Flight: The All Too Real Realities of Addiction in Flight

I have to preface this article by stating that I’ve never been addicted to anything so I have no right to make bold claims or speak as if I could ever comprehend just how difficult, damaging and disastrous addiction is. The knowledge I do have is primarily through two avenues, my childhood church and my now job. So throughout this I’ll try my best not to talk like I’ve been there or I know everything.

As we continue on through Zemeckis’s filmography it’s become apparent that as we’re now 34 years into his career that, as you’d hope, Zemeckis has changed. What I’m realising is that his films, whilst always having an edge of darkness, have remained dark but what has shifted is that some of that magic has faded over time. The result is that his films feel heavier, there’s an edge of cynicism to them and I think, in time, that when I look back at Zemeckis’s post motion capture I’ll realise this is where the general audience have struggled with his later work.

This week’s film, Flight, is an amazing piece of work. It’s a raw and very real (in my experience, but we’ll get to that later) look at addiction. Something I really appreciate about the way Zemeckis approaches the drug fuelled moments is that at no time do the moments when Washington goes on a bender feel gratuitous. There’s nothing attractive about it, despite the fact that the film begins with him waking up beside a very attractive woman, or despite the fact that the film is littered with a multitude of extremely great musical cues from classic bands. It’s slick without feeling supportive, which is an extremely difficult thing to do. It’s a testament to how great a director Zemeckis is and Flight plays out like a lesson in storytelling and character while respecting the fact that a struggle with addiction is real and messy. Which is what my experience with addiction is.

As I mentioned previously, I’ve never been addicted to anything illicit. In actual fact I didn’t drink until I was in my 30’s and I’ve never smoked or anything along those lines. My knowledge of addiction comes through people sharing their experiences with me. You see, from around 5 years old through to 17 my parents ran a church at a little lakeside town called Bonnells Bay. At the time the church was linked in with a local rehabilitation centre called Miracle Haven. Each Sunday night the church would double in size as Miracle Haven would bring a bus load of current residents all dealing with their own forms of addiction. After a while Sunday evening church services were allocated a “testimony” time in which anybody could share the week they’d experienced and anything they wanted to be thankful for or anything that was too challenging. It was during these moments that people shared their stories in all their rawness and it was here that I was taught the all too terrifying impacts that addiction has on people lives. It actually lead me to wait until I felt I was mentally ready to even go down the drinking path as I never wanted to end up in situations just like the people whose stories I’d heard.  

If there’s one thing that stood out during this time it was that even though everyone was different, their addiction brought tales of destruction that shared similarities such as deception, broken relationships, relapses and run ins with the law. Within the film there are moments of each of these as a result of Whip’s addiction. We watch throughout the film as Whip wrestles with his addiction and has a few failed attempts at staying sober, the final attempt being the heartbreaking bender where he drinks the entire mini bar in the room beside him the night before the court hearing. The film is so well told that we hurt for Whip’s self-sabotage and we almost celebrate Whip when he says “don’t tell me how to lie about my drinking, okay? I know how to lie about my drinking. I’ve been lying about my drinking my whole life!” This is Whip admitting he’s got a problem, he outwardly expresses that he has a drinking problem and he has been lying about it his whole life. Essentially, if this were an AA meeting (Alcoholics Anonymous) he’d reached the first step of admitting that he has a problem.

Now in my 36th year of living, I work with people who struggle with addictions and I also work with people who are re-entering life after time behind bars. In discussing their past, it’s apparent their addictions have caused damage to those they love. I saw a quote today which read “Trust takes years to build, seconds to break and forever to repair” and I guess it’s true. For the majority of people I work alongside their actions broke peoples trust and this in turns leads to resentment. Some of these people feel they’re beyond forgiveness and that any attempt to try to repair the damage caused would not be accepted. As the quote says it takes “forever to repair” but it doesn’t say it’s irreparable.

I understand that the concept of redemption and forgiveness is one that is quite foreign in this day and age, in actual fact it’s not a social norm. I also understand that the topic is also a loaded one as everybody has their own boundaries and once those boundaries are broken forgiveness is difficult but as we’ve spoken about in previous podcast episodes sometimes humanity as a culture is too quick to persecute, peoples past mistakes are still their present mistakes and public crucifixions take place frequently in news feeds with consequences that in hindsight seem harsh. Now before conclusions are jumped to, I am not saying past actions are okay. I am not supporting wrong or incorrect actions in any way but what I’m trying to say is that if someone has genuine remorse for their actions, show a genuine and legitimate change to their behaviours and seek forgiveness are they entitled to it? Or at least entitled to a response that respects the journey they’ve taken?

I love that the film ends with Whip and his son reconnecting. I love that Whip’s son identifies that the man he grew up seeing was not really his father and as a result chooses Whip to be the subject of his assignment “The Most Fascinating Person That I’ve Never Met.” It shows a heart that I love is present in most of Zemeckis’s films. We don’t know how long Whip tried to reconnect with his son for, we don’t know how many times his son rejected him, but in the end forgiveness was granted and redemption is possible.

Flight may feel darker and it may be a little less magical but this was exactly what this story needed because addiction is messy, it’s hard and it’s ugly. In the end the people who are battling their own demons are just that…people. And sometimes I think we can forget that.

Big Love, Yeah