Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000 to 2009.
Bravery and heroism are notions ascribed after an action. Provided someone’s heart is in the right place, something heroic comes not from the pursuit of respect but the instinct of reaction.
The exact truth of what happened on United Flight 93 — the only terrorist-controlled airplane on 9/11 that didn’t hit its intended target and one on which passengers rose against their captors before a fatal crash with no survivors — never can be fully known.
But Paul Greengrass’s 2006 United 93, a film chronicling the plane’s real-time flight, respected these passengers’ primal drive to reclaim control of their fate — their need to act not even necessarily in terms of survival, but at least trying and, if they must, dying on their own terms.
Greengrass forces us not to so much relive 9/11 events, but examine ourselves in what we learn of these passengers and people on the ground. Could we, in a situation for which we had no mental template, find the internal strength to react in the same way? Tasked to respond to unanticipated tragedy, could we react with clear heads?
Passenger retaliation makes up the final minutes, and it’s eloquent in its fury — no slow motion, rousing music or showboating effects, just frenzied activity and indelible final images.
It’s here United 93 swells with immeasurable heart and hope where it could’ve been emptily safe or crassly exploitative. Its exhausting, emotionally draining greatness comes from an unadorned story of humanity’s personal resolve, not politics or patriotism, in one finite moment.