There are some people who have made watching “The Passion of the Christ” a part of their Good Friday traditions. I have friends and family members who make a point to watch the film each year. I have not seen “The Passion” since its first theatrical run in the winter of 2004. The images have stayed with me, and I am not comfortable viewing it repeatedly. So I have never watched it in my home, and probably never will.
This is not to imply that “The Passion” is a bad film. I think it is a great artistic achievement. I would love to see several scenes again: Jesus’ struggle in the Garden of Gethsemane; the conversation between Pilate and Jesus; the conversation between Pilate and his wife; and the most powerful moment in the film when Mary watches her son stumble on the road to Golgotha and remembers his tumble as a child. There are too many scenes between these which are too difficult for me to experience again; the images of violence are still vivid in my mind.
“United 93” was the same kind of viewing experience for me. By now, most people know that “93” is the story of the ill-fated plane that ended up in a field in Pennsylvania on Sept. 11, 2001. This movie, which offers a possible account of everything that happened as the passengers overcame their terrorist captors, is also a film of great artistic achievement.
Shot in a documentary style, it is compelling and often riveting to watch. Much of the film depicts the individuals on the ground; these men and women are responding first to a hijacking, then a disaster at the World Trade Center, and finally an understanding that this is an orchestrated attack on the United States of America. There are not a lot of politics or messages in the film; just an attempt to portray the events of the day accurately.
Then there are the incredible scenes on the plane designated United 93. Some of these moments are violent (though not coming close to the violence of “The Passion”), but mostly the raw emotion of these scenes is what takes a toll on the viewer. It is exhausting to watch the events unfurl, even though anyone seeing the film already knows what is coming.
There will be heroes who step up and do the right thing. These individuals should be remembered and honored always. Anyone viewing the film is forced to consider if they too would have the courage to act. Hopefully many would act as these did to stop the fourth plane from causing even greater destruction than our nation had already experienced that day.
When “United 93” was over, I asked myself if I would want to watch it again. Much like “The Passion,” I predict there will be many who will buy the DVD and watch it every year on Sept. 11 so they will not forget. I will not need that sort of reminder.
I recommend “United 93” to all Americans over the age of 12. Everyone should see it. And the timing is right for this film. I am glad I experienced the film, and what I saw on screen will stay with me in much the same way as some of the images of “The Passion” have remained fresh in my mind. Go see it … just do not ask me to go along with you.
Roger Thomas is pastor of First Baptist Church in Albemarle, N.C.
MPAA Rating: R for language, and some intense sequences of terror and violence.
Director: Paul Greengrass
Writer: Paul Greengrass
Cast: Saeed Al Ghamdi: Lewis Alsamari; Captain Jason Dahl: JJ Johnson; First Officer LeRoy Homer: Gary Commock; Sandra Bradshaw: Trish Gates; Todd Beamer: David Alan Basche.
The movie’s official Web site is here.