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9-11 on Film: "World Trade Center" and "United 93"

Raymond J. Keating

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On the Church and Society
September 11, 2006

When I first heard that Oliver Stone would be doing a movie about 9-11, it did not sit well. How would this often conspiracy-minded and anti-American filmmaker twist the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers?

But Stone's "World Trade Center," released in theaters on August 9, turns out to be a gem. And it serves as an appropriate compliment to the previous major 9-11 film, "United 93," which hit theaters on April 28 and just came out on DVD on September 5.

Interestingly, both films also offer an unmistakable backdrop of faith.

Each movie is engrossing and intense, packing an emotional wallop, but with different emphases.

"United 93," directed and written by Paul Greengrass, of course, attempts to tell, or imagine, the story of how terrorists seized one of the airplanes in order to crash it into either the White House or Capitol Building, and how passengers fought back, with the airliner eventually crashing in a field in Pennsylvania. The film also emphasizes the confusion on the ground, among both air traffic controllers and the military, as planes were hijacked, and then hit each of the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.

"United 93" powerfully builds from a normal morning at the airport to the evil of Islamic terrorism to the courageous acts of the passengers.

Meanwhile, "World Trade Center" is a much more personal film, focused on two New York Port Authority police officers, who responded to the attacks on the Twin Towers, were trapped under the debris after the buildings fell, and then were saved by rescuers. Stone zeroes in on the relationships between the officers and each with their respective families, as the two struggle to survive, the families agonizingly wait for word on their loved ones, and the rescuers work and risk their lives.

"United 93" reminds us of the evil that human beings can perpetrate, while "World Trade Center" shows not just the individual toll taken by terrorism, but also the good mankind is capable of accomplishing. These are the two sides, if you will, of the 9-11 coin.

With each film, though, the religious aspects of the story are not downplayed. As for "World Trade Center," Stone surprisingly highlights the Christian faith of several participants. During cave-ins, the "Lord's Prayer" is shouted. One officer sees a vision of Jesus.

But most interesting, a former U.S. Marine, who sees the results of the terror attacks on television, goes to church to pray, and tells his pastor that he feels a calling to help. In his Marine uniform, he heads to Ground Zero and finds the two trapped officers. The Marine, it's noted at the end of the film, re-enlisted and served two tours of duty in Iraq.

Meanwhile, "United 93" does not pull any punches on the fact that these were Islamic terrorists. At the open of the film, they are praying. As a flight attendant's throat is slit, the terrorist cries out: "In the name of God." Another terrorist flying the plane prays, "Lord to You I have submitted myself. Given You my faith. On You I depend" and then he places a photo off the Capitol Building in front of him as the target to crash the airliner and kill innocent people.

As the struggle for control of the plane ensues, various passengers pray the "Our Father," while the terrorists pray to Allah. But this is not some kind of anti-Muslim, pro-Christian declaration by the filmmakers. It merely reflects what likely was on that doomed flight, and what is in the world around us.

To the distress of moderate or liberal Muslims, not to mention the rest of the world, the public face of Islam has been hijacked by radical Islamists or as they have come to be known, Islamofacists. That was what the world horrifyingly witnessed on 9-11, and director Paul Greengrass deserves credit for not ignoring this reality in "United 93."

Raymond J. Keating, also a columnist with Newsday, is the editor and publisher of the "On the Church & Society Report."

This column is from the first issue of the "On the Church & Society Report," which also includes articles on religion, politics and polls; the marriage vote in the states; and a review of FaithfulDemocrats.com. To receive a free copy of the first issue of the "On the Church & Society Report," send an e-mail request to ChurchandSociety@aol.com.

Posted: 14-Sep-06

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