Flight: Robert Zemeckis takes a nosedive

Regular readers may have been wondering where I’ve been. Well, I’ve been watching a long, long, terrible movie.

You may have heard of Denzel Washington, an actor who should have gotten his second Oscar for “Malcolm X,” a cinematic masterpiece about a flesh-and-blood, complicated, fascinating man.  At least he got nominated for it.  He was also nominated last year for “Flight,” a movie that I was unaware had come out until I curiously checked out Washington’s IMDb profile.  If you get rid of television, it’s amazing what you miss.  It’s also amazing what you don’t miss.  If you missed “Flight,” you missed a horrific airline disaster sequence that Zemeckis will no doubt be remembered for (as he also directed the plane crash in “Cast Away” which was thankfully free of man-hating).  And as you may have guessed from that previous sentence, you also missed the culture of misandry at work.  (“Cast Away” is so 2000.)  I’m only bringing this movie up so that I can beat on last year’s dead horse.

If you sit through the amazing crash scene at the start of the film, one in which Washington’s character Captain Whip Whitaker deftly saves more than 100 people from certain death, you may get the idea that you’re going to be watching an action thriller, or a movie where the little guy sticks it to The Man, whose cost-saving negligence led to more than 100 people being put into a pile of junk.  No, no, dear reader.  This is a movie about alcoholism.

Every single goddamned element of what is assumed and expected of men in society, both ancient and modern, is on nauseating display throughout the film, including the good captain giving everyone a thrill by flying a broken plane upside down so that they can pull out of Satan’s Own Nose Dive and live.

If you are a typical, modern, heroic male (not one of those cruise liner captains), you can’t just try to stop mass death calmly and deliberately.  You also have to think about those you’re about to leave behind if you don’t succeed; and the thoughts and feelings of the women who are about to die with you.  Whitaker calls for Margaret, one of the flight attendants, to assist in giving him manual control of the craft.  And then, he remembers:

WHIP: Margaret, what’s your son’s name?

MARGARET: Trevor!

WHIP: Say, ‘I love you, Trevor.’

MARGARET: What?!

WHIP: Black box.  Say, ‘I love you, Trevor.’

MARGARET: I love you, Trevor!  You’ve been a good boy!  Mommy loves you!

The good man thinks of everything.  He has to.  It’s even more astounding when you consider that this particular good man did all of this while drunk on vodka and high on coke.  Then he rolls the plane upside down to level it parallel with the ground.  In reality, there may actually be no way, especially for a passenger jet, to come out of a nosedive and be righted at the last second to land (roughly) on the ground.  This should make the event that is central to the first half hour become central and integral to the entire film, shouldn’t it?

But let’s talk about drinking and snorting.  You see, you’re not supposed to do that.  It really doesn’t matter that more than 100 people are still alive thanks to you and only you.  How could you do something so disgusting and dangerous?  Tell me about your relationship with your father.

I’m not kidding.  That’s basically the rest of the film.  There’s a scene in the middle where the suited, overweight airline owner is bitching about how he never wanted to own an airline.  The viewer is never introduced to the suited, overweight owner of the manufacturing company, who no doubt only ever wanted to crochet.  And not that it should ever be expected, but the women attached to those fatties are non-existent, unlike Ang Lee’s masterpiece, “Lust, Caution.”  None of them is never held to account.  I guess that’s because they don’t drink and snort.

The majority of the movie is swallowed up in Whitaker trying to figure out how he’s going to hide his alcoholism and his drug habit in the hearings so that he is not denied his license to fly and is not sent to prison.  I’ll give away the ending since I have a keen interest in spoiling movies that are already rotting: He gets sent to prison, where, of course, he learns how to deal with his alcoholism.  Now he’s ready to save more than 100 people from certain death.

He meets a woman: a poor, heroine-addicted redhead, who has an abusive male landlord, groping and assaulting her since she’s late with the rent.  Whitaker saves her.  (Great.  Now save yourself, dude!)  This woman also has a father who just magically disappeared.  That’s more and more typical in our society, but the reasons for this particular disappearance are never explained, leading the viewer to think that her father is just one more deadbeat dad.  The real reasons for disappearing dads don’t exist in lefty-femmy Hollywood.  Don’t worry about the redhead’s mother, though.  She was a saint.  Why, she even died a martyr to breast cancer!  Anyway, this woman becomes Whitaker’s angel, confronting him about his alcoholism since that’s far more important than honoring his achievement.

He meets Margaret again at the funeral services for one of their coworkers who didn’t survive the crash.  Margaret, standing with Trevor, looks incredulously at Whitaker as he implies that maybe she could just lie at the hearing concerning the two empty bottles of vodka that the crash investigators found in the plane’s trash container.  Well, thanks for getting her back with Trevor, but geez!  You want her to lie to a bunch of liars who get in bed with lying, corporate airline owners and lying, corporate manufacturers about your drinking?  Tell me about your earliest days in school.

He goes to speak with the squeaky-clean co-pilot in his hospital room, a man who was close to useless in two critical moments due to a virtually unprecedented failure of the aircraft.  The man’s body now broken, a brief word about his piloting days over forever, his robotic Christian wife spouting “PRAISE JESUS!” every other line; and we hear very little from either one of them again.  In spite of Whitaker’s amazing maneuver that allowed the co-pilot to live and build a new life with his family PRAISE JESUS!, he is also disgusted with Whitaker’s drug taking.

Is there anyone who is not concerned with it?  Not his ex-wife or his teenage son.  They are both aware of what their ex-husband and father did.  They are aware of the fact that he was probably high and drunk while doing it.  They are aware that more than 100 people were saved.  But he’s not even wanted through the front door.  Why?  Because he showed up a little drunk.  Not abusively drunk.  Not rampaging.  Not accusatory.  Not mean-spirited.  He yells that his wife is living in a house that he still pays for.  She has one son.  It’s a huge, capacious home with far more space than a single woman with a grown son needs, but the landlord is not welcome.  Still, the landlord tries to throw his arms around his son to hug him even after his son becomes violent.  He never threatens or assaults either of them, but the hero of the story has to stop being a happy drunk.  Come back when you’re sober and sad.  Then we’ll celebrate the wonderful, amazing, impossible thing that you did to save people who don’t drink and snort.  When they’re piloting shitty, corporate, government-regulated jets.

An entire community of characters surrounds Whitaker in this film like a gigantic AA meeting (one of which he attends) to completely ignore the fact that he should probably be awarded The Presidential Medal of Freedom, if that award actually means anything.  How about a promotion?  How about a body of experts who can actually pay out some justice to the traumatized survivors and the victims’ families; by holding to account for their negligence the people who are actually responsible for the deaths of eight other people?  How about a ticker tape parade for Whitaker and an appearance on the OWN network?

That’ll happen.  Once we tweak this one man to make just one thing about him just a little bit better.

Whitaker’s lawyer, played safely but ably by Don Cheadle, actually gets to the heart of what a sensible, intelligent person would conclude when given all of the facts of the story: he reveals what the entire film should have been about.  It could easily have been a far more objective, and hence better, work of art if the following exchange had been somewhere near the climax of the film, so that the viewer could decide for herself whether Whitaker should be praised or damned:

LAWYER: You know, when I first met you, I couldn’t believe what a drunk, arrogant scumbag you were.

WHIP: Oh really?

LAWYER: Yeah.

WHIP: Oh, thank you.  Thank you.

LAWYER: But I did the research, Captain Whitaker.  I heard the expert analysis, and I gotta tell you, I’m in awe of what you did.  The FAA and the NTSB took ten pilots, placed them in simulators, re-created the events that led to this plane falling out of the sky.  Do you know how many of them were able to safely land the planes?  Not one.

If none of them was doing a line at the time, I don’t think a crash simulation has actually recreated events, do you?

To paraphrase PRAISE JESUS!, we apparently now live in a culture that strains at gnats while swallowing camels.  To translate what He said into modern English, we live in a culture that clearly has it ass-backwards.

For example: Firemen are blue collar to the core.  Blue collar work is hard.  I’ve done it briefly.  I detest it.  I’m not very good at it.  They are stronger and tougher.  Even when they’re lazy, they get the work done far faster than I.

Physical strength and toughness come out in grunting spurts, even when you’re dealing with a super-intelligent tough guy.  You will even find the quieter or dumber ones bolder and steadier.  It’s what makes them sexy and a little dangerous.  Our culture takes that and exploits it for political and monetary gain.

Then, when those firemen run up the stairs in a useless attempt to make themselves seem useful in an impossible situation, they are rewarded with makeshift road signs and horn honking.  And then: “Now stop looking at my boobs!”  He stopped looking when those buildings exploded, dear.  Now he is consigned to the memorial plaque like all the men who went before him.  And he left you the house.  You’re welcome.

I simply can’t believe that this movie was that transparent.  What is also crystal clear is the culture’s opacity in this regard, as the film did quite well worldwide.  They simply don’t see it, either.

This is because humans come out of women.  They are tiny and helpless when they emerge.  In order to survive, someone bigger and smarter must really want them around.  How about the one that made the baby inside of her? Women, when separated from the convenience of modern machinery, are far more likely to be seen with children attached to various anatomical parts.  How does this not automatically lead to a greater propensity for collective thinking?

The man has no children attached to him.  He is also far stronger physically and hairier so that he can deal with wind and cold for longer.  How does this not automatically lead to a greater propensity for individual thinking, since, even though there is a dependent collective with adequate adult intellectual support on the home front, he still has to think about the fact that he will be alone for longer to retrieve whatever is required back there?  Therefore, after a few weeks of silent deliberation, our distant ancestors got on with the business of determining who should do what.  They called it “sex roles.”  It was turned into a very popular musical in 750 BC.

Well, since the kid will die without breast milk, maybe you should stay with him.  I’ll go chop down the trees, remove the branches, remove the thorny thistles, step in the gunk, chop the tree into logs, remove the logs, branches, and thorny thistles, then I’ll spend the evening chopping the tree stump out of the ground.

While I’m doing that, could you clean this?  And this?  And this?  And make one of these?  Thanks, babe.  I’ll be thanking you good and hard when the moon rises over the mountain.

Now to remove the rocks.  A domesticated animal would help.  So I’ll find something to feed it, shovel the shit, and deal with its bad attitude.  Get dinner ready, because this is going to make me hungry.

After several months of this repetitive, seemingly fruitless labor, something that can be eaten will start to grow out of the ground.  Wait a minute.  Oh my god, are you smoking pot??!!  Forget it.  I’m tired of explaining world history.  And Robert Zemeckis movies.

I’ve had it.  Next time, I’m whipping out my Pierce Brosnan.  Not a review of the actual film I’m talking about, but the manner in which, in “Evelyn,” he plays a man who fought and fought and fought and fought and fought and fought and fought and fought and fought and fought and fought and fought and fought and fought and fought and fought and fought and fought and fought and fought and fought and fought and fought and fought and fought and fought and fought and fought and fought and fought and fought and fought and fought for the opportunity to take care of his own kids.  He was found frequenting Irish pubs.  Sadly, the filmmakers never chose to take care of that.

(As an aside, people may get the impression that I enjoy bashing Streep, Washington, Zemeckis, and the rest.  No, I really don’t.  …Except for the gratuitous sarcasm.  Perhaps someday I’ll explain more of their beautiful work, like Zemeckis’s arguably best film, “Romancing the Stone,” about a woman who falls in love with a hardcore zeta male.)

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