Back in the seventies two novels — The Glass Inferno and The Tower — were melded into a mega-disaster movie titled The Towering Inferno.

As a thought experiment I’m going to combine two movies into one: 2012’s Flight and 2013’s The Challenger Disaster.

Both movies are about a disaster in the air ending in a crash.

Flight is about a fictitious airliner crash.

The Challenger Disaster is about the real-life investigation of the explosion, shortly after launch, that destroyed the space shuttle Challenger and killed its crew.

One of these movies is about an investigation that ultimately finds the true cause of the disaster and places fault where it is due.

The other movie is a fundamentally dishonest propaganda piece.

And, coincidentally enough, actor Bruce Greenwood plays in both movies.

So, let’s put ourselves into the plot of a fictitious combined disaster movie in which after scientist Richard Feynman proves that the cause of the Challenger explosion was launching on a day colder than the shuttle’s O-rings could properly function, the chief investigator finds vodka bottles among the shuttle wreckage and spends the rest of the investigation trying to find out if any of the crew of the Challenger was drunk at the time of the launch.

Flight movie posterThe Challenger Disaster poster

End of thought experiment.

Spoiler alert for anyone who hasn’t seen the movie Flight. I’m going to reveal major plot points and the ending.

In Flight — a movie directed by one of my favorite filmmakers, Robert Zemeckis, and with an Oscar-nominated screenplay by John Gatins — airline pilot Whip Whitaker (the always-brilliant Denzel Washington) is a raging alcoholic and cocaine user who pilots a flight while on a bender. With a blood-alcohol level three times as high as would qualify for a DUI charge behind the wheel of a car, Whip makes ultra-competent decisions demonstrating that he’s a better pilot drunk than most pilots are cold sober, and when a critical component of the aircraft fails making the aircraft’s controls useless, he nonetheless executes the radical maneuver of regaining control of his aircraft by flying it upside down until he can land it right-side-up again in a field. The maneuver works but in the crash landing two flight attendants and four passengers die, and his co-pilot has his legs crushed so that he’s unlikely ever to walk again.

Nonetheless, the plot establishes the facts that the cause of the crash was the mechanical failure which disabled the aircraft’s controls, and that Whip’s brilliant piloting skills are the only thing which saved the lives of nearly 100 passengers and crew.

The movie’s plot shows us that after the crash Whip decides to quit drinking and his resolve is only broken when it becomes evident he’s going to be scapegoated for the crash by his airline and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigator when his blood toxicology report shows he was drunk and coked up while piloting the aircraft.

At this point let me recount a story that, during the Civil War, President Lincoln received a report that the leader of the Union Army, General Ulysses S. Grant, was drunk most of the time. Lincoln is reported to have replied, “Find out what he’s drinking and send a case of it to the rest of my generals.”

We live in an age where what you put into your own body is more of a crime than what you do with it. Smoking, for many people, is more on their radar of sin than murder. Driving while intoxicated is a worse crime for many people than sending a drone into another country and killing a wedding party.

The movie Flight follows the plot formula of the old True Confessions magazines: sin and redemption.

In a critical scene near the end of the movie, Whip gets blind drunk the night before he has to testify at the NTSB hearing into the cause of the crash, and his lawyer (Don Cheadle) and union rep (Bruce Greenwood) get his drug dealer (John Goodman) to fix him up so he can testify lucidly.

At that hearing the chief NTSB crash investigator Ellen Block (Mellisa Leo) establishes that mechanical failure caused the pilots to lose control of the aircraft and using the cockpit flight recorder establishes for the record that only Whip’s brilliant piloting decision to invert the aircraft to regain control saved most of the passengers.

At this point in the movie, logic demands that she thank Whip and end the hearing.

But noooooooooooooooooo!

Instead, having shown in her own presentation that the cause of the problem was mechanical and the savior of the lives was Whip, she continues her interrogation of Whip by asking him to give an opinion that two empty vodka bottles found in the airliner’s trash were consumed by the flight attendant that we in the audience knows was partying with Whip the night before the flight.

At which point, rather than lie, Whip confesses to having drunk the vodka himself.

The movie ends, true to its true-confessions formula, with a redeemed Whip in prison, having confessed to his sin of piloting an aircraft drunk and coked up — more expertly than any other cold sober pilot could have done.


In a sane society not in thrall to Puritans and Prohibitionists, Whip would have told Ellen Block, “Suppose I was intoxicated, hypothetically. In which case your own investigation demonstrates that I’m a more competent pilot drunk and coked up than any sober pilot you could have put in my place, and but for my drunken flying there would have been 100 more deaths. So go fuck yourself, you statist sow.”

Only a libertarian like me would write dialogue like this.

But it’s dumb statists who get the writing jobs in Hollywood.

More’s the pity.

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