Nothing dissolves boundaries like air travel. And in “Flight,” the new movie from director Robert Zemeckis that debuted on the final day of the New York Film Festival, no one is as involved with boundaries – either traversing over state lines while commandeering a jet, or blurring boundaries through his addiction to alcohol and cocaine – as our veteran-pilot protagonist “Whip” Whitaker (Denzel Washington).
“Flight” is full of opportunities for Whitaker to define himself through these boundaries or lack of them. Unfortunately, he doesn’t believe he has a problem. Our first glimpse of Whitaker is as a man drinking and snorting to excess shortly before boarding his scheduled flight. But it doesn’t take long for the movie to demonstrate why he feels no particular need to examine his lack of emotional and spiritual unawareness.
Whitaker is so skilled and quick-thinking a pilot that, beset by equipment failure in the air and a heart-stopping near fatal descent, he instinctively steadies the plane by flying it upside down, lands it in a field, and saves most of the people on board. It’s only in hospital that Whitaker’s blood work shows he’s been giving free passage to his own substance demons.
Neptune is typically the bailiwick of archetypal themes associated with addictions and boundaries. But Saturn – the planet that’s the driving force behind self-mastery, following the rules, and accepting the consequences of inappropriate behavior – is the bigger dog in this fight. Whitaker’s off-the-charts aviator smarts is what makes it possible for him to riff and coast, at least until his toxicology report could well be his undoing and the instrument that sends him to prison.
Although Whitaker’s got his own entourage of abettors and friends – John Goodman portrays his no-nonsense yet maternally nanny-ish drug dealer – it’s fellow substance abuser Nicole (Kelly Reilly) who becomes Whitaker’s potentially redemptive link to his son.
In the end, though, Whitaker’s choice is necessarily a solitary (Saturn) path. Towards the end of “Flight,” in a gem-of-a-scene, Whitaker slowly opens the door of a hotel room’s mini-bar and stares headlong into the jeweled hues of its alcoholic contents. It’s the equivalent of his turning on the lights of a Christmas tree, and the ultimate will-he-or-won’t-he, Neptune-vs.-Saturn moment. Denzel Washington’s Whitaker simply makes that lone mini-bottle sitting on the edge of the fridge way more archetypal than a 50-ml-receptacle has a right to be.
Rating: ♄ (Saturn)