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Test Pattern: Why I won’t see ‘United 93’

No matter how well-done it is, not all of us are ready

Why I won’t see ‘United 93’

The current Entertainment Weekly gives "United 93" an A-, calling it "riveting" and "tightly built." Critic Lisa Schwarzbaum admits having to mentally prepare herself to see the film, yet writes that there's "no shame in skipping" the movie, no "prize for those who dare to look."

I'm heartened to hear that the film isn't a slapdash affair, but it could be the "Citizen Kane" of 2006, and you couldn't get me into the theater to see it. I wish I was able to distill my reasons into a simple concise list, but nothing about Sept. 11, 2001 is simple, and my reasons aren't simple, either. My feelings remain as individual to me as anyone's, just as the events of Sept. 11 hit people in deeply personal ways. I can't exactly explain them even to myself, nor can I deny the way I feel.

Is it simply too soon? In the "South Park" episode town residents believe the Subway sandwich pitchman has AIDS (instead of having simply hired aides), and almost lynch him. Characters in the show declare that it's been 22.3 years since AIDS has been around, and therefore it's now OK to laugh at the disease. The "South Park" guys  make an interesting point — we set arbitrary limits about when we're ready to create art based on a tragedy, whether through a sculpture, a play, a joke, or a movie. For some, that moment comes soon — who didn't hear someone tell a Challenger joke within weeks of the 1986 explosion? For others, that moment is years away, or never arrives.

I remember when the documentary aired in spring 2002, utilizing footage from filmmakers Gedeon and Jules Naudet, who happened to be filming New York City firefighters when the terrorist attacks took place. I've heard only great things about the devastating power of the show. But I wasn't ready to see it then, just six months after the attack, and I'm not sure I could watch it even now. Someday I imagine I'll come across it, and will no doubt be impressed and saddened. But not now. Like a grieving person who can't yet go through a lost loved one's closet, I'm not ready to take out those events and pore over them.

It's different, too, I think, because this is a big-screen movie, not a television movie or a magazine article or book. We are in control of our home television — if the emotion gets to be too much, we can turn it off, or pause the TiVo or the videotape. We can put down the book or magazine. A movie goes at its own pace, and while we can, logically, walk out, few of us do.

Part of it is my own mental associations with movies and what they bring me. Of course I've seen and appreciated serious films — about World War II and the Holocaust, about the war in Vietnam, about death and disease and loss. But imagining going to a movie theater on a Friday night, with friends, to a place where popcorn is popping, kids are chasing each other, teens are flirting and one wall away "The Benchwarmers" is cracking fart jokes — imagining going there to see "United 93" is just unfathomable for me. Movies do edify us, they educate as well as entertain, but I don't think I could go to a movie about Hurricane Katrina either, or one about the Sri Lankan tsunami.

I don't need to see the movie, though, to be touched and honored by the heroism of the Flight 93 passengers. Anne Frank, whose life was also the subject of a film that turned a personal lens on a world tragedy, believed all people were good at heart. Some of the best of those hearts came together on that flight, and every day we as Americans are lucky they acted as they did. After Sept. 11, I was never so heartened as when an athletic friend of mine confessed he'd taken it as his personal mission when he flew to sit on the aisle and keep an eye on any suspicious activity on his flights. On a late-night flight of my own within the past year, a college football team spilled over the seats and filled many of the rows. In the past, some other passengers may have grunted and whined about the exuberance of the chatty kids. This time, I don't think it escaped any of our minds that having a brawny, trained group of guys accustomed to working together on board was better even than having a first-class ticket.

By admitting I don't want to see "United 93," I suppose I'll be accused by some of hiding my head in the sand. But in this world, how can anyone who picks up a newspaper, turns on the TV, surfs the Internet, have his or her head in the sand about that day, and its still-reverberating events? They continue to affect us daily. I flew an international flight yesterday and the ticket agent had a minor problem with my passport. While straightening things out, she apologized, saying "Ever since Eleven, it's been this way."

The events of "Eleven" touched all of us and continue to do so, movie or no movie. I would never judge those who choose to see the film. But I won't be with them.


Welcome to the Weird Name Club, Suri and Grier

Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes have welcomed , and Brooke Shields and husband Chris Henchey have welcomed . (Quick — if you haven’t already heard the babies’ genders — are Suri and Grier boys, or girls? Aha! Can’t be sure, can you?)

Back in October, when Nicolas Cage and wife named their baby Kal-el, I . Because, you see, I know from experience what it’s like to have an unusual first name. I think I can state with full confidence that I have much more experience with this situation than any of the new babies’ parents. I mean, Tom? Katie? Brooke? Chris? You four are obviously people who’ve never had to spell your first name, never lacked for a personalized mini-license plate, never sat in uncomfortable silence on the first day of school while a confused teacher tried to guess at how to pronounce your name.

“Suri” and “Grier” aren’t nearly in the same baby-name universe as “Kal-el,” but then, what is? Gwyneth Paltrow’s first baby, Apple, comes closer, if only because her name is so clearly associated with a fruit, not a first name.  Apple now has a .

While neither of the Paltrow-Martin siblings likely are going to have to go through life spelling out their names, they’re going to have their own nomenclature problems. The site , which gives information on names of all possible variations, regularly lists “drawbacks and teasing nicknames” for each name. For “Moses” it notes that a kid with such a name might be dubbed “Hoses,” or face the obvious jokes about parting the Red Sea. (Babynamer, however, notes “we have no information about the girl name Apple.”)

Babynamer has no info about “Suri,” either, though the Cruise-Holmes press release helpfully pointed out that the name has its origins in Hebrew, meaning “princess,” or in Persian, meaning “red rose.” It doesn’t point out, though , that as soon as her classmates stage a middle-school production of “Oklahoma,” the TomKitten is bound to hear a chorus or a million of “Surrey with the Fringe on Top.”

“Grier” isn’t listed in Babynamer, either, though its sibling “Greer,” as in , is listed.  But those of us of a certain pop-culture sensibility are bound to be thinking. “Oh! Grier! As in ! The needlepointing football player who was one of the Thing With Two Heads’ heads!” Or “”Oh! Grier! As in ! I loved ‘Jackie Brown’! Also ‘Foxy Brown’!”

Names are a tough thing for parents to choose, there’s no question about it. Our generational hangups, as well as the people we’ve met in our lives, influence how we feel about a certain name. To a certain generation, “Natalie” bespeaks the late, lovely . To others of us, we think of the . (“Who wants to be a skinny pencil? I’m a happy Magic Marker!”) Some will hear a name they’ve never heard before and think it rare and elegant, others will wrinkle their noses at what sounds to them like a clunky combination of sounds. There’s no pleasing everyone, and every kid will reject his or her name at some point. Bet on it.

I actually think Suri is a lovely name, and I’ve heard plenty worse names than Grier or Moses.  I want it known, though: I’m not giving in on Kal-el.

How does Clark Kent shave?

Television shows apparently give readers plenty of to ponder. Perhaps because I started off with questions about “The Brady Bunch” and “Lost,” those shows came in for more than their share of needling, but the show that’s bugging the most of you is the comedy classic “Gilligan’s Island.” All those clothes for a three-hour tour? A professor who can build a radio out of coconuts but can’t fix a hole in the boat? Oh, Little Buddy, how you vex us.

Here are some of your questions.

“ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW”“What method did Andy Taylor use to kick the smoking habit?”  --Gary-O

“How come the Brady house didn’t look like a 2 story house from the outside shots?” –Cari [Editor’s Note: This one I can answer, since I’ve been to the Studio City house used in the opening credits. It doesn’t have a second story, they hung a fake window on the outside. Whoops!]

“Regarding Brady Bunch: The big problem was not that there were only two bedrooms for six kids. The really tragic thing was that their ONE bathroom had ZERO toilets!”  --Paul

“What I want to know is: What did Mrs. Brady do all day? She didn't cook or clean or do laundry (Alice did that). The kids were in school. She didn't have a job. Just what the heck did she do?”    --Ron

“DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES”“On Desperate Housewives, what ever happened to all of Lynette's children; Bree's daughter? They seem to be dwindling.”    --Barbara

“EXTREME MAKEOVER: HOME EDITION”“Tonight they are building a new house to replace one with a mold problem. It's raining like crazy, and they're still framing the house in the rain. How can they build a house in the rain and ensure that mold won't be growing before the family even comes home?”    --Barbara

“GILLIGAN’S ISLAND”“Why did Ginger and the Howell's have so many clothes with them if they were only going on a three hour Cruise? And more philosophically, why WERE the Professor and MaryAnn on that cruise alone? I always assumed maybe Ginger was the entertainment but from the looks of the boat I doubt they had a lido deck..then again why would millionaires take a cruise on a rickety little boat like that anyways? Where were the "Lost" style flashbacks?”    --Barbara

“The burning question for years in my family was: The Professor on Gilligan's Island could make a washing machine, a record player and a golf cart, but couldn't find anything to patch the boat or turn their transistor radio into a CB or short wave? Oh puhleeze!”  --Angie

“Did Ginger and Mrs. Howell have an un-ending supply of hairspray and make-up? Why did none of the men ever appear to need a shave? How did Mary-Ann bake all those coconut cream pies, I never saw a stove or oven of any kind.”    --Pat

“Come on, the biggest TV question of all time is: How could the professor build a radio out of two coconuts, yet he couldn't get Gilligan off the island in three seasons?”    --Jeff

“Whatever happened to Chuck, the older son from Happy Days?”  --Julie

“They've been on the island for 2 months, and no one has thought to create a big "SOS" until now?”    --Az

“When Jack was confronted by the leader of, the 'others', on "Lost", he was told that it was their island. MY first response would have been: "Hey, we didn't come here on purpose. Lend us your boat, and we'll get the hell out of here." Hmmmmm. It just seemed like such a natural reaction to at least state they were there by accident that I'm surprised the writers didn't throw it in.”  --Bill

“SMALLVILLE”“How does Clark Kent cut his hair, his finger nails, or shave his face? In one episode during the 4th season, Lana is possessed by a 17th century witch. She attempts to cut a piece of hair from Clark Kent (she needed hair from a virgin). The scissors broke which raises the question, how does Clark groom himself? Do his parents hold kryptonite next to him to make him weak so they can shave and/or cut his hair and nails? Does he use metal from krypton to shave closer than a blade? A curious mind wants to know.”    --John

“STAR TREK”“All true fans of "Star Trek" know that the "T" in "James T. Kirk" stands for "Tiberius". Did we find out this fact during the original series, or only later in the movie (or print) sequels?”  --FredGael says: According to Wikipedia, came from the animated series, and was introduced into other “Trek” realms from there.

“THREE’S COMPANY”“If Jack, Chrissie and Janet had kept a notepad and pencil next to the phone, would there have been a reason for the series, after the pilot? Every show seemed to have been about missed communication.”    --Anonymous

Multi-link Monday

Time again to start off the week with random linkage. We'll get to some of your on Tuesday, so feel free to keep sending them in.

• Reader-submitted link: Angie wrote in to say "Here's a — it's a Web cam pointed at a Bald Eagle nest on an island off the western coast of Canada. It's streaming live, so you can check in throughout the day and see the eagles trade places incubating the eggs, there are 2 in the nest — pretty neat!" It's so rare that animal Web cams ever show any animals, it seems. I love that this cam delivers exactly what it says. Looks like it gets kinda windy up there — hang in there, eagles.

• Have you been reading on McSweeney's? Hilarious. Here's an index to all of them, but I admit my favorite is (Thanks to Jon for the link!)

• It was bound to happen eventually: An entire Weblog devoted solely to . And in one especially nasty image I'm a little too nauseous to link to, one of them vomiting. (Thanks a lot, Keanu.)

• Goodyear is having a contest to . How about "Homer," as in Simpson? How about "Oh, The Humanity"?

• Latest messed-up non-existent movie trailer: (YouTube video link, with sound.) It's amazing how much time people spend creating these.