9/11/2001. It’s a day that will forever be imprinted in the mind of millions of Americans. I was a young child, barely old enough to understand what was happening and yet I clearly remember most of that Tuesday morning. United 93 is a movie dedicated to sharing the story of the brave men and women on flight 93, the only high jacked plane that did not reach it's target on 9/11, and the nightmare the passengers faced that day. Music is used to add to the emotion of the already somber mood but leaves you with an aching heart and haunted feeling as the wordless symphonic music play periodically throughout the film, leaving you filled with the reminder of the anguished cry of the lone vocalist that resonates in the heart of every American as they relive a part of that day in this film.
The composer of the soundtrack adds credibility to the movie. John Powell is a well known composer in the movie world, most easily recognized for his work in Happy Feet and Rio according to IMBD. In 2006, he was nominated for Film Composer of the Year by the International Film Music Critics Association (www.imdb.com). Incidentally, this is the same year that United 93 was released to the public. John Powell has been successful in creating soundtracks that add emotion and logic to many movies and he is extremely effective in doing the same in United 93.
The first scene I want to focus on revolves around Flight 93 taking off from the ground. The lack of music is evident in the beginning of the scene as it shows passengers beginning to board the plane. This was done strategically because at this time in the film, they want the viewer to believe that it is just another day at an airport and that nothing out of the ordinary is occurring. “Any significant stretch of silence creates an eerie vacuum- a sense of something impending about to burst” (Understanding Movies: Sound 8). However, if you know anything about 9/11, you know that there was nothing ordinary about this day. This argument effectively shows logic in the movie because the normalcy of the scene demands no background music as it draws in the viewer and makes you feel as if you could be among the passengers, sending one last email or running to not miss your flight. In your normal, everyday life you don’t have background music so it would take away from the feeling that the director wants you to get. Cue the music as the pilot utters the words, “It’s a beautiful day for flying…” A low symphonic sound begins to play, creating a feeling of uneasiness for the first time since the pilots and passengers have entered the plane. The music is low and uneasy, filled with a solo drum beat, strategically placed as the plane begins to move back from the gate. After this, the music goes silence and the scene switches from the plane to the command center. The lack of music in the following scenes has the same significance as it did when the passengers first boarded the plane: it fits the theme of normalcy as the people showed in the command center are just going about their daily work, unaware of the tragic events that the day will hold.
The final scene of United 93 is an extremely moving scene, with or without music. It shows the bravery of the passengers as they fight their captors, trying to regain control of the plane and save their lives. After having watched the entire film, the viewer has become attached to the passengers and seeing them fight for their lives captivates your attention. The music is almost subdued during these scenes but it isn’t obvious whether it is because the viewers’ attention is consumed by the action and emotion on screen or the other sound effects in the scene such as the beeping of the plane, the crying of the passengers, or the screaming of the heros fighting. However, the music definitely plays a significant role subconsciously. “Moviegoers are not usually consciously aware of how sound affects them, but they are constantly manipulated by the mixer’s synthesis” (Understanding Movies: Music, 12 267). The tempo of the music increases throughout the scene, subconsciously increasing the anxiety and panic the viewer is experiencing. Also, it is extremely ominous, increasing in volume as the plane spirals downwards and passengers are heard yelling, “I can’t”. Suddenly, one last violin note is hit and the screen goes dark. This is both logical and emotional. The lack of music is immediately felt, especially as the viewer is struggling to accept that the plane has crashed and the fight of the passengers has ended. In essence, the ending of the music effectively mirrors the ending of the lives on the plane, a compelling strategy that adds to the ominous and tragic theme of the movie. Logically, the music would stop if it were mimicking the heartbeat of a passenger as soon as the plane crashes and the passengers’ life is lost.
Overall, I give the soundtrack in United 93 a 5 out of 5. By not adding lyrics to the soundtrack, they were able to highlight the isolation of the people on the flight and their plight to save their lives. The symphonic music was both dramatic and suspenseful but they chose not to allow it to over power the pure human emotion the viewer experienced through the screams and cries of the passengers. Also, the lack of music was just as powerful as the music itself throughout the movie and subconsciously caused the emotions the viewers were feeling to escalate which is not easily done.