Difficult and provocative, United 93 is an experience that is at once abstract, visceral, and sometimes overwhelmingly immediate. In reframing the event in and as TV images, the way so many people experienced it on 9/11, the film makes a devastating appeal to collective and individual memories. It also shapes those memories, framing them with Ben Sliney making decisions when no one else would (closing down all air space). In its fitful remembering, United 93 raises important questions (however reverentially) about the making of history. Who decides "what happened"? What is omitted? And how does any one point of view prevail over another? In creating identifiable heroes -- say, Todd Beamer (played here by David Alan Basche) or Thomas E. Burnett (Christian Clemenson), names that have circulated in the ever-expanding history/mythology mix of 9/11 -- the movie leaves other participants less visible.
The effort to fight back, the desperation and the fear, are all too visible, in shards more than coherent images. Close-ups show frantic and determined faces, praying, calling loved ones, setting their jaws in determination to "do something." Though no one can know exactly "what happened," this reimagining allows viewers to think the best of United 93's heroes. Director Paul Greenrass met with family members to secure their blessing as well as their input: "It tells a story," they say, "that needs to be told." This is no doubt true, though what that story is may be less clear. In this sense, it is like most history, not official, not even accurate, but essential.