EDWARD MCNULTY’S books on faith and film are used in congregations nationwide. Earlier, he reviewed Clint Eastwood’s Trouble with the Curve and Steven Spielberg’s new Lincoln. In 2013, ReadTheSpirit will publish his new book, Blessed Are the Filmmakers. In the following review of the film FLIGHT, McNulty shows how to spark discussion in your small group. After the main review, he provides questions you can share with others.
By EDWARD MCNULTY
Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.
Happy are those to whom the LORD imputes no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long.
“When he had come to his senses …”
DO NOT BE DECEIVED! Flight is a Robert Zemeckis film, but it is not another of those action movies for which he is so famous—regardless of what you might have been led to believe by the trailer. Flight is the equal to other character-driven films that star Denzil Washington such as Remember the Titans, The Hurricane, and Malcolm X. This is not to deny that there is action—and plenty of it—in the thrilling section when the actor’s character Captain Whip Whitaker and two of his crew members are struggling to regain control of an airliner that is plummeting to earth. There are thrills and suspense aplenty in this sequence, but regaining control of the plane is not the point of the movie. The film really is about Whitaker regaining control of his chaotic life.
What a struggle this is! Our introduction to Whitaker begins in a motel room where he has spent the night drinking and having sex with his stewardess Katerina Marquez (Nadine Velazquez). Now that he needs to get to the airport, he brings himself out of his alcoholic stupor by snorting cocaine. Welcome to the friendly skies wherein you place your life in the hands of a flight captain who is a substance abuser!
In the cockpit Whip’s co-pilot Ken Evans (Brian Geraghty), a much younger man, suspects something is wrong with his chief (who even takes a nap at one point), but when he is questioned in the hospital after a crash landing, he reveals nothing of his misgivings. He is well aware that his superior’s calm and daring maneuvers during the crisis thousands of feet above the ground saved his life and the lives of most of the passengers.
Whip also is injured in the crash, waking up in a hospital room to see his colleague Charlie Anderson (Bruce Greenwood), who informs him that his skills saved almost everyone on board—but, still, six of the passengers and crew died and the investigation is already underway. Whip, despite being regarded by the media and the public as a hero, is not in the clear.
As the pressure on Whip intensifies, he at first returns to his apartment and empties out all his stock of bottles and flasks. Is he turning over a new leaf? At the hospital he had met Nicole, a recovering alcoholic, and later on the two connect. Evicted from her apartment for nonpayment of rent, she accepts his invitation to stay with him at his deceased father’s farm that he has been trying to sell. Though rundown, it provides a safe haven far from the crowd of news reporters trying to get a story from him. He spends his time refurbishing his father’s old Cessna, the very plane, he tells Nicole, in which he had learned to fly.
But, his alcoholism gnaws at him and with renewed drinking, Nicole’s worries about him increase. He reluctantly agrees to attend an AA meeting with her, but he is not ready to come to terms with the reality of his life.
People of faith will appreciate the way the film handles issues of morality and spirituality, especially of “coming to one’s self” or “coming to one’s senses,” depending on the translation of this line in Luke’s story of the prodigal son. Of course, we are a long way from the days when preachers railed against “demon rum” and alcoholism was regarded as sin. Still, the journey to come to one’s senses is a challenge we all face in some form in life. (NOTE: If you use plan to discuss Flight in your small group, you might also want to share a ReadTheSpirit column about the roots and the legacy of AA.)
Director Robert Zemeckis and his writer John Gatins have effectively combined the thriller and the lost/redemption genres into a riveting suspense film. Part of their skill is in making the second half of the film just as suspenseful as the action-packed struggle to keep the airliner from crashing.
DENZEL WASHINGTON IN FLIGHT: QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
What did you think of Whip in the first part of the film? How would you describe him? Despite his addiction and refusal to deal with it, what elements of decency do we see in him?
Ask people in your group to name a personal hero they have encountered or read about in the news in recent years. Ask them to try to identify: What’s the noblest quality in your hero? What’s a flaw you noticed in your hero’s life? How are the nobility and the flaws related in this hero’s life?
What do you think of John Goodman’s character in the movie? We laugh at him and we are glad when he helps his friend, but how might he be an enabler for Washington’s character? Ask group members: Are there examples of enablers you’ve seen in recent years?
Re-read the story of the prodigal son from Luke and focus specifically on that moment when the son comes to his senses and sees his life clearly. Ask people in your group: Can you recall a time when you suddenly “woke up” and realized something important about your life?
Care to read more from Edward McNulty?
- Read Ed McNulty’s earlier series in ReadTheSpirit: TOP 10 JESUS MOVIES!
- Another series for ReadTheSpirit: ‘THE HELP’ and more movies on the civil rights struggle.
- Ed’s review of The Hunger Games, which now is available on DVD and Blu-ray.
- Get his books: Ed McNulty has written three books of reflections on movies that are great for sparking spirited small-group discussion. Praying the Movies, available via Amazon, includes McNulty’s look at Star Wars, Schindler’s List and Pulp Fiction. Praying the Movies II: More Daily Meditations from Classic Films, includes McNulty’s reflections on Gandhi, It’s a Wonderful Life, Harry Potter and O Brother, Whereart Thou? Faith and Film: A Guidebook for Leaders, includes Amistad, Erin Brockovich, the Matrix and Shawshank Redemption.
- CHECK OUT HIS WEBSITE: Ed’s own website is Visual Parables, where some resources are available to all readers. A subscription unlocks study materials for small groups.