Last night my husband and I went to see the movie, Flight, starring Denzel Washington. I had no idea what the movie was about – I had seen an advertisement on a billboard coming out of LA – Denzel looking pretty handsome in a pilot’s uniform and the title. That’s it.
As we approached the theatre in San Luis Obispo our conversation went something like this:
When’s the last time we went to see a movie in an actual theatre?
I can’t even remember.
I think it was Slumdog Millionaire.
But wasn’t that the Christmas Emma was born? Four years ago – wow!
When on holidays one should do many interesting things. That’s our motto. And seeing a movie is good for a writer. If you watch a movie carefully you can learn a lot about the way to move a plot along from scene to scene, characterization, dialogue, and story arc. As an added bonus, you can do all of these things in less than two hours. Of course, reading novels is a great way to accomplish the same thing, but it takes longer.
Flight, is an amazingly ironic and subtle movie – like an onion, one can peel back layer after layer of meaning – it all depends on how deep a person wants to go. And that depends on what the person came into the theatre with in the first place – much as it will be when (hopefully) a reader picks up my novel.
The scenes of the plane crash had me on the edge of my seat with my hand over my mouth so I wouldn’t gasp out loud too often. Denzel Washington was utterly believable in the role of an alcoholic and drug using airline pilot whose life is falling completely apart. The movie is dark and gripping from beginning to end and for anyone who has even a smattering of experience with what addiction can be like – eerily familiar. The type of movie that makes you feel a bit queasy as just what you expect to happen does in fact happen.
But for the writer, there are so many other levels. Here is a story where the hero and the villain are all wrapped up in the same character. There is no doubt that Captain Whittaker is a hero – he managed to pull off a miracle – crash land the plane and only lose six out of one-hundred and twenty people. In simulator tests after the crash, ten pilots tried to pull off what he accomplished and all ten crashed the plane and killed everyone on board. At the same time, Captain Whittaker is a man who blatantly stepped into the cockpit of a plane under the influence of alcohol. He was responsible for the lives of every person on board that plane and he was drunk and high on cocaine taken in order to counteract his use of alcohol. He saved the lives of one-hundred and fourteen people and yet he betrayed the public trust. Interesting juxtaposition – isn’t it?
For the movie viewer who likes to see a form of justice done – Captain Whittaker does end up in jail. In yet another ironic plot twist, hitting rock bottom and going to jail frees him from his addiction and reunites him with his son. A touching moment occurs at the end of the movie when his son comes to the prison for a visit. He asks to interview his dad for his college entrance exam on the topic of the most fascinating person I never met.
The movie raised an interesting question for me. Could Captain Whittaker have done what he did in the cockpit that day if he hadn’t been in the condition he was? Maybe if he had been sober as he was supposed to be, he would have crashed the plane and killed everyone on board as all the other pilots in the simulator did. Now that is irony, for sure. He saved the lives of so many people and yet he went to jail for breaking the public trust – another irony – justice or a miscarriage of justice? Who can say? No easy answers. A movie that makes a person think – good work Hollywood! That’s exactly what I want my writing to do.