- The Washington Times - Friday, April 28, 2006

For about 30 moviegoers who yesterday viewed an early showing of “United 93,” the account of one of the hijacked planes on September 11, the experience was overwhelming — and for some, too much to take.

“I was shaking all the time,” said Yogi Pal Ahluwalia, a supervisor at the World Bank who took off work to see the movie. “It brought back memories of the past to the real moment as if it was happening now. It was as if 9/11 had come back.”

When the film began at AMC Loews in Georgetown, the audience seemed like typical matinee moviegoers. Young and old alike sat munching popcorn, sipping sodas and settling in for an afternoon of entertainment.

But as the film gradually built to the moment when authorities realized that the country was under attack, memories of September 11 came flooding back for many.

Jeffrey Shiff, a student at George Washington University who grew up on Long Island, said he had steeled himself beforehand.

“I’m from New York, [so] I came in expecting what I was going to see,” he said. “Being the first story to come out, it’s what it should have been.”

Many watching shifted uncomfortably in their seats during particularly disturbing scenes, or momentarily left the theater altogether.

Told strictly from the vantage point of air traffic control and those aboard the doomed flight, the film is a tense, unflinching view of that day’s events.

Clenched hands covered gaping mouths, and more than one person reached up to dab tears from their eyes.

The audience watched as the fervent, agitated hijackers took command of the plane, leading to chaos on the ground and a brave, organized revolt by the passengers on board.

Particularly moving moments of the film involved passengers such as Thomas Burnett Jr. and Todd Beamer making their final calls to family members.

“What really got me was just watching everybody’s reactions, calling their loved ones” from the plane, said Adam Petrone, another GW student originally from Westchester, N.Y.

Following the movie’s stark and sudden climax, grown men and women openly wept. Others sat in a daze, and some quickly exited the theater in tears, overcome by what they had just seen and their own memories of the day.

“The silence after the movie just says everything,” said David Frank, Mr. Petrone’s friend and fellow GW student. “I wasn’t expecting [the ending] to be that powerful.”

Danielle Schulz, who came in from Arlington with her boyfriend Angelo Tsampas, stood quietly outside the theater afterward. The most poignant scene was when the passengers decided to retaliate, she said.

“The way everybody on the flight got together and handled the situation was [gripping],” she said solemnly. “They did what they had to do.”

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