After I wrote my review of the film United 93 this morning, I was pretty drained emotionally. In fact, I didn’t think there would be anything that would be able to pique my interest and motivate me to write about for the rest of the day.
Good thing I happened to run across Slate’s Dana Steven’s review of the same film. There’s nothing like reading full blown, to the max idiocy to get the blood pumping to my brain and get my fingers itching to do a little keyboard solo on someone who exhibits as much jaw-dropping cluelessness as Stevens.
If you are one of those who saw United 93 and are keenly disappointed that Director Greengrass failed to turn his project into a 90 minute brief to prove the incompetence and evil of the Bush Administration, you would think Ms Stevens a genius rather than the pouting philistine that she appears to be. In truth, Stevens review is illustrative of a view quite prevalent on the left that, in essence, boils down to this: Things would have been different if you know who had been President.
The convoluted reasoning behind this notion rests with the hypotheses that 1) 9/11 was Bush’s fault; 2) the situation was made worse by the incompetence of the President; and 3) the government worked much better the previous 8 years and the gaffes, goofs, confusion, and panic were solely the result of the government going to hell and a handbasket during the 8 months of the Bush Administration.
I hope I don’t sound like a cynic with a heart of lead when I say that United 93, as grueling as it was to sit through, left me feeling curiously unmoved and even slightly resentful. At some point, Greengrass’ exquisite delicacy and tact toward all sidesâ€”the surviving families, the baffled air-traffic controllers, even the hijackers themselvesâ€”began to smack of political pussyfooting. What is Greengrass actually trying to say about 9/11? That it was a terrible day on which innocent people suffered and died? That the chaos and shock of that morning’s events (skillfully evoked via hand-held camera and real-time pacing) kept anyone, even the air-traffic controllers who watched the hijackings unfold, from understanding what was going on until it was too late?
First of all, yes Dana you “sound like a cynic with a heart of lead” since you asked. And that “political pussyfooting” (nice touch including the hijackers although one gets the impression you have more sympathy for them than you do the controllers) which we take to mean the director’s reluctance to assign “blame” was, of course, the entire rationale for the film. Sorry you missed it.
As politicized as the 9/11 Commission eventually became in its public sessions, the final report had much to say about why the entire United States government froze up into one massive ball of ice. Much of it was institutional. Some of it, like FAA protocols for dealing with hijackings were hopelessly inadequate to deal with what happened on 9/11. From the report:
“In sum, the protocols in place on 9/11 for the FAA and NORAD to respond to a hijacking presumed that:
- the hijacked aircraft would be readily identifiable and would not attempt to disappear;
- there would be time to address the problem through the appropriate FAA and NORAD chains of command; and
- hijacking would take the traditional form: that is, it would not be a suicide hijacking designed to convert the aircraft into a guided missile.
On the morning of 9/11, the existing protocol was unsuited in every respect for what was about to happen.” (emphasis mine)
“In every respect” would seem to take in the alternative history scenario of Bill Clinton to the rescue although people like Stevens never seem to let such mundane details like, you know, actual facts get in the way of a good anti-Bush rant.
One might ask why government was so unprepared for the disaster but this would bring up some royally uncomfortable verities about the way the United States snoozed its way through the entire 1990’s (George Bush #41 included), something Stevens and her ilk have no stomach for doing. It is much easier to simply blame it all on Bush with any alternate telling of the myth akin to breaking a commandment (that is, if lefties believed in such things).
Stevens’ complaints don’t end there:
United 93 is no Schindler’s List, relying on characterization and storytelling to draw viewers into identifying with an otherwise unimaginable horror. If anything, Greengrass’ agenda is an anti-identificatory one. If the Spielberg of Schindler’s List is a wheedling seducer, Greengrass is a chillingly precise archivist. He never cuts away to the families of the Flight 93 passengers, arriving home to listen to their heart-rending voicemail messages. He never visits the inside of the three planes that did crash into buildings that day; we’re aware of their fate only through the words of the air-traffic controllers, some clips of CNN news coverage, and one terrifying stock shot of the plane hitting the second tower. He barely even names the passengersâ€”an hour into the movie, I still hadn’t figured out which one was Todd Beamerâ€”and makes a point of stressing their utter unspecialness, their glazed stares and dull in-flight chatter. The suspense, such as it is, is purely negativeâ€”we know in advance what will happen to Flight 93, so the maddeningly slow burn of the film’s first hour (Businessmen heft suitcases! Flight attendants chat about condiments!) serves only to torment us with the anxiety of the inevitable.
Note to Dana: MAKE YOUR OWN GODDAMN MOVIE ABOUT FLIGHT #93 IF THAT’S THE WAY YOU FEEL ABOUT IT!
There is nothing more annoying than a “woulda, shoulda, coulda” critic who doesn’t possess an ounce of talent to actually make a film themselves but who is more than willing to tell a director how he should have made his. The movie Stevens is proposing Greengrass make is so far removed from the director’s vision that it makes her pouty, foot stomping tirade about what’s missing from U-93 sound like someone running their fingernails across a blackboard. Absolutely hopeless.
It’s fair game to criticize a director for an unfulfilled vision or a lazy vision, or even for having no vision at all. But to actually posit the notion that a critic’s judgement on what vision the director should have had as legitimate criticism smacks of pure politics to me.
And if that doesn’t convince you of the political motivations of Steven’s disguised critique of U-93, try this:
In the last five years, “9/11” has become a generic brand name for terrorism, its sky-high recognition quotient useful for ginning up support for any and all manner of belligerent causes. The closest this film ever comes to a political statementâ€”and possibly the only laugh line in the movieâ€”is the snappish question of a beleaguered official: “Do we have any communication with the president at all?” Greenglass may not want to come right out and say it, but the audience’s weary chuckle made it clear: As we slog into the fourth year of the war being waged in 9/11’s wake (and, at least in part, in its name), there’s still no satisfactory answer to that question.
Yes, “9/11” (the quote marks are a nice touch – as if only a few deluded souls care about it in any context at all) is very useful for “ginning up support” for “belligerent causes” – kinda like war except you and the other misanthropes on the left don’t really believe in that kind of nonsense. To you and your ideological brethren, what happened that day was more about skewering Bush than anything untoward that happened to the United States. It’s sickening.
As far as the “joke” about communications with the President, here’s more from the 9/11 Commission:
The NMCC learned of United 93’s hijacking at about 10:03.At this time the FAA had no contact with the military at the level of national command. The NMCC learned about United 93 from the White House. It, in turn, was informed by the Secret Service’s contacts with the FAA.225
NORAD had no information either. At 10:07, its representative on the air threat conference call stated that NORAD had “no indication of a hijack heading to DC at this time.”226
Repeatedly between 10:14 and 10:19, a lieutenant colonel at the White House relayed to the NMCC that the Vice President had confirmed fighters were cleared to engage inbound aircraft if they could verify that the aircraft was hijacked.227
The commander of NORAD, General Ralph Eberhart, was en route to the NORAD operations center in Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado, when the shootdown order was communicated on the air threat conference call. He told us that by the time he arrived, the order had already been passed down NORAD’s chain of command.228
It is not clear how the shootdown order was communicated within NORAD. But we know that at 10:31, General Larry Arnold instructed his staff to broadcast the following over a NORAD instant messaging system: “10:31 Vice president has cleared to us to intercept tracks of interest and shoot them down if they do not respond per [General Arnold].”229
More inconvenient facts regarding what was happening in the government that day. The answer to the question “Do we have any communication with the President at all?” was a resounding yes. The coordination between NORAD and the FAA was, as shown earlier, entirely inadequate to deal with the situation. The audience chuckling is much more indicative of the success that Stevens and others have had in perpetrating the myth of Bush incompetence that day than what really happened, something that Greengrass wasn’t interested in portraying anyway.
Yes we should be upset with our government for the way 9/11 was handled. It was incompetent. It was negligent. It was without question a disaster. But the exact same thing would have happened regardless of who was President. To say otherwise isn’t speculative, it’s a deliberate falsification of what we know from history.
If Stevens didn’t like U-93 that is her right. But to turn a movie review into a diatribe against the Bush Administration only makes her look like an idiot who doesn’t know what she’s talking about.