Joanne Laurier of the World Socialist Web Site (WSWS) recently reviewed Paul Greengrass’ new film United 93 – an account of the hijacked airliner that crashed in a Pennsylvania field on September 11, 2001. I've always found WSWS's movie reviews to be very insightful as they often provide historical and social analysis absent from mainstream film reviews. This particular review is no exception.
United 93, notes Laurier, is “not a flag-waving epic.” The film “does not exploit the doomed passengers, refashioning ordinary people responding to a dire situation into heroes driven to save the White House or the Capitol building. Nor does it simply dehumanize the terrorist hijackers, guilty as they were of an atrocious, anti-human crime.”
Nevertheless, says Laurier, Greengrass has “largely evaded his artistic and intellectual responsibilities,” by failing to take a “clear and unflinching look” at his subject matter – omitting, for instance, “any reference to the process by which the tragic event came to pass.”
Notes Laurier: “A ‘clear and unflinching’ look at 9/11 would inevitably allude to Washington’s decades-long sponsorship of Islamic fundamentalism, underscoring the fact that the hijackers of Flight 93 were not even born when the US began courting and encouraging reactionary Islamicism, first to weaken left-wing and secular nationalist forces in the Middle East and later in Afghanistan to undermine the Soviet Union.”
“Even within the film’s ‘docudrama’ framework, this would have been feasible,” suggests Laurier. “Greengrass places titles at the end of the film, commenting on various facets of the 9/11 events. Why could he not have similarly begun his film with titles conveying the fact, for example, that in 1979 the US commenced giving financial and military backing to the Islamic fundamentalists engaged in guerrilla warfare against the Soviet-backed regime in Kabul? Or why not a title indicating that Osama bin Laden was essentially on the CIA payroll in the early 1980s, through Pakistani intelligence? Why not a reference to the 500,000 Iraqis who died as a result of US-led sanctions or Washington’s unstinting support for the suppression of the Palestinians? Why not a title explaining that on August 6, 2001, George W. Bush’s daily intelligence briefing was entitled ‘Bin Laden determined to strike in US’? What questions such an approach would have raised in the spectator’s mind!”
Yet the director, says Laurier, “has made it a guiding principle to offer no explanation and no background – none whatsoever! – to a world-historical event that provided the justification for two neo-colonial wars and the deaths of tens or hundreds of thousands. Artists of another day would have found such an approach unthinkable. Disasters of far less geopolitical consequence, like the sinking of the Titanic, were treated more seriously decades ago. Insofar as the film implies a cause or source of the violence, it lies in some inexplicable or perhaps eternal religious fanaticism, the bankrupt argument of right-wingers such as Christopher Hitchens.”
In short, Laurier laments that “Greengrass’ artistic evasiveness has produced a film that is subject to almost any interpretation, including one that claims the post-9/11 world necessitates the prosecution of a one-size-fits-all-evils ‘war on terror,’ a euphemism for the pursuit of American global domination . . . In the most neutral—and politically forgiving—of interpretations, United 93 hardly differs, in its final portions, from conventional thrillers and disaster films.”
To read the entire review, click here.