My Enneagram review of Flight, a movie I hated, prompted a request for further
masochism discussion. Worn out from detailing all the ways I thought the movie failed, I tagged on a quick stab at what a proper version of Flight would look like. My effort was too short to be clear, so here’s the proper Enneagram of the “fixed” movie, according to moi.
The trick here with this rewrite is to not change too much of the tone of the movie. I may not like the new movie any better than the old, but at least it will cohere. What are this movie’s strengths?
-The plane crash as edited can almost carry the whole movie.
-Denzel plays a man who’s a superhero. He lands a plane that no other pilot in simulation could save.
-Goodman’s 3/6 Angel is definitive.
-Denzel’s daddy taught him to fly and was an admirable, groundbreaking man. Now he’s dead and everything he created — life in the perfect cabin, a private runway and airplane hangar, a talented son — is being drowned by Denzel.
-The notion that a man functions better high than he does sober is disturbingly compelling.
Aaand . . . what are the movies weaknesses?
-Denzel has no character arc. Except at the very end, he’s a drunk who doesn’t treat people well but can operate machinery just fine. Why in the world would I watch this man for two hours? He goes nowhere.
-Goodman’s Angel actually accomplishes nothing. A 3/6 Angel must still provide forward momentum for the character. An excellent example of this is the Audrey Hepburn character Hap in Always. Her gentle words — something about the dead Richard Dreyfuss being a “waste of spirit” — propel him into action. Cutting a coke line for Denzel so that he can speak in full sentences at the NTSB hearing does not quite carry the same weight that the end of a movie deserves. If Denzel has struck a Faustian bargain with him, then he must go to hell at the end as payment. Jail, as unpleasant as it is, ain’t hell.
So, with the above in mind, I would re-cut the movie (trying to use as much of the shot footage as possible) like this:
Most of this would remain the same. Establish Denzel as an addict; introduce Nicole, another addict; get Denzel on the plane and in the cockpit.
What causes the airplane to fail? Very interesting. The order of events are:
-Turbulence at takeoff.
-Denzel pushes through the storm with highly questionable flying techniques.
-Denzel swipes the vodka, drinks and passes out for 25 flying minutes.
-Loud noise. The tail gear freezes in place, causing the plane to nosedive.
-Fabulous flying, including the inverted plane, and the crash landing.
The movie, with its confused Christianity, wants to work in “Act of God” as one of the fail reasons. Never is this explained, but I think they are referring to the storm that causes the turbulence. Certainly weather is known to be called an Act of God. If something about the plane’s shaking causes the tail bolt to fail, then this is our 2. The strain on the empennage is the Trouble.
However, could Denzel’s radical flying as a result of the turbulence lead to the tail fail? If so, his judgment, which is impaired, is the 2.
Or, is the mechanical failure, which happens near the end of the flight, the 2? This stripped bolt was going to malfunction at some random point. God didn’t do it, Denzel didn’t do it; the cheap airlines did it.
The filmmakers need to know the answer to this question, and they don’t. They mushed together a hybrid answer, which makes for a mushy movie. We, the audience, can be left to wonder but the director must decide. Personally, I’m going to pick “Act of God”. I think it makes for interesting decisions later.
If we go with my plan, then everything Denzel does on that plane is a reaction to the storm. From the moment of takeoff to the crash landing in the field, the entire 2 stems from God’s turbulence.
We have already discussed that the Goodman dope pimp is the 3/6 Angel. As Eric discovered and detailed in the comments to the original post, a 3/6 Angel is a character only seen at those mirror moments in the movie. Otherwise, the character almost doesn’t exist.
Goodman is depicted as devilish, he has devil music as his soundtrack and he comes with temptation. I’m happy with my comparison of him to Mephistopheles in “Faust”. He’s coming for Denzel’s soul. At this point in the movie, Denzel backs away from what Goodman offers. Now, they clearly have an ongoing relationship. Denzel accepted the Faustian bargain before this story ever began, but we get to see him renege a little bit. Goodman, who clearly knows who and what he’s playing, is patient to bide his time.
Footage includes: meeting Nicole in the hospital stairwell; moving into his Dad’s private cabin to escape the press; introduction to the NTSB investigation and lawyer Cheadle; and rescuing Nicole from the slimy landlord.
The key moment for Denzel’s arc is that he stops drinking at his Dad’s place, pouring bottle after bottle down the sink. After meeting Cheadle and realizing he’ll be charged with a felony, he begins to drink again. The movie suggests the usual drunk’s reason for falling off the wagon: poor me. This is a mistake. Denzel has The Power when he’s high. He doesn’t drink from pity, he drinks because he becomes a god. I would make all that clearer, probably requiring a reshoot of the moment Denzel orders the Stoli. Clarify his intention and the rest of the footage will work. He rescues Nicole when he’s drunk, after all.
What this movie hints at but leaves undeveloped is the influence of the ghost of Dad. The Dad was a hero, and he earned it the hard way. Denzel is a hero because he cheats. I’m not going to delve deeper about this because Denzel’s conflict with his Dad is sub-Enneagram writing. The screenwriter earns her money on this kind of blood and sweat development . . . and I ain’t getting paid. But mark me down as having stamped a “much writing goes here” sign on the script.
As you recall, the original movie fudged its Switch. Rescuing Nicole was a possibility, as was having her move in, and sleeping with her. Hidden in this series of events is the trip to meet the CEO of the airlines. The scene is incredibly clumsy, with every actor playing a different intention. However, this is our Switch.
We know, because we’ve seen the movie through to the end, that the airlines will be held culpable for the crash. That’s what happens when you don’t replace a bolt that was flagged as unsatisfactory over a year ago. The CEO represents reality and the world of physics. He’s not played this way; he’s playing nothing usable. This whole scene would have to be re-shot. The scene needs to convey the dichotomy of tangibles (the mechanics of a wing) and intangibles (an Act of God). I have stated that the intangible is my 2, but the realm of courts and investigative boards is all we humans can use for justice. It is in Denzel’s relationship to Mephistopheles that the real justice will occur. We must hint at that here via the CEO.
Again, “much writing goes here”.
Another reason I call the CEO meeting the Switch is because afterwards Denzel spends a lot of time arm-twisting his fellow crew mates in order to influence their testimony. He is a bit panicked, actually. I think it’s possible to re-edit these sequences to show more tension, more sense of the breath of the devil on Denzel’s neck. Jail is certainly a threat. More than that, though, Denzel’s social relationships fall apart. His crew speaks honestly to him about his drinking, and shows that they really don’t respect him. His son and ex-wife despise him. The press hounds him. Nicole leaves him after he rejects AA. The cabin, the beautiful sanctuary his Dad created (his Father created), won’t satisfy him anymore. His earthly time is growing short.
If this section could stay focused it would re-edit very nicely, I believe.
And here we are, again with Goodman. Denzel is so drunk (passed out under the toilet, the symbol that indicates you can’t get any drunker) that his handlers know he won’t possibly make the NTSB hearing in the morning. The Drug Pimp is called in.
This time Denzel takes the offer.
The editing here, which I hated the first time through because it glorified the hit, would work well if the 6 pointed toward Denzel’s pact with the devil. He goes from non-functioning drunk to cool god not just because of the drugs. An edit that gave a better sense of helplessness rather than enabling from his handlers would pump up this scene.
In the original movie Denzel decides to tell the truth about the vodka bottles in the trash. This was never plausible, and to write dialogue stating “I just couldn’t lie anymore” is a ridiculous cop-out. Why would Denzel give up the gig when it’s working so well? Affection for the flight attendant seemed so undeveloped as a motivator.
Also, the decision moment melds in with the climax. I would highly re-order this sequence. Have the NTSB representative acknowledge the lost crew at the start of the hearing. Show their pictures on the slide projector. Hint at the vodka question to come. Without stating the obvious, let us know that Denzel has reached a decision about whether he will lie to the board.
The hearing is the climax on one level, but at a deeper level we must see that Denzel’s soul is in the balance. The tension — will he lie or will he save himself? — must be present. Here is where a recreation of the plane crash is reviewed, as well. Let us see the disaster again, perhaps from a more clinical perspective. All of this is in the footage as shot. Now is the moment to explain that no other pilot in the simulator could land this plane. Really, the film should have held its powder on that reveal. Denzel must be shown how godlike he is. Goodman has given him superpowers. Will he throw all that away by telling the truth?
Now the director must decide which ending to take.
If Denzel lies, he will continue flying for the airlines. His drugging will go on until his body dies from the treatment. And then Judgment Day will deliver its punishment.
If Denzel tells the truth, which is the choice the movie made, then the earthly consequences should be severe. Jail time in some white collar prison with his cozy AA story and his reconciliation with his son is not possible. His immortal soul may be saved but the devil will take his bite in the meantime.
Whichever decision will show itself in the aftermath here. Neither ending should be particularly happy, because that is what happens when you tell a Faust story. If you try to have it both ways — live with the devil consequence-free for much of the movie, then stick it to the devil at the end with no penalty — you have the storytelling wreck that is this movie.
However, I believe I could have salvaged a better movie out of the existing footage. I hope I was able to persuade you likewise.