Denzel Washington’s new film Flight is a surprisingly spiritual story about the deceitfulness of alcohol and the necessity of repentance before healing can begin.
Release Date: January 31
Flight introduces us to Captain ‘Whip’ Whitaker, an airline pilot who is on the downhill slope of a drug-addicted life. The opening scenes find him drunk and dragging himself out of a bed to do another line of cocaine while a fully naked woman who’s not his wife walks around his hotel room. He is divorced, self-righteous and running late for work. He pours himself into the pilot’s seat next to a wide-eyed co-pilot and proceeds to execute an immaculate take-off through the eye of a storm while nursing a heavy hangover. However, late in the flight a serious malfunction in equipment leads to the plane entering an uncontrolled dive, seemingly dooming the 120 souls on board. But Whip is the only cool head despite the unbelievable odds, and manages to execute an emergency landing that not only stuns the aviation world, it makes for some of the most terrifyingly believable action footage I’ve seen in years. Of course many of Whip’s fellow workers know he was tanked when he took to the cockpit. The question is, what will the world think when it finds out its hero is a drunk?
Flight is a good reminder why Denzel Washington has an Academy Award for Best Actor. Whip’s slow-motion train-wreck of a life, propped up by pride and fuelled by anger but disintegrating by the moment, is as painful to watch as it is well performed. Director Robert Zemeckis perfectly captures the imprisonment of addiction and expertly conjures up in the minds of viewers the shades of those habits that threaten to overwhelm our own lives. Altogether it is a frightening tale of how low self-indulgence can take us. It’s also a reminder of the positive role God plays in even the saddest disasters.
Whip laughs at the stewardess who invites him to church, and patronises the cancer patient who tells him that even the seemingly random events of our lives are controlled by God. When others say that God had a hand in saving the plane, he resents the Almighty’s claim on his miraculous landing. But the suggestion that God is deeply involved in Whittaker’s life continues even as the world begins to understand his culpability. It turns out the co-pilot is a convicted Christian who, despite having both his legs crushed to the point that he will no longer walk, is prepared to keep Whip’s drinking to himself:
“That crash was preordained. My wife and I prayed on it. There’s only one judge and He has a higher purpose for you. Captain Will you pray with us?”
Whittaker agrees to pray, but only because he wants to humour the God-botherers who’ve just saved his bacon. He doesn’t want to admit that the Almighty might want something more from Him. The insurance company eventually adds ‘Act of God’ to the causes of the flight but Whip’s guilt won’t let him off the hook, and the film plummets towards a much dreaded aviation authority hearing.
The clear message behind Flight is that God is prepared to take us lower than our worst imaginings if the end result is for our greater good. His ultimate goal, Whip realizes, is a freedom much greater than the absolving of legal responsibility. Complete salvation and the restoration of relationship is on offer, but it has to begin with an admission of guilt. This will be a challenging film for anyone who thinks that God just wants us to be happy, and a freeing one for those who come to the same conclusions as Whip.