Meet the Hanslick Girls: Gwen, Eleanor and Dania. Created by writer Zach Barr, they are a trio of friends who are always out experiencing the best of entertainment. Be it plays, films, concerts, exhibits, or games, they’ve learned that the arts are best when experienced together. They may not have the same opinions, but their conversations tend to make for an entertaining read. In honor of the 16th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, the Girls watched the first film to directly depict the events of that day. Let’s listen in on their conversation…
It had been a issue before that Gwen never cried during a movie. Admittedly, she had gotten choked up at films before, though she always managed to stifle the lump in her throat before it burst forth into sobs. This became a problem when she, attending these sad stories with her friends, had to field accusations of heartlessness, when her distress about the film did not manifest itself in runny noses and loud sniffles.
Worse still, she thought, as the final moments of Paul Greengrass’ film United 93 flashed before her eyes, were movies where she hadn’t even come close to crying. Especially since Eleanor and Dania – the former especially – were common criers at any emotional ending to a movie. And during the final shot of the film, the minimalist score from John Powell was accompanied by additional percussion from Eleanor attempting, loudly, not to weep. It was an emotional moment, certainly. One that Gwen felt, internally.
The girls remained silent as the film’s closing text informed them about the legacy of the 40 passengers of United Airlines Flight 93, after their fatal crash into Pennsylvania. The film weighed heavy – and naturally so. Even sixteen years later, and even though the girls barely remembered the attacks personally, the specter of 9/11 hung like a virus around all media touching on it. Discussions would be evasive, an assemblage of muttered hints at its importance, and of American reaffirmation.
As the credits rolled by, Dania’s tears eventually subsided, so by the time the notice regarding the film’s accuracy appeared, Dania’s eyes were beginning to dry.
“How much of it is made up?” she wondered. Turning to Gwen, she asked, “you recommended it, do you know anything about it?”
“It’s a mixture of estimated facts,” Gwen explained. “Some details from the 9/11 Commission Report, others based on research about the real people, and some dialogue just made up.”
“Yeah, I was wondering how the dialogue would have been recorded…” Dania asked. “Only some of them called their families.”
“True.” Gwen said. She glanced at Eleanor, no longer convulsing. “Anything you need, Eleanor?”
“…No,” came the wavering reply. “I’m fine, I just get emotional.”
“Of course, of course,” Gwen said.
“Hahhh…” Eleanor readjusted her hair, getting it out of her face. She breathed to calm herself, and looked at Gwen. After a beat, she spoke.
“It’s so good,” she said.
Gwen sighed. “Yes, it is, isn’t it?”
“You know, I did catch that weirdness with the actors,” Dania said. “How there were, like, ten or so played by real people.”
“Oh, you mean the commanders?” Gwen clarified.
“Yeah,” Dania said, before adding, “well, of course the commanders, it’s not going to be the passengers.”
It was two days later. Dania, procrastinating on work, had found Gwen in her room and crashed on her bed, asking more about the movie.
“That feels really weird to me, I guess,” Dania said. “Having the actual people go through all that again, even on a film set.”
Gwen shrugged. “They all agreed, I suppose. Even the families of the people who died had to sign off on things before they put it in the movie. Look at the other major 9/11 movie, the Nicholas Cage World Trade Center one. That one is more troubling for me, since it’s not really about the real people at all.”
“That’s the one where he’s just trapped in the building, right?”
“Yeah. Haven’t seen it,” Dania added. “No interest.”
“United 93 is better, I think,” Gwen said. “More research, more serious tone, more encapsulating the entire tragedy rather than just one part of it.”
“Yeah, you hadn’t mentioned that before, all the scenes with the air traffic controllers, watching the other two planes hit the towers and everything.”
As she said this, Dania could hear Eleanor walking towards the room. As she entered, Gwen responded to Dania.
“It’s a very well-paced film,” Gwen said. “If it showed the hijacking too soon – oh, hi Eleanor.”
“What’s up?” Eleanor responded.
“Just talkin’ United 93,” Dania said, casually.
“Ah, yes,” Eleanor said, dry-eyed. She also sat on Gwen’s bed, with Dania.
“I was saying that the film is well paced,” Gwen repeated. “How they focus on the entire tragedy, and only the final twenty minutes or so is solely about the flight being hijacked.”
“Yeah,” Eleanor said. “It gets really tense, when you’re not sure if the hijacking is going to happen right away or not, but you know it’s gonna, and all the other tragedies start going on. Good writing – although I guess that’s what happened in real life.”
“It’s approximate,” Dania said. “Since they didn’t have recordings or anything.”
“Although I will say,” Gwen began, “I’m not a fan of the first half hour or so.”
“What about it?” Eleanor said. “That it focuses on the terrorists?”
“I thought that was interesting,” Dania said. “A weird way to start, sure, but not an awful idea.”
“Not that so much,” Gwen said. “But I dislike the tone of the opening section. It’s all very…”
Gwen made an attempt to mimic the music during the opening section: lots of long violin notes, muted bass drums, minor chords. Eleanor and Dania didn’t seem to understand.
“What, that it’s sad?” Dania asked. “It’s a 9/11 movie, of course it’s gonna be sad.”
“Certainly,” Gwen said. “But they’re playing towards the ending too soon. The opening is about the terrorists getting ready to do something, we don’t really know what. We only know that they’re terrorists because of the history behind the movie, and yet the entire opening third is intense shots of people boarding a plane. It’s only interesting because we know the tragedy is coming.”
“Sure, but I don’t think that weakens the opening,” Eleanor countered. “I mean, who watching the movie isn’t going to know something about 9/11?”
“Foreign markets?” Gwen suggested.
“They’ll know,” Eleanor said. “It was kind of a big deal. Besides, knowing the tragedy will happen still lets tension build. The guy running to not miss the plane is more intense when you know he’s going to die. Just knowing something bad will happen doesn’t mean it’s boring until the bad thing happens – this is the thing you told me about Hitchcock, the “bomb under the table” thing, right?”
“I suppose,” Gwen said. “Although using that metaphor here, the audience is never told about the bomb. They’re expected to already know.”
“But I think they would,” Dania added. “Like Eleanor said, people basically know about 9/11. I heard about it, my family saw the images when it happened, and I was halfway around the world!”
“I’m not sure you can ever rely on public knowledge of any subject matter in a movie,” Gwen said. “You’ve gotta give something.”
“Well, then, Titanic would be a very boring movie,” Dania said. After a beat, she added, “More boring than it is, you know.”
“I was actually thinking, though,” Eleanor said. “It feels like the movie is expecting an audience that understands and recently lived through the tragedy. You know, rather than a universal one.”
“That’s…what I just said,” Gwen stated. “I just said that.”
“No, but, I mean,” Eleanor stammered, rewording her thought. “You’re saying that like it’s a bad thing. I think that’s the point. When did it come out, ten years later?”
“2006,” Gwen said. “Just under five years.”
“Five years?” Dania cried out. “Dude, five years ago now was…what was that, 2012?…the Sandy Hook Shooting was five years ago, I don’t want to see a movie of that!”
“Exactly,” Eleanor said. “I think it’s a disposable movie. I don’t mean that, like, disrespectfully, but it was made for a 2006 audience, not a forever one. It’s the sentimental thing people needed in the post-Afghanistan, pre-Recession version of America.”
Gwen considered this. Film, to her, was inherently everlasting – rather than any other ephemeral art like theatre or even painting, film is easily distributable and doesn’t fade with age. Could a movie about a historical tragedy be only temporary?
“I’m not sure I agree,” Gwen said. “After all, this and Nic Cage are kind of the two major 9/11 movies.”
“I don’t know,” Dania said. “If anything, I don’t really want movies about 9/11.”
“What, because it’s insensitive?”
“No, it’s because it’s always going to be kinda dull,” Dania said.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Gwen said, shocked. “Is nearly 3,000 people dying uninteresting?”
“No, but everyone treats it like it is!” Dania said. “Like, I get that we don’t want to do the James Cameron thing with Titanic, make the tragedy about the fake love story instead, I get it. But that always means depicting it as blandly as possible.” She motioned to the screen. “It’s always a movie that ends with text about the real thing. It’s always important.”
“It was important.”
“But it always feels important,” Dania said. She fell back onto the bed. “But I don’t know, maybe I just have terrorist fatigue.”
“It’s not dull, really,” Eleanor said. “It’s not, like, joyous, or anything, but it’s an appropriate representation of the tragedy. You can get whatever message or catharsis you want out of it.”
“However,” Gwen questioned, “if you can ‘get whatever you want from this story,’ does the movie really have a message at all?”
“Can the message be that people will take away whatever they want from it?”
“That’s almost a meta-message, I’m not sure that counts.”
“Can it be that you shouldn’t blindly invade Middle Eastern countries?” Dania suggested from the bed. “I’d like to hear that message.”
Photo Credit: Imp Awards