DAMN, GRAVITY’S ILL! by AE Paulino
The opening scene to Robert Zemeckis’ Flight leads up to a commercial flight plane crash, an event that results in the deaths of 6 people on board (two of them flight crew)—The actions of the flight captain, Whip Whittaker, played by Denzel Washington, were exclusively responsible for the surviving of 96 souls under such an uncontrollable situation.
Some may argue that with such a traumatic opening the viewer may be left numb for the rest of the film, finding the following sequences of plot a bit melodramatic by comparison. But Flight in fact, shows us two crashes. The first is very literal and as briefly mentioned above, opens the film. The second crash is slower and figurative. The host of the internal wreck is none other than the protagonist, our hero, Capt. Whittaker. An alcoholic, one who was hungover the morning of and then slightly inebriated while saving the lives of his passengers and flight crew. Whittaker is made an instant hero but we know that he’s not wholly in the clear. As he dives deeper and deeper into his impulse and excess, momentarily stalling here, gliding for a few seconds there but over all his situation, like that of the plane he miraculously landed, is nearly all but beyond his control—Whether it happens with relative safety or not, he will crash, inevitably so.
This film was not about aviation or the politics of the Commercial Flight Industry, it was not about alcoholism, or any substance abuse, not about God or any spiritual-existential awakening; though a bit of all these can be found in Flight; at its core, the film is about control. The film was about the human condition and tendency for control. Whittaker does whatever he can to conceal his drinking problem, which has long since been out of hand, he lies to both others and himself, he “chooses” to drink. His descend is often painful to watch, precisely due to the heroic presentation of the emergency crash landing. We, as viewers, want him to live up to the stature of the hero he is being embraced as, thus, its difficult to watch him grab that bottle of Ketel One or hug his son against his will, or rally against the close ones who are trying to extend, not only a hand but arm, shoulder and if need be, back to be carried on.
As best he can, Whittaker tries to maneuver his alcoholism—And despite that the flight crash was highly suggestive of being the result of mechanical, not pilot, negligence, Whittaker could still face serious consequences if his drinking problem leaked into the public’s eye. Six people died, perhaps without the presence of alcohol, the unfortunate accident could have produced zero mortalities. But even under such stress or maybe because of it, Whittaker toggles on and off the wagon, the film therein maintains its initial anxiety. Watching Whittaker for as long as you do on screen, you know what’s coming, you can see it right before you like a swelling map, growing as you fall toward to it, face first—But the moment itself is continually interrupted.
A lie is a tension, like when a muscle is tense it feels tight and maybe heavy. More so, a lie is like a catapult, held down by a weak constraint, its only a matter of time before it snaps and the truth gets launched into the free air. If the lie were instead like the object launched by the catapult then we should say it can soar but only for so long until gravity catches up to it. When that happens we can quote Jay-Z’s closing line from the last verse of Fallin’ "…fight and you’ll never survive; run and you’ll never escape so just fall for Grace."