Directed by Robert Zemeckis (Paramount, 2012)
Ernest Hemingway wrote that courage was “grace under pressure,” and in Flight director Robert Zemeckis has created a taut drama about an airline pilot who manages to keep his wits in the most horrific of situations, calmly and courageously pulling a plummeting airliner out of its downward spiral and saving hundreds of doomed souls with a move so daring it would have scared the wings off most other pilots.
But Flight is not a film about a courageous hero, or at least not at the start. Instead, as the title itself hints, it is the story of a man running away from himself and everyone who makes demands on him. As the tale unfolds, we discover that the herculean physical courage Captain Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) exhibits in the plummeting airliner stands in sharp contrast to the cowardice with which he faces the normal challenges of adult life.
Behind the confident—or rather, cocky—front, Whitaker is a man who needs to shore up the bravado of his public persona with the courage one finds in a bottle of booze. And as we get to know him we recognize the terrifying sight of an alcoholic in full bloom, a man who long ago learned to lubricate the normal tensions of life with a steady flow of single malt, a creature who can no longer face any mirror or moment without the anesthetizing medicine of alcohol.
The secret of his addiction is uncovered by blood tests administered after the crash. As Whitaker faces the terrifying prospect of exposure, humiliation, and punishment, his courage evaporates and he tries to flee from his interrogators. Even more, the drunken pilot is in flight from his own guilt and demons.
Can Whitaker face himself and confront his own sins, or is this the tale of a man in free fall from himself?
This article appeared in the January 2013 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 78, No. 1, page 50).