FLIGHT is an excellent movie. But a few years ago, you couldn’t have gotten me into the theater. Or onto a commercial jet–without something to calm me down.
You no doubt surmised, by the title, the trailer, or both, what FLIGHT’s subject matter is, even though, as it turns out, alcohol and drug addiction are just as much a part of its story as air travel.
Briefly, Denzel Washington is Whip Whittaker, a pilot for the fictional SouthJet Airlines. It’s a stormy morning in Orlando and, after a late night alcohol and cocaine binge, he’s behind the controls of a flight to Atlanta–a flight that ends very badly, notwithstanding the fact that he pulls off a miraculous landing, saving nearly everyone aboard. In the aftermath, Washington, while lauded as a hero, has to answer questions about his potentially incriminating blood test results, and he’s faced with some very difficult decisions.
For a long time, I have been trying to overcome a fear of flying. It’s a phobia that overtook me about 15 years ago. I’ve had this fear despite the fact that I had several hours of flying lessons in a tiny plane when I was a teenager, and despite enjoying airline travel and hanging my feet out the open doors of helicopters over Vietnam.
Now I do realize that perspective is needed. Substance abuse and dependency are more serious ailments than what I have had. And there are alternatives to flying, such as trains and cars. Those sufficed for a long while. But then the novelty, as you might put it, wore off, and the time costs (two or three days to L.A. vs. four hours by jet) became too much to pay at my lofty age. So I plunged ahead. First there were travel mugs of Bailey’s (prior to the ban on liquids). My doctor suggested classes, but I asked for, and received, some anti-anxiety medication. After several flights and some dosage adjustment, it’s worked. I’m flying again, still with some nervousness and a tiny sliver of Xanax, but the anxious anticipation of future flights is pretty much gone now.
So when a friend asked me the other day if I wanted to see FLIGHT, I didn’t hesitate to say yes, because I knew I’d be OK. And I was. Sure, there’s that one sequence that is pretty nerve-racking. However, there was an audible, collective audience exhalation at its conclusion and, in fact, my friend, who didn’t share my phobias, was more jittery than I was.
Who knows? Maybe my fear will return some day. For now though, it’s down to a minimum. I can watch clips like those below without getting sweaty palms and a quickened heartbeat. And I can recommend FLIGHT, in more ways than one, without hesitation.
Besides the edge-of-the-seat, nervous thrills in FLIGHT, what are my top 10 favorite flying film sequences, you ask?
THE SPIRIT OF ST. LOUIS (1959; with James Stewart; directed by Billy Wilder) Having flown many hours while fighting sleep, Lindbergh gradually comes to the realization that he’s approaching land, and it’s Ireland.
NIGHT FLIGHT (1933; John Barrymore, Clark Gable, Lionel Barrymore) The shadow of Clark Gable’s plane as it flies over the terrain of South America.
THE AVIATOR (2004; with Leonardo DiCaprio; directed by Martin Scorsese) Howard Hughes is nearly killed as his experimental plane crashes in Beverly Hills.
THE HIGH AND THE MIGHTY (1954; with Claire Trevor; directed by William Wellman) John Wayne lands his plane. The religious symbolism of the runway lights is corny, but it’s a nail-biting series of scenes.
FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (1940; Joel McCrea; directed by Alfred Hitchcock) At the outset of WWII, a German warship mistakes a British passenger plane for a bomber, sending it plunging into the turbulent Atlantic. We identify with the passengers’ terror, as the entire sequence is shot from within the plane.
OUT OF AFRICA (1985; directed by Sydney Pollack) Robert Redford takes Meryl Streep for a spin, high above herds of animals on the savannah, and accompanied by John Barry’s beautiful music.
FEARLESS (1993; directed by Peter Weir) Jeff Bridges finds himself in an Iowa cornfield, walking away from a horrible crash, and walking towards a new perspective on life.
FLIGHT OF THE PHOENIX (1965; directed by Robert Aldrich) James Stewart and company and their aircraft are nearly left for dead. After struggling with the mechanisms and with themselves, they manage to rev up the cobbled-together airplane. Will it or won’t it take off?
FLYING DOWN TO RIO (1933; with Dolores Del Rio) A bevy of beauties is waiting in the wings to dance on the wings
WINGS (1927; directed by William Wellman) The first, major air battle in this unforgettable movie is breathtaking, particularly if you watch it with the latest, restored version with its magnificent, re-recording of the original score.