anyway. We all know of cases where trivial distortions by filmmakers have caused enduring misunderstanding in the public. The fulfillment that comes to viewers is at best a retread of a mood (in this case one of the worst of our lifetime).

When someone says "Oh, you really SHOULD see Schindler/FLiight 93/etc", I say run like hell.

Posted by: Crid at April 29, 2006 7:09 AM

What is this - another attempt to belittle and diminish the bold, and/or just plain pretend that we are nothing but screwups? Yes, dammit, it IS possible to seperate Flight 93 from everything else that day. Doing otherwise is to celebrate helplessness - to state out loud that if somebody rudely threatens you, you have to bleat like a sheep and give them what they want.

No deal!

I have seen this for years in argument about self-defense: we are supposed to hide, cower, beg and plead for our lives while someone else - typically an underpaid policeman - risks their life to save us from the awful boogeyman. And, since he's being paid to do it, that policeman should never flinch at risking his own life for our flabby, limp and terrified form. Why, he should be thankful he has a job, the pig! He won't let me do my drugs...!

Some of us have never noticed that we draw the ranks of the brave from the general population. Ordinary people are better than you are told incessantly by a media selling Kleenex based on the sensational depravity of the few. That's why even Pyrrhic victories are better told than hidden, in favor, no doubt, of yet more drivel.

Posted by: Radwaste at April 29, 2006 7:26 AM

I forget that Hollywood uber-agent's name, but I love the comment from her husband: "There's no business like Shoah business."

Posted by: Amy Alkon at April 29, 2006 7:30 AM

> while someone else - typically an underpaid
> policeman - risks their life

Exactly. Well said. And people who need 70mm movies (with six-track orchestral score; sharply-chinned actors; clever lighting; shiny, well-tended hair and makeup; tasty craft services) in order to dial in their emotional responses for such risks are not going to be any use when it goes down anyway.

Posted by: Crid at April 29, 2006 7:48 AM

What the hell does tasty craft services have to do with anything?

I'm down with dissing Schindler, though. My on-record remark against it as a critic is almost as oft-seized upon as my dislike of Annie Hall.

Posted by: LYT at April 29, 2006 10:56 PM

"If you missed the book party Cathy Seipp and I threw for Ron.."

Amy, I miss those parties, period. There hasn't been a single one since Cathy went public with her illness.

Posted by: LYT at April 29, 2006 10:59 PM

I am sure it will sweep the reenactment awards.

Posted by: anon at April 30, 2006 6:31 PM

> What the hell does tasty craft services
> have to do with anything?

Movies are heavily processed, neatly scheduled constructions. Moral crises are not, and neither are national disasters. I don't think people who excel in settings at which bagels are served in broad assortment (with a corresponding variety of flavored and low-fat spreads) are the kind who can illuminate what happened on an airplane like that.

Props for mentioning Schindler. After the third person somberly said that I "really should" go see it, I resolved to die without watching even a frame. We'd heard about the holocaust; it was in all the papers.

Annie Hall was brilliant; you're too young to remember! It was glorious. Allen had a really good streak there. Like Michael Jackson, he got distracted. MUCH like Michael Jackson. But in long-lost contexts they both had tremedous talent.

Posted by: Crid at April 30, 2006 6:33 PM

I don't think people who excel in settings at which bagels are served in broad assortment (with a corresponding variety of flavored and low-fat spreads) are the kind who can illuminate what happened on an airplane like that.

I don't believe diet has anything to do with it, but then again I just helped make a low-budget movie in which several "name" actors ate Del Taco almost every day. I trust you'll be working to ensure that Congress members have suitably monotonous diets so that they can take the issues seriously?

Annie Hall's a well-structured movie, but I fundamentally CANNOT sympathize with an unappealing, whiny nerd who gets regularly laid by hot chicks and has so much angst about the whole thing.

As for Schindler..stick to documentaries on the Holocaust. It's not like they don't make enough of those.

Posted by: LYT at May 1, 2006 12:25 AM

You've all fleshed out this issue really well, so there's not much to add. You've reminded me of my experience viewing the rape scene in Boys Don't Cry. In addition to being horrified by what it was depicting, I was somewhat embarrassed to be sitting in a movie theater with hundreds of other paying customers watching it. ("Ooh, she's getting sodomized without lubricant. Could I get some more butter on that popcorn?") The bottom line is that movies are entertainment, and there's something truly base about being entertained by other people's misfortune. However, as Pollyanna springs eternal, I also can't help but search for the value of these movies: Some people are energized to pursue more information afterward.

Posted by: Lena at May 1, 2006 7:14 AM

> I don't believe diet...

Dood, let go of the food. Movies are about controlled settings, schedules, and predictable results, none of which apply when Achmed slits your flight attendant's throat. Bingham and Beamer were not Hollywood types. How come I'm responsible for making congress take things seriously?

Let's quote the review you link on your blog:

"Although nearly five years have passed, many Americans probably are still not ready to relive the terrible events of that day."

What kind of shit is that? Is it our duty to go to these films? Would "readiness to relive" the day through this commercial frogwash demonstrate maturity and good character? The reviewer says "UNITED 93 is a brilliant, realistic portrayal of what happened...." It's not possible that he could know this to be true. Historical movie makers and their critics wrestle without dignity over inane minutiae; the filmmakers get to keep the money.

> there's something truly base
> about being entertained by
> other people's misfortune.

What Lena said. Lena Cuisina.

> I fundamentally CANNOT
> sympathize with an
> unappealing, whiny nerd

Hey, mister! These are my PEOPLE you're talking about!

I think after the youth-movement 60's, folks in the 70's were pretty presumptuous in thinking of themselves as savvy and good-humored about their own faults. Redford and Hoffman were making it all too easy to sympathize with movie characters... But they readily drifted into Alan Alda-style sanctimony. Woody deftly exposed rich veins of laughter and awareness that were not being mined. Antiheroes of his type are now common, but he franchised the form.

Besides, some would consider Richard Pryor an unappealing, whiny nerd. But he was the funniest man who ever lived.

Posted by: Crid at May 1, 2006 8:26 AM

That some Flight 93 passengers "fought like warrior poets" is encouraging for our future. For surely “we the people” are able (but are we willing?) to storm the bridge of the ship of state, and seize the helm from postmodernist hijackers. See, www.tell-usa.org/flight93

Posted by: RS at May 23, 2006 1:42 AM

Leave a comment