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Death demands responsibility in Flight


Denzel Washington stars in “Flight,” a film about a veteran pilot who crash lands a plane under suspicious circumstances.

This is one movie that won’t be playing on any airlines. Ever. It starts with a dramatic and scary crisis in the sky. In a spectacular bit of flying, the airline pilot, played by Denzel Washington, manages to turn the plane upside down and fly it that way almost to safety.

“You’re a hero, man. You will never pay for another drink as long as you live. There are all kinds of crazy news people out here. It’s all a circus man. Check this out, it’s all for you. Classic hero-worship. You’re a rock-star, man,” says John Goodman as Denzel’s good buddy and supplier.

Yes, supplier. Denzel’s character, Whip Whitaker, is no Sully Sullenberger. He’s a heavy drinker and coke user, which proves to be a problem.

“Why do we need a lawyer from Chicago?”
“He specializes in criminal negligence.”
“Criminal negligence?
“Six dead on that plane. Someone has to pay.”

Denzel’s character is accused of being drunk at the time of the flight, which may mean manslaughter charges. This is the moral dilemma at the heart of the movie. Is an impaired pilot liable for whatever happens, whether his impairment played a role in the crash or not?

I think we all probably know someone who argues that he’s a better driver drunk than a lot of people are stone-cold sober. And it’s true that Washington’s Whip pulls off a maneuver that no other pilot could have engineered to save all but six people.

But is that enough justification? Should it be? Do we root for him to get away with it? Call it a wash? Or stick it to him as hard as we can?

As we in the audience ponder that issue, Whip grapples with a similar but more personal dilemma: does he acknowledge or deny his addiction? What can he get away with publicly and personally?

A character in “Flight” says “Death demands responsibility” and the movie looks at the differences between legal, social, and personal responsibility.

In the end, Captain Whip Whitaker faces a personal crisis every bit as wrenching as the one he faces at 30,000 feet.

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