Robert Zemeckis is no stranger to filming horrific air disasters. His last-live action film, Cast Awayfeatured a memorable plane crash and this makes him the perfect man for the job. He ups the ante in Flight by opening his film with the longest plane crash I’ve ever seen. I personally think the crash in this year’s earlier release, The Grey was much more realistic and therefore more terrifying, but it’s not nearly as epic and cinematic as the one portrayed here.
Denzel Washington delivers one of the year’s strongest performances as Whip Whitaker, a pilot struggling with alcohol addiction. The film takes off with Whitaker drinking the night before (and the morning of) a flight that goes horribly wrong due to problems with the engine. We also see him drinking during the flight itself. Technically though, Whitaker evens things out by snorting cocaine. He knows exactly what he’s doing.
In other words, he single handedly redefined the definition of being high by literally flying 30,000 feet off-ground and, figuratively speaking, being in a whole other state of mind. The things people do on coke, I tell you; one minute you’re sniffing white powder, the next you’re intentionally flipping a JR-88 full of passengers upside down. That’s right, Whitaker purposely inverts the plane to break a free-fall and his miraculous feat saves almost everyone onboard.
A few days later, Whitaker attempts to quit everything. He pours alcohol down the sink and flushes a bag of weed down the toilet (a shot many will find every bit as shocking as the actual plane crash). Anyway, the rest of the film plays more like a character study of an alcoholic. I think the point wasn’t to show an impressive plane crash, but rather symbolically portray the psychological journey of an alcoholic.
Alcoholics often seek help after they’ve done something terribly wrong, be it cheating on a loved one, saying something extremely inappropriate, or luckily escaping death. Flight is an allegory for that journey, the crash is a metaphor for the disaster that often serves as a wake-up call, and everything that follows is more or less about finding the courage to take responsibility for your actions.
The film always seems to dwell on the question of whether Whitaker deserves to be hailed a hero, or should be set as an example never to pilot a plane while intoxicated. On the one hand, you have a lawyer and the survivors fighting for him. On the other, there’s the aircraft manufacturer desperately trying to push the blame on someone other than itself.
Whitaker did save a lot of lives, but he also deserves to be charged. Should he really face life in prison for risking the lives of over a hundred souls the moment he sat in that cockpit both drunk and high? Or should he be given a medal for accomplishing something that no other pilot has achieved successfully in flight simulation?
What’s really going to burst your bubble is, would he have the balls to pull of this crazy stunt if he wasn’t high on cocaine? Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying hitting at least four lines of coke should be a piloting prerequisite, I’m merely saying that if, God-forbid, I was on a plane that was going nose-down, I want my pilot to be as high as a freaking kite.