Director: Robert "Dolorean" Zemeckis
Writer: John Gatins
Damn dude: Denzel Washington
Charmed me to no end: Kelly Reilly
Really small: Don Cheadle
Really big: John Goodman
Dayum girl: Nadine Velazquez
I like his moustache: Charlie Greenwood
His (movie character's) wife was creepy: Brian Geraghty
What It's Good For:
-making you say "NO WHAT ARE YOU DOING!"
-making you cry
-making you think of someone you know, or someone someone you know knows and has talked about
-this marks a two movie streak where Denzel doesn't say "My man" (1 = Safe House)
-John Goodman continuing to play over-the-top supporting roles
-making you smile each time Denzel walks out of a hotel room, rocking the aviators
-going to a way deep emotional place
-really building up the crash scene
-people could think it's a shame the film doesn't explore the "hero" factor more
-the alcoholism could be a touchy subject for people who were expecting...not this...
-can probably guess what's going to happen? But I think that's also part of what makes it sad and an accurate picture of addiction...
-the God-subplot felt...oddly executed to me? But made me think of The Count of Monte Cristo
You may never read Infinite Jest. I wouldn't blame you. The thing is, at over 1,000 pages, a tome. And dense. It's not...Clifford the Big Red Dog level reading for 1,000 pages. It's like...Ulysses or Moby-Dick. It can weight down on you. Like...I usually read 30 pages in about 45-55 minutes. 30 pages in Infinite Jest would take me 85-105 minutes. But books, like movies, can show you things, can take you places, can instruct you. And Infinite Jest spends many of its 1,000+ pages with addicts and recovering addicts.
I've never had a drug addiction. I've never had alcohol addiction. I've never been to an AA meeting. I've never heard an addict speak. But David Foster Wallace had a drug addiction. He had an alcohol addiction. He went to AA meetings. He heard other addicts tell their stories. And he put these things into a 1,000+ page book so other people could...enter into and escape from this world.
Flight does something similar, by taking us INTO alcoholism via a series of situations where Whip shouldn't drink, knows he shouldn't drink, then does. And you're just like...man, what the hell are you doing?!?!!?!?
A key difference between IJ and Flight is how each addresses recovery (a long aside occurs now). IJ, having slaughtered 87,000 trees, takes the time to give us characters in various states of addiction: those "gators" who have years of sobriety, guys like Don Gately who are finally...in control, more or less, and amazed by this thing (control) after being at the mercy of addiction for so long, someone like Joelle who has a very similar arc to Flight's Nicole, and someone like Hal who is becoming more and more of an addict and it's beginning to affect his personality and interactions and life trajectory. We see people who are failing at finding sobriety. We see people battling and succeeding. And we are told, again and again, the mantras and adages of AA.
And maybe I read it somewhere else, or maybe I read it in IJ--if I started flipping through the book now I wouldn't finish until 2015--but we're told recovery is a process. You can't think of it as "I'm never having this thing again." You have to think of it as "I'm not going to have this right now."
Which actually works, mind you. Science has proven it. In the book Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength we are told self-control, in any and all forms, takes glucose. So if you have to listen to a teacher lecture: glucose. If you have to listen to a boss rant: glucose. If you go on a date with someone and you leave and ALL YOU WANT TO DO IS TEXT THAT PERSON but you know you shouldn't and you keep wanting to and keep telling yourself you have to wait until tomorrow: glucose. If you have to stand during a ceremony of some sort and you've been standing for like...5 minutes and you want to sit down but you can't: glucose. If you're running and you want to stop running but you have to keep going: glucose. If you have to wait until Christmas to get or give a gift, and you're really excited and keep not wanting to wait: glucose. Reading this, right now, with how long it is: glucose.
Why are diets so hard? Because NOT eating what you normally eat means you're overriding the heuristics/patterns your brain has been using; you're using your frontal lobe to stop the "automatic" action. This takes glucose. But then you have a stressful day and what happens? You can't control yourself, you give in, you over eat. The same thing happens with people who are trying to quite smoking, who are trying to quit drugs or drinking or go to the gym every day or run every day etc. etc. etc. . And I dont mean these people all over eat but that they do what they shouldn't (do drugs, smoke, drink, don't go to the gym, don't run, etc). Why? GLUCOSE. The less you have, the harder it is to exert self-control. A stressful day consumes mucho glucose. You literally don't have the fuel to resist.
You'll be happy to know the book also confirms self-control is like a muscle. It's not like you can store more and more glucose. But you consume less glucose. It'd be like...the more you drive your car the better the gas mileage becomes. You still have a maximum of 11 gallons, but 11 gallons gets you further. Why is this? Because what wasn't a heuristic/pattern, over time, becomes a heuristic. Becomes routine. Why is a new job difficult at first? No routine. Which means more glucose is being consumed every day. Then you work a few days or a few weeks and things become easier. Why? You've created heuristics/patterns/routines. Thus less glucose used. Thus more self-control, thus more emotional stability.
Anyway. In Willpower, we're told that if you say "I can't eat ice cream," you, what? You know. All you can think about is ice cream. It's well known people often want what they can't have simply because they can't have it. Telling yourself "NO!" takes glucose. And when you say no and become sort of obsessive you have to repeat "NO!" again and again.
What can you do instead? Say "Later."
So you see a Magnum ice cream bar in the freezer. And you're like, "I want to eat you." But then you think, "I'm on this stupid diet. I can't eat the ice cream...NO!" Then your mouth starts to salivate. You can taste how cold and wonderful the ice cream would be. jljsdfl;adsfjdslkajfkl;asjflkdsjflkjsfajd;saf. <----- you eating the ice cream in a mad state of mind. When it's all over there's chocolate smeared on your face and clothes and a splinter in your tongue from the wooden stick you've been gnawing on for the last few minutes before regaining consciousness.
Instead of thinking "I'm on this stupid diet..." You tell yourself: "I can have it in an hour." And the book tells us your brain says, "Yeah, fine, okay, I can wait an hour." The craving dies. Three days could go by before you think about ice cream again.
Do you know what runners do when they get tired? They break their run down. They don't think: "I have 10 more miles! FFDOFJOWIFJEOIJFOIE!!!!!!" They think: "I'm going to make it to that telephone pole. ... Okay, made it, but I can make it to that next telephone pole... okay, made it, but I can make it to that cow mailbox." (So just tell yourself you'll read to the next paragraph, then the next, then the next...)
And what do the long-time AA members say in Infinite Jest? Take it one day at a time. You don't have to worry about tomorrow, just worry about today. It's one day at a time. I don't have to be drug free for the rest of my life. I just have to be drug free today.
Basically, you put a carrot on a stick. And this works! You brain stops obsessing, you stop consuming glucose. Which means you have more self-control for other areas of your life (like your spouse, your children, your job, your friends, your pets, strangers, long movie analyses, etc.).
And what do we see in Flight? A man who is losing each and every battle.
I can't think of a better illustration of this than this (painful) scene:
Because what did Whip do to save the plane?
It was a step-by-step process. I'm not going to give the verbatim process Whip used, but it wasn't just "Let's roll this bitch and fly upside down!" It was: do this one thing, shift something else, turn the plane, stabilize by doing something else, then do this other thing, etc. etc.
And Whip COULDN'T DO IT ALONE. He needed to depend on other people. Basically, that scene, the landing of the plane, is a metaphor for handling addiction or changing a bad habit. Outsiders see it as "He fucking flew the plane upside down and landed it (sort of)!" But the actual process was more complicated than that, and took specific knowledge. Not everyone knows how to handle addiction or change their bad habits. They don't have the knowledge. They don't know the process. They think you just...do it. You don't though. You take it one step at a time. One day at a time.
And you win the little battles. You tell yourself you can come back to the room later if you really need to, and you close the fridge. You tell yourself you can not be sober later if you really need to, and you put the bottle down. You tell yourself you can not be sober after the trial, and you walk away and go to bed.
"ALCOHOLISM ISN'T THAT EASY!" I hear you. I don't disagree. It's hard. But any habit is hard to break. I'm not saying it's the simplest thing in the world. I'm just saying it's simpler when you look at it as one battle at a time. I just have to stay sober RIGHT NOW and I'm good. "If I stay sober right now, I can not be sober tomorrow." Tomorrow comes: "If I stay sober today, and I really want to not be sober tomorrow then I can not be sober tomorrow, just stay sober today."
The language we use is important too (as we learn in The Mental Game of Baseball). If you say "I shouldn't drink" the image you have is drinking. It's like "don't think of Batman". So you think "I should stay sober" because then you see yourself staying sober. And when you say "I can not be sober later" then you still see yourself being sober. That's what MGoB says, at least. If you're a pitcher and you think "Don't throw a ball", chances are you throw a ball, because the language of your thought makes you visualize throwing a ball. If you think "Throw a low strike" you visualize throwing a low strike. So if you don't want to think of Batman, you tell yourself to think of ANYTHING else.
There's a larger issue at play in Flight. One that's almost never addressed out loud. And that's Whip's self-hatred. And why he dislikes himself so much. We see him watching videos of his father (and grandfather). We know he doesn't have contact with his family. And he avoids the media. He, like a lot of addicts, doesn't like to admit he has a problem. But that, to me, stems from a larger problem. An inability to confront himself.
My evidence for this is Whip's son. What's the son say when Whip comes to the house? "WHO THE FUCK ARE YOU?"
But think about it. Do we ever really know anything about Whip? Likes? Dislikes? And what's Whip's answer to his son?
.... That's his answer! "That's a good question."
He could have said, "I'm glad you asked."
He could have said, "Let me tell you."
He could have said, "I was born in...blah blah blah..."
Instead he says, "That's a good question." You could be thinking that's a harmless response.
But think about it...
You ask someone "Will you marry me?" What if they responded with, "That's a good question."
"Do you love me?"
"That's a good question."
"Do you want to move in with me?"
"That's a good question."
"Do you want to go on a date with me?"
"That's a good question."
"Will I be passing the class?"
"That's a good question."
"So do I get my driver's license?"
"That's a good question."
"Am I going to survive?"
"That's a good question."
Does "That's a good question" seem like a harmless response? It sounds like the person doesn't know, right?
We do hear the plane noise. An aural suggestion that Whip is a pilot and always will be a pilot.
To me, the movie ends with that question for three reasons.
One, it's always an easy conclusion when you have two people reunite; it's touching to see Whip and his son connecting for what is probably the first time.
Two, it's showing a benefit of being sober: relationships you can't have when you're intoxicated are possible when you're relationship with a drug is over.
Three: when you're addicted to something, you are consumed by that thing, who you are isn't really who you are. Do I know that? Not really. Well. In college I was diagnosed with severe sleep deprivation. I just...couldn't make myself go to bed. I'd stay up to 5 or 6 AM and try to get up for 8:30 class on MWF and 10:30 class on T and TH. Do you know how well that went for me? I'd get up for class, at 7:45am, or 9:45am, and be brushing my teeth or putting on clothes, and the next thing I'd know I'd be waking up in bed and it'd be 2pm and I'd have to be running to baseball practice. Do you know how disturbing it is to be in a dorm hall bathroom, which means down a hallway, and wake up in bed and have no memory of how you got back? I guess this is what an alcoholic or drug addict goes through on a regular basis, and it's probably scarier for them. I knew I should go to bed, but I couldn't do it. And my life was affected. My personality was affected. My interactions with people suffered (being severely sleep deprived is sort of like being really drunk, except you're less hungry). I had no idea what was happening to me. Or where me had even gone. I was a zombie version of myself.
This "loss of identity" is discussed by Infinite Jest, as well. Whip has been an alcoholic for a long time. For sure since his son was born. And his son is at least 18 (applying for college). That's a long time being...caught and clouded and drunk. He says in his prison speech, "For the first time in my life, I'm free."
(remember when I said a long aside occurs? It just ended) Flight spends a lot of time showing us the pain and downward spiraling of an addict. Very little time with recovery. We see the "admitting" step. Which is a grand spectacle. And then the speech while in prison. How journaling can help. But we're never told how, on a day to day basis, Whip handles recovering.
We don't know the cause for Whip's self-hatred. Oh, sure. We know Whip became an alcoholic and he hated that and couldn't confront or admit it. But was alcohol the initial cause for self-hatred? I don't think so. Did it become the sustaining fire? Definitely. Is Whip cured? I don't know. Is any addict really ever cured? What happens when he gets out of jail? What caused his initial addiction? Is it still a problem?
I know why I became a sleep deprived maniac. I woke up for class at 7:45am, had classes, had an on-campus job, had baseball practice, had weight training for baseball, had Sigma Chi stuff, had Alpha Kappa Psi stuff, not to mention rancid school work. I didn't get home until 11pm sometimes. What was I supposed to do? Homework? Go to bed? I FINALLY HAD TIME TO MYSELF. I couldn't go to bed. Homework? HA. I had to play video games. I had to watch videos on YouTube. I had to scroll through Facebook. I had to get into long conversations on AIM or wander through the fraternity house and talk with people. I was free! And then it'd be 6 AM... I had too much on my plate. I felt I didn't have control during the day. So I stayed up because that was my choice. Was my time. But what happened during winter break? I stayed up just as long. The bed time became habit. Staying up for 20 hours became habit. It was awful. I had no reason to stay up but did. Every damn day. How did I stop? I didn't try to change my bed time. I said "Tonight I will go to bed at midnight. Tomorrow I can stay up late." I hadn't read Willpower then. It wasn't out. But when I did read the book, in the summer of 2011, the moments of weakness in my life made sense. As did the moments of strength.
While Flight doesn't show us details of Whip's recovery. We know he can land a crashing plane. And we know it wasn't luck. It was because he took things step by mother fucking step. He won each battle, and then the plane was on the ground. There were casualties. But...look at the crash as a metaphor for addiction. No addiction is without some form of death. At the very least, we lose time. And that's not something of little value. At the worst, we hurt not just other people (drunk driver hits and kills someone) but people we love (the impact an addicted parent has on their child; not usually a good one). In order to recover from the nose dive, Whip had to invert the plane. We can compare this to the self-reflection that AA made its very first step. "I am an addict." The belly of the beast must be revealed. You must invert your identity and admit that you are no longer who you thought you were but someone who has a problem. You are some...worse version of yourself. Then you're able to get control. And revert to who you were. The landing isn't easy. In IJ, we're told how hard it is to realize...the cost of addiction. How this can sometimes be enough to send people back to the disease, just so they don't have to remember. We have to deal with this cost, these various forms of death we can't reverse. And we have to move on.
If we break Flight into two sections: Plane Crash Section and Addiction Section, we could look at the plane crash as an initial attempt at sobriety, especially with how on the first day Whip is home he throws out the alcohol. Then he relapses. And he has to go through the whole plane crash over again.
But that is a weird way to view the movie. Take the plane crash as literally as possible. The Addiction Section becomes another type of plane crash, way less literal, way more personal, but just as terrifying and life-threatening.
Do you think it's a total coincidence the number of people killed in the crash was six and Whip's prison term is 6 years (or maybe a little less; he says he's been in for 13 months and has another 4 or 5 years)? I really have no idea. But if you agree with the Addiction Section being a re-telling of the PCS then the number 6 repeating is not coincidence but evidence.
I really liked this film. And it turns out Gatins, I just read, did have addictions of his own (good interview) (and another).
I just wish there had been...one thing spoken about "step-by-step". We have the "thank God" at the end. And AA is big on surrendering to a high power. At least the AA in IJ is. And religion is mentioned again and again throughout Flight. But...day by day. Step by step. I wish there had been some obvious dialogue about this in the movie. Thankfully, though, we have the plane scene, and while that isn't obviously saying "Hey! The same way you crash land a plane, one step at a time, is the same way you deal with addiction and live your life post-addiction!" it is there.
Step-by-step is true for addiction. But The Mental Game of Baseball makes a point of it as well while discussing peak performance. MGoB tells us we have career goals (Hall of Fame!). But also season goals (200 hits!). And game goals (gonna get 2 hits!). But that ultimately we have to focus on each pitch. And that's true if we're the batter or the pitcher or a fielder. You can't be thinking about the Hall of Fame while you're in the game. You can't be thinking about the end of the season. You can't be thinking about the box score in the next day's paper. You can't be thinking about the next pitch. Or even the last pitch. Or the people in the stands. You have to concentrate on winning the moment you're in. The same way the runner focuses on making it to the next landmark. Or the former addict concentrates on walking past this bar, right here, right now. And I would say this extends to every person in every aspect of their life.
A dumb example but. Say you brush your teeth in the morning but not before you go to bed. You want to. And it's time for bed. You walk straight by the bathroom and get into bed, because that's your routine/pattern/heuristic. Getting back up and going to brush your teeth seems like way too much work. You can do it tomorrow. You're focused on brushing your teeth. Instead of thinking about that, concentrate on the immediate step.
All I have to do is move the covers. Am I someone who can do this? Yes.
All I have to do is sit up. Can I do this? Yes.
All I have to do is slide forward once. Can I do this? Yes.
Slide forward again. Did it.
Now stand up. I can stand up.
Okay, walk to the bathroom. Sure.
You're there! Brush your fucking teeth and go to bed.
I'm done writing. If you want to discuss more specific examples. Hit up the comments section. We can discuss Flight. But if you just want to discuss habits and glucose and things, I'm game for that too.
Did I Like It:
Yeah. I like that it took as long as it did. It's 139 minutes. So the plane crash is built up. The alcohol is built up. The movie takes time to show us Whip and Nicole together. We don't see them together for 45 min. Maybe just 20? But it's better than 10 or 5. I like that we have so many instances of seeing Whip drunk again and again. Each one becomes more repetitive and, to me, more sad because of the repetition. We really see how stuck he is. If this movie were 90 minutes, I don't see how it could be good.
I thought Denzel was awesome. I was in love with Kelly Reilly. She just...had such emotional facial expressions. I felt like I could feel her pain, and her joy, how distraught she was, how much she cared for but was scared of Whip. When she says how scared she is to use again, I felt it. I thought she did a wonderful job. Her character reminded me a lot of Monica Vitti in Red Desert.
This goes into my top 5 Denzel movies.
Zemeckis is awesome.
I can't think of any real reason to have so much of Nadine Velazquez's naked body in the movie. Other than it's one hell of a body. I mean. Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining about seeing her naked. I thought it was wonderful. But me being a guy aside, she really does have a great body. Like. Not just in a sexual way. But aesthetics and beauty and art. Her body could be art.
Remember the 2011 FilmEd book is available on Amazon. 2012 book forthcoming.