Is America ready for a Sept. 11 movie?

Posted: Apr 06, 2006 8:05 PM

On April 28, Universal is set to release "United 93," a full-length feature film about the events surrounding the fateful flight crashed by passengers in a field in Pennsylvania on Sept. 11, 2001. Previews in Los Angeles and New York have already drawn intense scrutiny and emotional reaction. Time reported that audience members in Hollywood shouted "Too soon!" as the trailer was screened; a New York theater actually pulled the trailer after audience complaints.

The preview itself is straightforward. The first minute or so consists of typical flight commuting talk as passengers board flight 93 -- "unfortunately, it looks like it's going to be about a 30 minute delay," "we're currently number one for departure," etc. Cut to air traffic controllers viewing the two aircraft plowing into the World Trade Center towers. Back aboard flight 93, pilots are informed of the terrorist attacks. Suddenly, an Arab man rips open his shirt to reveal a red tool-belt; the passengers are stunned, terrified.

They begin to organize. "We have to do it now, because we know what happens if we just sit here and do nothing," one man tells his family over an Airfone. As the passengers gather to plan their final act of heroism, the screen informs us, "On the day we faced fear … We also found courage."

Is it too soon? It may be too late. Since Sept. 11, the press has buried all photos and video of the horrific attacks. Five years later, the War on Terror is at low ebb, with the latest Gallup poll showing Americans are more worried about health care than about terrorism. Only 39 percent of self-labeled independents consider terrorism a major worry, along with 47 percent of Democrats and 52 percent of Republicans. It is no wonder that President Bush's support base for the War on Terror has declined dramatically over the last few years -- Americans, encouraged by the media's silence, are simply complacent about terrorism.

We can't have it both ways. If terrorism is a major worry, we ought to confront the problem. If it isn't, there's no harm in reminding Americans that the threat still exists, that proof of the seriousness of the threat can be found in a giant crater in the center of New York City, as well as a large hole in a Pennsylvania field and a newly-restored section of the Pentagon.

For too long, Hollywood has been silent, and Americans, attempting to slip back into a pre-Sept. 11 reverie, have accepted that silence with gratitude. Sept. 11 was a painful wound, but that is no excuse for forgetting it. Those for whom Sept. 11 was most painful -- family members of those who died in Flight 93, for example -- have unanimously supported the picture. Carole O'Hare, whose mother died aboard Flight 93, told Time why she supported the filmmakers: "This story has to be told to honor the passengers and crew for what they did … But more than that, it raises awareness. Our ports aren't secure. Our borders aren't secure. Our airlines still aren't secure, and this is what happens when you're not secure. That's the message I want people to hear."

During World War II, moviegoers were constantly treated to newsreels depicting the damage at Pearl Harbor, along with current events on both the Pacific and European fronts. Hollywood churned out hundreds of World War II pictures, the vast majority pushing for further American involvement in defeating Germany and Japan and celebrating the heroism of men and women involved in the war effort.

Since Sept. 11, by contrast, TV news channels specifically dedicated to explaining current events have stopped showing the Sept. 11 footage. We're told that the news media censors such horrible pictures out of sensitivity to the families of the victims. At the same time, the media pleads for more pictures of body bags coming back from Afghanistan and Iraq. Apparently, sensitivity only extends as far as the media's antiwar agenda. Meanwhile, Hollywood has been silent about Sept. 11 and the War on Terror, other than to claim that war in the Middle East is driven by thirst for oil ("Syriana") or that President Bush is a war criminal ("Fahrenheit 9/11"). Chances are that Oliver Stone's "World Trade Center" will follow in the footsteps of such artistic misinformation.

It is about time Americans were reacquainted with the cost of complacence. It is about time Americans were shown the face of our enemy -- it is time we were reminded what they fight for, so clearly visible in the burning towers, the plummeting bodies and the exploding airplanes of Sept. 11. Accurate depictions of the bravery and evil that we saw on Sept. 11 are necessary.