Volume 18, Number 50 | April 28 - May 4, 2006

Ready or not, ‘United 93’ arrives in theaters

By Neal Schindler

The images of 9/11 are indelible. That’s especially true for New Yorkers who witnessed the events of the day firsthand. Now, nearly half a decade later, moviegoers nationwide will be privy to 9/11 images no one has seen before. “United 93,” British writer-director Paul Greengrass’s real-time recreation of the only hijacked flight not to reach its target, had its world premiere Tuesday night at the Ziegfeld Theater to open the Tribeca Film Festival. It arrives on Friday in movie theaters throughout the city, but are New Yorkers and 9/11 family members ready—and willing—to see it?

Outside the theater after Tuesday’s screening, at which numerous family members of 9/11 victims were present, the mood was somber. According to Manhattanites J.J. O’Connor and Amy Greuloch, the film isn’t for everyone, yet those who can stomach it may be glad they went. “It’s a pretty amazing movie,” O’Connor said. “Especially watching it with the families there, you [got] a real sense of the loss that occurred on September 11.” But will many average New Yorkers want to vicariously board the doomed flight at their local cineplex? “I actually think that it’s tough for New York to see this movie,” Greuloch said. “But at the same time, I think New York has tough skin and can absorb it. So I think they’re ready for it.

Not everyone agrees. Wright Salisbury, whose son-in-law died on American Airlines Flight 11, isn’t planning to see the film. “The reason why not is, I’ve had it up to here with 9/11,” he said. As the director of Boston’s Alliance for Jewish-Christian-Muslim Understanding and a member of the New York-based 9/11 awareness group Peaceful Tomorrows, Salisbury is concerned that the film could fuel a new wave of anti-Muslim sentiment. As a medium, he said, film “has tremendous power to inflame,” and he fears that “United 93” could do just that.

Another family member of a 9/11 victim, East Village resident Charles Wolf, had very different responses to the film’s theatrical trailer and to “United 93” itself. Wolf, whose wife, Katherine, worked on the 97th floor of 1 World Trade Center, was initially “very angry” about the trailer, which he accused of “overdramatizing” events. (The same trailer recently made headlines when the Upper West Side’s AMC Loews Lincoln Square movie theater pulled it after multiple patrons complained.) Yet his reaction to the film, which he saw on Tuesday, was overwhelmingly positive. Wolf praised “United 93” for reenacting the flight in a “very straightforward manner” and for refusing to make any one passenger into a hero. Even Todd Beamer, celebrated in many media accounts as the leader of the passengers’ revolt against the hijackers, is identified but not held above his fellow passengers, Wolf said. While he believes that no one should watch “United 93” out of a sense of obligation, he sees messages in it—about the power of a group united, and the shift from fear to determination when death is near—that might appeal to viewers with no direct connection to 9/11.

Yet the question remains: For New Yorkers, will “United 93” be a much-needed source of catharsis—or an unnecessary reminder of tragedy? Outside the Ziegfeld, Queens resident Sheryl Hausman said: “It was more real than I could possibly have ever imagined it would be.” Her sister, Lisa Rubin, also of Queens, agreed, yet she insisted the city can handle such realism. “Oh, I think New York is ready for this movie,” she said. “But there was not a dry eye in the place.”


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