Steven Greydanus on “United 93″

My trusted friend and colleague Steven D. Greydanus has seen United 93. And he says,

It is not exploitative. It is not manipulative. It is not strident or judgmental. It does not demonize or lionize anybody. It is as restrained, as respectful, as deeply moving a tribute to the passengers of United Flight 93 (not to mention assorted key players on the ground) as I can imagine a film being.

As a New York area resident who watched the WTC burn and fall with my own eyes, I am deeply appreciative of this film. My brother-in-law, who was actually in the vicinity of Ground Zero during the attacks, was my very reluctant guest tonight, having felt strongly ahead of time that he would never watch any film on this subject, but afterwards he was very grateful that he had been imposed upon to see it, and said afterward that he hopes that resistance to the subject matter will not prevent the film from finding the success it deserves.

Paul Greengrass has done an amazing job here. He has resisted all manner of temptations regarding conflicting agendas of various kinds, and against all odds he has told the story of Flight 93 with (what seems to me) extraordinary integrity.

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About Jeffrey Overstreet

Jeffrey Overstreet is the author of a “memoir of dangerous moviegoing” called Through a Screen Darkly, and a four-volume series of fantasy novels called The Auralia Thread, which includes Auralia’s Colors, Cyndere’s Midnight, Raven’s Ladder, and The Ale Boy’s Feast. Jeffrey is a contributing editor for Seattle Pacific University’s Response magazine, and he writes about art, faith, and culture for Image, Filmwell, and his own website, LookingCloser.org. His work has also appeared in Paste, Relevant, Books and Culture, and Christianity Today (where he was a film columnist and critic for almost a decade). He lives in Shoreline, Washington. Visit him on Facebook at facebook.com/jeffreyoverstreethq.

  • Adam Walter

    So it can be a bit dispiriting to return to the same ol’ routine, even though I’m thrilled to see my co-workers again. I hope the momentum from the Workshop will carry me for a long time to come, but I fear my mind will quickly become crowded with the busy-ness of the everyday.

    Ah, this takes me back. Reminds me of the Evangelical summer camp I went to as a teen: one week of revival followed by months of disillusionment. (And funny how that cycle could be repeated year after year.) I’m sure your resolutions will fare better, of course. :)

  • Marc

    It can be difficult to be creative when you lapse into old routines and settle into the comfort zone.

    Don’t know if you had a chance to see this article on what makes art Christian. It’s short but makes a few good points on the Christian label and how God made us in His image.

  • Sara Z.

    I know the feeling. I’ve spent the last 2 days alternating between resolutions and returning to my baser instincts.

  • Jeffrey Overstreet

    >>That being said, I have been exposed so much through the media to the events in 2001 that I struggle with finding my genuine reaction to it. Seeing a movie about that day would probably dilute my experience even further.<<

    Kool,

    There’s nothing narcissistic about feeling bombarded with messages about how you’re SUPPOSED to feel. I sympathize with you. I still cling to my memory of what that day was like for me and for Anne. I don’t want anyone to twist my own thoughts and feelings to fit their particular agenda, be it political, spiritual, or whatever.

    Just as I don’t want to watch my wedding day from the angle of someone else’s video camera, and have my own personal perspective on the day overwritten by what a machine captured, so I don’t want the memories of that day that drive me to meditation, prayer, and vigilance to be replaced by manufactured images that take me into “the heart of the horror.” What was done was shameful. If I care about children victimized by rapists, I don’t need to see footage of “the act” in order to understand what happened. Similarly, I didn’t NEED to see “The Passion of the Christ” to understand what Jesus went through.

    Having said that, I know there are people who need the reminders, or who are seeking to understand, or who want to honor the memories of brave people by showing their bravery. I have no problem with that, so long as no one declares what the RIGHT or WRONG response to it is.

    So no, you’re not being narcissistic. You’re in line with folks like Walker Percy and even T-Bone Burnett who have written about the tendency of our media-addicted culture to turn to other people (who often have questionable agendas) to provide their perspectives and opinions for them.

    So while people pack the theaters this weekend, Kool, I’ll join you in steering clear and guarding my personal memories and perspectives against the kind of thing that can inadvertently distract or delude us or even damage an individual’s experience.

    When I watch “Hotel Rwanda,” I’m trying to understand something, cure my ignorance, and become informed. But this… this happened to all of us, vividly, in ways we’ll never forget. Personally, I don’t need to be reminded about the day that hit me like a Mack truck.

  • Peter T Chattaway

    That being said, I have been exposed so much through the media to the events in 2001 that I struggle with finding my genuine reaction to it. Seeing a movie about that day would probably dilute my experience even further.

    This seems, to me, like a very odd way to approach a subject so huge and “national” in scope. “Finding my genuine reaction”? “My experience”? There is something almost narcissistic about the vocabulary, here. Plus, it seems to me that experiences evolve over time, and there is no reason to assume that our initial gut reactions to an event like September 11 must be preferable to our later, better-informed reactions. (Plus I think it is entirely appropriate to have more than one reaction to an event as huge and significant as this. Indeed, one of the reasons I value this film is precisely because it allows for multiple, polyvalent reactions.)

  • wngl

    Admittedly I have not seen Bloody Sunday and I would love to watch it. But I am one of the few in the world who actually did not like The Bourne Supremacy.

    BTW I do not mean to suggest that I think Greengrass is aiming to entertain with his film. Especially after reading Greydanus’ review, I am confident that it is sensitive and appropriate for the subject.

    That being said, I have been exposed so much through the media to the events in 2001 that I struggle with finding my genuine reaction to it. Seeing a movie about that day would probably dilute my experience even further. While I do look to the arts for succor and understanding, in the case of national tragedy I think I would prefer to explore it through a different form than film.

  • Peter T Chattaway

    Speaking of eyewitnesses, many of the characters “on the ground” are actually played by themselves — including the head of the FAA.

    Of course, in one very important sense, this is NOT an eyewitness movie, because none of the people who witnessed the events aboard Flight 93 are alive to tell the tale.

    Kool Mancool wrote:
    Personally I am not going to see the film because for me I cannot help but think about the other films the director has made, and how they were meant for entertainment, etc blah blah blah.

    Are you kidding? I admit I have seen only two of this director’s other films, but have you seen Bloody Sunday (2002)? United 93 is exactly the sort of restrained, naturalistic docudrama with which this director first gained an international reputation. (His only other film since then, 2004′s The Bourne Supremacy, is also noteworthy for its restraint and its non-exploitation of violence, etc.)

  • RC

    the films doing good on rottentomatoes.com so i’m talking that as a good sign…and i want this film to be good…i think this film will be much better received than Stone’s movie.

    Just a feeling.

    –RC of strangeculture.blogspot.com

  • Mike Harris Stone

    The issue of eyewitness -vs- non-eyewitness is interesting. For me, as an eyewitness, I’m interested in media interpretations of what I experienced so I can arrive at a possible fuller understanding of what happened. Being there, I know how limited my understanding actually was. Perhaps those whose primary experience of 9/11 WAS a media interpretation, don’t want more interpretations?

    As to this being purely a commercial film, who are we fooling? This isn’t the latest Jerry Bruckheimer production. On the other side, I do know some who were there who will NOT want to see this film simply because they don’t want to relive the trauma of that particularly beautiful autumn day.

  • wngl

    It will be interesting to see how viewers respond to the film, depending on whether or not they were eyewitnesses to the horrors that day. Will eyewitnesses apply a different criteria to the film? Personally I am not going to see the film because for me I cannot help but think about the other films the director has made, and how they were meant for entertainment, etc blah blah blah. (Oh the terrible burden of the cinephile!) I struggled with the same thing over The Passion of the Christ. However, I chose to see that particular film because I love Christ. In the case of United 93, I love the passengers because of their experience, but I do not want to have any kind of vicarious exposure to it. Seeing United 93 will not cause me, a non-witness to 911, to reasses my feelings about what happened on that day; neither will it create a new guage upon which I rate heroism. I am already convinced the passengers were heroic. The film will not change my mind about that.

  • Jeffrey Overstreet

    That’s the extent of his input so far over at Arts and Faith:
    http://artsandfaith.com/index.php?showtopic=8976&hl=

  • jonathan

    Are these the extent of his comments or is there a link for more?


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