Too Earnest

The sometimes serious, but generally frivolous, musings of a city girl now living in the woods.

Drunks on a Plane

flight poster

Movie poster image from Paramount Pictures.

I went to see Flight a few days ago with a dear friend.  And thank god he was there, because, damn.  Damn.

The Synopsis

Before I go on, here’s the quick plot rundown.  A drunk pilot, played by an unattractive Denzel (for reals, he looked dumpy, almost), lands a plane that is totally malfunctioning.  I mean, it was falling apart in the air.  The landing was daring, bold and the work of a creative and talented pilot.  Who was loaded.  Alcohol and coke loaded.  And not, friends, the Coca-Cola kind.  And that is just the first half hour of the movie.  The rest is the aftermath.  This is like the Sully Sullenberger story on drugs.  There are relentless press, corporate entities trying not to take responsibility for the mechanical failures of the plane, and the emotional aftermath for the survivors.  It is that emotional aftermath that makes me say, “Damn.”

There are two scenes I want to tell you about, before I let you in on my own emotional aftermath.  First, the actual screwed-up-plane-that-is-in-a-complete-nosedive scene was amazing.  And if you are afraid of flying, never–NEVER–watch this scene.  Come a half-an-hour to forty-five minutes late to the film.  It is bloody frightening.

Phew.  Just thinking about it makes me want to take a few deep breaths before I keep typing.

Ok.  That’s done.  The scene was exciting and and packed a visceral punch as the crew tried to stay calm, take care of passengers, and figure out what the hell was going on.  Whip–that’s Denzel’s name–was sleeping with his face on the steering wheel while the plane was on auto-pilot until a jolt, which turned into a full and complete nose dive–wheee!–jerked him awake.  What’s crazy is that not ten minutes earlier, he was so out of it he could barely climb the steps to get on the plane, but as soon as there was danger, he took control.  He understood how the plane worked, he made shrewd decisions, and used the right people for all the right jobs.  At one point he decides to invert the plane and asks a flight attendant to help by pulling the throttle that he can’t reach.  The clouds and land are whizzing by like a drawing a kid makes of motion, but through it all, Whip is calm and collected.  In control. Damn.  It was a good scene.

After the crash, in which a lot of passengers and the crew are injured, Whip is in pretty bad shape.  He is brought to a hospital and wakes up a banged up, hungover, melancholy mess.  A mess.  He is going to live, but all his joints are out of whack, his eyes are fucked up, and to add insult to injury, a few of the passengers and two of the crew died.  Even though he knows that they would all be dead if he didn’t do his masterful work, it still haunts him.  Denzel is such a great actor that you can see it in his one un-bandaged eye.  After he starts feeling better, he grabs his smokes and heads to a stairwell to try and sneak one.  There he runs into a young woman with the same idea.  They sit together in companionable silence, and a smoke cloud, until a rather boisterous fellow escapes the cancer ward in the basement and joins them.  He does almost all the talking, but Whip and Nicole, played beautifully by Kelly Reilly, are present as he rambles on about death, and cancer, and life.  Cancer Guy finds out  from their body language and few, clipped answers, what they are in for and how they are doing.  When I am at the movies, I don’t whip out my camera for bootlegging, or reviewing purposes, so I can’t quote the dialog, but suffice it to say, his imminent death meant he was verbally uninhibited as he mused on the meaning of life, happiness and death.  Through it all, Whip and Nicole, perhaps wishing they were dying, or in any case feeling deeply melancholy were watching him and each other warily and bemusedly.  Cancer Guy was positive, but dying, and they, in rehab and drying out, respectively, were miserable.  And yet, despite my poor description, this was a vibrant and almost hilarious scene.  It was the scene that the whole movie turned on.  Whip was determined after that to get his shit together, and to dry the fuck up.

It is safe to say he had quite a battle in front of him.  Both Don Cheadle and John Goodman, in supporting roles, are great, and Tamara Tunie turns in a subtle performance as the fierce, yet fragile flight attendant in the cockpit.  I’ll leave it to you to see the movie (or Google the plot) but there is an amazing amount of tension to be seen in the addiction to alcohol.

My Visceral Reaction

For me, though, the film was like watching Denzel Washington, towering actor, repeat the words and some deeds of my alcoholic father.  Who, you should know, has been sober for over 20 years.  And who, you should also know, never hurt anyone or engaged in criminally negligent or reprehensible behavior while drunk.

But still.  It was like watching my teens.  Denzel started to look, to me, like my dad because he sounded just like him.  He used the same words to describe being drunk–“loaded”–and in one particular scene at his ex-wife’s house, his defensiveness just crushed me.  It was as if I were a teenager in my own home, watching my dad pivot from guilty, to defensive, to steady in mere seconds.  And just like Whip, my dad was able to be in control when he drank, especially at work; he was almost more focused, more present.  There he was–the dad of more than two decades ago–up there on the screen.  And damn.  It was so strangely painful.  I mean, my dad and I have made real peace with his drinking, and honestly, I admire the hell out of his strength, his ability to get and stay clean.  He put himself and his family first and that is incredible.  But I was needled and nudged in all these places that had already healed.

It just goes to show how deep wounds can be.  Sitting there, in the theater, I wanted so much to talk to my friends from Alateen.  I wanted to drive up to the Lawrence Hall of Science and mope/gawk at the view just like I did when I was in high school.  I longed to listen to the Indigo Girls at moderate volume, because lets face it, even in the worst of times they aren’t actually a loud, defiant noise kind of band.  I was transported for a few seconds to the same pain, the same sadness and confusion I lived in when I was sixteen.  And I am not saying this as a cautionary tale, like, “Hey, parents, be careful how you fuck up your kids, cuz it lasts forever.”  No.  It’s just that the power of movies–and art and literature–is real power.  Flight made me feel and reflect on one of the truly difficult periods in my life.  I was able to squirm in that discomfort–and I did, throughout the movie–but also look back on all I have learned, all my dad has done and all the ways I got strong because of those feelings.  The Movies gave me that chance.

Not that I am going to watch it again, mind you.


Hey, you guys.  How about something more upbeat, perhaps?

I am sure lots of you have already discovered the joy that is the Lumineers, but I am really enjoying their album.  It is still new to me, so I don’t actually sing yet, but listening to their music is like having the perfect soundtrack for a rollicking sing along.  Here is “Flapper Girl,” one of my favorites.


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This entry was posted on January 1, 2013 by and tagged .
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