Ready or not, United 93 arrives in theaters
By Neal Schindler
The images of 9/11 are indelible. Thats 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 Greengrasss 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 readyand willingto see it?
Outside the theater after Tuesdays screening, at which numerous family members of 9/11 victims were present, the mood was somber. According to Manhattanites J.J. OConnor and Amy Greuloch, the film isnt for everyone, yet those who can stomach it may be glad they went. Its a pretty amazing movie, OConnor 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 its 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 theyre ready for it.
Not everyone agrees. Wright Salisbury, whose son-in-law died on American Airlines Flight 11, isnt planning to see the film. The reason why not is, Ive had it up to here with 9/11, he said. As the director of Bostons 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 films 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 Sides 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 itabout the power of a group united, and the shift from fear to determination when death is nearthat 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 catharsisor 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.