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Experiencing ...United 93...

Dennis Porche

We saw “United 93” the day it opened because there would be no later chance. We bought tickets ahead of time online, paying extra. When we arrived at the AMC Common — Boston’s one block that feels like Manhattan — with still 40 minutes to go, I prayed silently, bound to my seat as to a tarmac, that for once we’d be spared the previews. But then wheeled in the mini-concessioner, the latest trick child labor candy youth in Coke red, charming us with his banter and last chances at dinner, plying us with rules and regs lest we be escorted out. I thought that — in our numbed anxiety — he might be in as much danger as a hijacker, but then the previews came on mercifully after all.

During the film some people around us ate buckets of popcorn. A few talked and moved more than usual. My wife got sick at the camera motion and had to go out a while. She said she’d return to a corner seat so as not to bother our neighbors again. Others made a steady stream downward to depart more permanently perhaps, or just to walk around in a daze. It was like the wanderings you see at an outdoor concert, but we were really taking each other in. This was like no viewing. Except maybe of the dead in a warp of replay.

Viewing “United 93” can barely be considered like seeing a film, drama or documentary. Reviewers recommend it as a “must-see,” but while true that feels “not right.” References to Hollywood and studio mean nothing. The film not only returns us to 9/11, but to the pre-rhetorical. There’s no war on terror, no usages like “evil,” no reasons or justifications, and thankfully no aerial postscripts of rubble to move us one way or another. Word is out that more 9/11 films are soon to follow, commemorating the fifth year, with one by Oliver Stone no less. If there are deities to praise I’d thank them that this one came out the first!

9/11 is still fully with us. For events receiving so many visions and pronouncements, 9/11 has found no rest or even context. Osama is still very much out there, and any sense of future, with our new wars since, remains as unknowable and unfathomable as figuring out what to do that day. What United 93 graced me with, however, was the right to return to the day itself. A day when people — controllers brass passengers and hijackers — were each in their space as terrified, possessed, forlorn, killing and dying outside or in, every bit like the one in the next seat over. The film attempts no message, thankfully. But perhaps at that moment, when praying to Allah or to Jesus or to Other, cockpit to cabin, some in fanatical craze, others in resolve — well — one might just raise one’s head and look across and reach that very way, toward them the unthinkable, too.

Last week’s deliberation on Zacarias Moussaoui may well mark the first worthy bracket to that morn, which by this viewing appears to have gone nowhere since in our lives.

Dennis L. Porche is a staff member in the Department of Mathematics.