Denzel Washington in FLIGHT, and Radioman – Movie Messages About Substance Abuse
Are you chomping at the bit to see Flight like I am? Surely you’ve seen the ads about this movie, which may garner Denzel Washington yet another Academy Award. The reviews of this film, in which he plays an alcoholic pilot who dabbles in other drugs as well, sounds like it’s one the recovery community – and everyone, for that matter – will want to see. I have to say I’m not looking forward to watching the plane Washintgon’s character is piloting run into trouble, but I’ll manage.
Manohla Dargis, a well-known reviewer, found the scene in which the camera focuses on a miniature bottle of vodka nerve-racking because it makes viewers know how much the character (Washington, as Whip Whitaker) watching that bottle wants a drink.
A friend who saw a preview of the movie told me that not only has Whitaker been drinking before he takes the controls, he’s done a line of coke to “even out.” She seemed to think that the movie raises the question of whether Whitaker’s being high actually helped him manage the plane. I want to see if her interpretation is correct, if the movie does indeed pose that question. Also, I want to see if the movie holds that cocaine does indeed “even out” the character’s drinking before the flight.
This is hard stuff to watch. As Dargis says, Whitaker is shown as an “ugly, mean, angrily unrepentant drunk, the one whose sunglasses hide bloodshot eyes and who, when he passes out on the floor, needs someone to tilt his head so he doesn’t choke on his own vomit.”
I don’t want to tell more of the story, and I don’t know the ending. I do know that Whitaker is given a drug test after the incident and there are legal repercussions. It appears that he’s in court in one promotional photo so I’m wondering—does a judge sentence him to court-ordered rehab? Do his supporters argue for leniency because he saved so many lives? Is there no jail time? And what happens to the female character who is a drug addict? It’s intriguing to wonder about an ending you haven’t seen.
A comment that appeared under the review on the New York Times website made me even more eager to know the ending:
“A Sobering and Uplifting Flight
After having seen Flight with three other people, I asked if each one felt the ending of the movie was proper. Lots of debate and discussion prevailed but all were in agreement with the logic that the director took us to. It is a sobering moment and makes us all think if we knew that someone in charge of our destiny was not in complete control of theirs, does that necessitate that justice must take over when our own consciences fail us. Bottomline is that [Denzel] Washington once again shows us how demons can control us to do things without forethought. Reminded me at times of the Desert Storm movie where Washington has to come to terms with his own demons. An Academy award performance indeed.”
It’s been awhile since the last movie on drug use appeared, so Flight keeps the subject of addiction and recovery in people’s faces. As Dargis frames it, “the story hits many familiar recovery beats, partly because transformation is the only way out when a star plays an addict in an American mainstream movie,” which leads me to believe Denzel will recover. That’s a wonderful message, but it’s also a commentary on movies. Not every drug user recovers, and few (none?) can do it without treatment. That may sound like an advertisement for MBRC on my part, but sadly, it’s true.
Another movie coming out in the next few months is Radioman. It’s a documentary about a recovering alcoholic who was once homeless and who has appeared in over 100 films. Should be interesting.