Flight flipped around how I thought of addiction. There have been precious few films, that I’ve seen, that are able to speak in the language of humanity. Films normally seem strange or robotic to me. They blast this “fill-in-the-blank” style of adlib emotion. A man’s whole family is killed, he feels a sadness that is relatable. It’s emotion without breadth or depth. We relate to it but fill in the (noticeable) gaps with our own experience to make it work. It functions more like a check. Like when meeting someone new, unless there is instant chemistry, the discussion is crude. General topics or events are swapped, our ratings (sad, crazy, cool) and emotional response are matched, but it’s all a way of saying “I’m a normal person, how about you?”.* That’s authenticating, not talking.
Prior to Flight I thought of addicts as weak people. They had the potential to be great but constantly, and needlessly, fucked up. Think of Christian Bale in The Fighter. He was so fragile mentally and physically. The world was littered with all sorts of triggers that would lead to him having another colossal fuck up. Flight showed me how powerful it really is to manage. To live a life fairly close to normal but deal with a staggering addiction at the same time. Addicts from The Fighter’s view are like people who can’t swim and are put in the middle of the ocean while everyone else just watches from land. Pity is my strongest emotional response, how I relate to them. In Flight, addicts are like heroes of Greek Myth. They’re doing all the same things the normal people do, but with a giant bolder chained to them. It’s awe-inspiring. My thinking shifted from “just put them out of their misery” to “how amazing would they be with no bolder?”.* Addicts seem like stronger people. Stronger people with bigger weaknesses.
The role of normal (everyone not an addict) people gets shifted as well. Fighter’s normals were unlucky but incredibly generous people. They behave and function like blameless parents. Sure, typically the caregivers try to shoulder some of the responsibility in another heroic display of affection but the audience never buys that. Everything wrong in contained, neatly, within the addict. Flight, with their superpeople addicts, tears down that condescending wall. What makes non-addicts so good? Did you not feel that co-pilot’s (Brian Geraghty) wife (Bethany Anne Lind) had some very serious issues? With each normal person Denzel met I felt the take-away message was “who you calling crazy? who you think is weak? You’re lucky courts and lawyers don’t recognize what you do as an illness”. Normal wasn’t “normal”, those people were just undiagnosed. Or maybe managing better. Hiding whatever quirks they had.
It was a line of questioning Denzel kept coming back to. Even though the plane had faulty parts, fell apart on him, and even though he miraculously landed it anyway, the only thing everyone else was hearing and seeing was that he was drunk. His weakness broke the plane and God was the one who saved it. Addicts couldn’t do anything right, only varying degrees of wrong. I never felt that the search for the plane’s problem was an escape route for Denzel. It was more “what’s the bigger prolem?”.* I think Flight moved away from the Freudian notion that all character is built in childhood too, which is more satisfying, and allows addicts to be adults not just big malfunctioning kids. Flight replaced the linear equation so often used as a metric in real life with a grayscale. It never hid or emphasized one aspect over another, just asked you to form an opinion based on the total character.
Too many films corroborate our feelings or thoughts. They work so long and hard to authenticate themselves only. Flight effortlessly spoke with true humanity, carrying it so comfortably it could move beyond and challenge anyone watching to really understand their own notions about it. An absolutely beautiful piece or art.