In a Chud interview, the director of United 93 was asked about the difference between the tragic ending of his film and the happy ending of Oliver Stone’s upcoming World Trade Center. Greengrass replied:
“Flight 93 is an unbelievably inspiring story. You’re talking about exceptional courage… But you’re never going to make a story out of 9/11 and turn it into a happy ending truly, are you? Otherwise what are we saying here?”
With each passing year I have less tolerance for happy endings — and it was never high to begin with — whether in films or novels, and whether or not we’re talking about something as obviously tragic as 9/11. Sometimes happy endings work (especially in comedies), but most of the time they’re just disengenous. The ending to United 93 is one of the most powerful to any film I’ve seen.
The playwright Eugene O’Neill should be required reading in high schools. He understood reality better than most in saying:
“I love life. But I don’t love life because it is pretty. Prettiness is only clothes-deep. I am a truer lover than that. I love it naked. There is beauty to me even in its ugliness. In fact, I deny the ugliness entirely, for its vices are often nobler than its virtues, and nearly always closer to a revelation. To me, the tragic alone has that significant beauty which is truth. It is the meaning of life — and the hope. The noblest is eternally the most tragic.”
That’s a lesson well understood by our best authors and filmmakers: J.R.R. Tolkien, James Clavell, Stephen R. Donaldson, Stanley Kubrick, Ang Lee, Todd Solondz — and Paul Greengrass.