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Monday, February 4, 2013

flying high


I watched flight yesterday. I can’t remember exactly how long and how much I wanted to watch this movie but it was very long and it was very much. You see some time ago the person acting in a movie stopped being my motivation to watch it. That just became unimportant to me, what I began looking at was screenwriters and directors. After all they were the ones who created this piece of art. They were the ones who held all the pieces in place and if you followed them through you could see similarities in their works , things you would never see in the works of actors. By definition a good actor has to be able to play different roles he can’t always be a tortured loner or a charismatic hero or a charming klutz. He has to slip in and out of these costumes and not every movie that he or she makes has space for these characters so they will be in a lot of different kinds of movies.

Denzel acted in Flight. This guy can be amazing. If you have watched Training Day or American Gangster you know what I mean. I believe he is at his best when he is playing these complex characters, not all good and definitely some bad. To hear that he would be playing such a character again in flight made me happy. But this wasn’t what made me look forward to the movie, it was an interview given by the screen writer in which he said that he wrote the script to cover his two biggest fears; dying in a plane crash and drinking himself to death. He went on to describe his younger life as an alcoholic and how he finally had to stop. The script for this movie was made possible by his alcoholic dependencies. Drinking myself to death isn’t a fear that I have but that’s only because I don’t know how to drive and I don’t want to learn because I think that it happens(seriously don’t drink and drive.

The premise of the movie as can be seen in the trailer is that there is a plane crash and this pilot, this uber pilot flies the plane to safety pulling off a landing no one else in the world can. He is celebrated, he is loved and then it is found out that he was drunk when the crash happened. Flying Drunk is a much worse offence than driving drunk. Add to that the loss of life that went on and he could be facing serious jail time.

I read an interview about a book written on Winston Churchill the other day. This man would wake up during World War 2 and have a bottle of wine in bed. A full bottle and then he would head out into his day and sip, sip, sip until the day was over. While he did this he would give those inspiring speeches. His voice would boom into English houses over the radios they used those days and inspire, encourage and comfort those lying within. He would engage in the kind of international diplomacy necessary to make America feel that a war happening in Europe had some bearing on them. He would be involved in all the prime ministery things that you have to be involved in when a war is happening. And this was one of those wars that we don’t hear about anymore. Nowadays wars take place in one country and one country only. Either there is a civil war or there is an exported war. This was the age when being at war meant everyone feeling like they were at war. There is a story I read about bombs being dropped over Britain and the fact that tea shops would hang signs outside saying “still open for business”, well once a bomb took down a wall to a tea shop and the owner hang out a sign saying “more open than ever for business.” This struck me as very Churchillian and yet he did all this if not drunk then at least a little tipsy

 I was listening to a series of podcasts aboutthe Mongol invasion on this site(take a listen to some of those podcasts, that guy is amazing). In one of them we are told about the drinking culture of the Mongols. They used to drink this thing called airag. I am not sure what it is but it was strong. The kind of industrial strength that people in deep winters need just to keep alive. And the Mongols drank this stuff. They poured it down their throats like it was water and got on their mounts and raced off. Ogedai who was the son of Genghis khan and took over from him especially liked his liquor. Every night he would take so much that he made a fool of himself and ride off into the next battle (un?)suitably buzzed or hangover. It happened so much that one of his brothers took him aside and agreed with him that since he couldn’t seem to control his drinking he would be limited to one cup of liquor a night. He agreed. And then ordered the biggest cup that could be found in camp.

This is what those three stories have in common; There is a great man, the best at what he does who has a problem with alcohol dependency. The thing is even as this man is drunk no one else in the world can pull off what he does. He is still the best and who is to say that what he’s doing doesn’t make him better?. Looking back at Ogedai and Winston it’s easy to laugh at it. It’s easy to write it off as something that adds to the myths of how amazing they were. Looking at the character in flight it wasn’t that easy. Because it happened now and because it happened to people who are contemporary to us, people who could have been us it isn’t that easy to write it off.

I used to think that people stopped drinking after university or at least saved their drinking for the weekend. This isn’t particularly true is it? Then I realised that doctors and surgeons and pilots are people too. Even worse there are surgeries scheduled for the weekend and there are flights that take off on Sunday. I worked for some time last year and yes I went to the office hangover a couple of times. My reflexes were slowed, I did things much less efficiently than I usually would have and I tired out so much faster. I have a feeling that this happens to people who we trust with our lives. They do these things drunk and hangover and too be honest we would rather they didn’t.

I have no idea what the point of this post is. That people shouldn’t drink before they do dangerous things. That could be the point. But there is also a truth that sometimes you would rather have this person drunk than any other person sober and there is also a truth that there are some things we are much better at if we are slightly tipsy. What happens in those situations then? Even worse what happens on the day it actually goes wrong. Human beings love having someone to blame and they will choose the drunk nine times out of ten. If World War 2 had gone differently there would have been people complaining about Britain putting herself in the hands of a drunk while on the other side the leader had so much discipline that he didn’t even eat meat.  Sometimes the end does justify the means. Maybe that’s my point if you are going to be a drunk, drug addled operator of whatever it is you are trained to do make sure you are just that good.