NEW YORK – Moviegoers usually head to the theater to escape from reality. Beginning on Friday, they'll have the chance to head to the theater to relive one of the worst realities this country has ever experienced.
That's when "United 93," the debut Hollywood feature film about the Sept. 11 terror attacks, will be released to the general public, after opening the 5th annual Tribeca Film Festival earlier this week.
Time and time again, the media and others have asked whether the country is ready to revisit Sept. 11 on the big screen.
A recent FOX News poll found that about 42 percent of Americans think it is appropriate and timely for a movie to be made about that history-altering, tragic day.
But whether that means audiences will actually buy tickets to "United 93" remains to be seen.
Those who organized the film festival, established in 2002 to breathe life back into the area of Manhattan most devastated by the Sept. 11 attacks, believe they will.
“Sept. 11 was the most photographed event in the world," Jane Rosenthal, who co-founded the film festival with husband Craig Hatkoff and actor Robert De Niro, said at a press conference this week. "The media has shown it over and over again. Over time, artists have digested it. I think it’s very important to see filmmakers’ point of view. Why not now?”
As painful and emotionally raw as it is to watch, "United 93" is more than worth seeing. Director Paul Greengrass has crafted a beautifully executed, documentary-style film about the airliner that crashed in a Pennsylvania field after its passengers apparently tried to overpower the terrorists who had seized control of the cockpit. The film feels all the more starkly real because both unknown actors and non-actors are in the cast, including FAA operations manager Ben Sliney and other flight controllers who were actually working on Sept. 11.
But not everyone agrees that now is a good time for a film like this one.
Musician Patty Smyth, lead singer of the '80s band Scandal and wife of tennis star John McEnroe, told FOXNews.com that she doesn't think the American public can handle a movie about 9/11 yet, and she isn't up for it, either.
"I'm not ready," Smyth said on her way into the festival's Vanity Fair party Wednesday night. "I don't want to see the movie."
And others just aren't sure whether this is the right moment to explore the horror of Sept. 11 through cinema.
"I don't know about that. I don't know," said hip-hop legend and Def Jam Records founder Russell Simmons when he arrived at the Vanity Fair event.
But Rosenthal, who attended the premiere, believes the movie will ultimately do well at the box office, even if people are reluctant to see it at first.
"If [Tuesday] night was any indication, it will have a slow build and it will be a successful picture," she said outside the party.
It isn't just stars and film types who have mixed feelings about Friday's opening of the first feature film about Sept. 11. Ordinary people are ambivalent, too.
"I don't think it's a matter of being ready. It's something they need to know. They need to psychologically deal with it," said Allen Koss, 57, of Studio City, Calif. "It's important for people to look at things that may not make them comfortable. That's an important thing movies can do. I will see it."
But others can't stomach the thought of replaying that terrifying and devastating day in theaters.
"I have no interest in doing a postmortem or a hindsight on something I got to watch up close and personal," said Cristina Barden, a 30-something resident of Queens. "I certainly am not ready as a New Yorker. I have no intention of seeing it. I just can't go there."
And because it isn't an uplifting film, it won't be fun for audiences to watch.
"That's not going to be a movie that's to be enjoyed. It's a movie that's going to bring you down," Sheldon Sorber, 50, of Pittsburgh, told The Associated Press.
Still, those like documentarian Ken Burns, one of the jurors judging the Tribeca festival's documentary competition, thinks it's time for Americans to face Sept. 11 through film. He likened confronting the harrowing memories head-on to the way his now 19-year-old daughter overcame her fear of a particular household appliance when she was a little girl.
"She was terrified of the vacuum cleaner," he told FOXNews.com outside the Vanity Fair party. "And then, one day, she just sat on it."
Burns said he had trepidations about seeing "United 93" (he attended the premiere), but dread didn't stop him from going and shouldn't stop the public, either.
"I wasn't looking forward to it. It was sad, and [family members'] grief was palpable," he said. "But it's time. It's a great film to remind us of what happened. The echoes of 9/11 are now reverberating. We will not be defeated."
Even tough guy De Niro was moved by the film.
“You can’t not be touched by it," the actor said. "It’s a playback of what happened."