Summary: James Bowman describes a small but telling example of making fake news in the film Sully, showing how Hollywood turns an episode of skillful piloting into a fake morality tale about a heroic individual vs. an irrational bureaucracy. People watch films and learn not just about the specific incidents depicted, but also the larger lessons they show.
Film review: “Sully sullied?“
By James Bowman.
American Spectator, 23 September 2016.
Posted with his generous permission.
Should we be troubled by the Clint Eastwood’s mild falsification of what actually happened after “the Miracle on the Hudson”?
Whatever else it does or doesn’t do, Clint Eastwood’s Sully makes an interesting case study for those of us who think a lot about the relationship between movies, or popular culture in general, and real life. Because the whole story of “the Miracle on the Hudson” on January 15, 2009 took only seconds to unfold, and because it was caused by Canada geese being sucked into a jet airliner’s engines and was therefore seemingly uncomplicated by any human drama behind the scenes, it must have been obvious to Mr. Eastwood from the start that some such drama had to be confected for the movie — if not quite ex nihilo then by way of exaggeration of what really happened.
He chose an inquiry by the National Transportation Safety Board which actually took place months after the plane’s “forced water landing” — as Captain Sullenberger (Tom Hanks) insists on calling it, as opposed to a “crash” — relocating the hearing to the days immediately after the event and showing his hero, still suffering from post-traumatic stress (we can watch his CGI nightmare of crashing the plane into Manhattan), being badgered by his bureaucratic inquisitors for taking an unnecessary risk with his passengers’ lives by ditching in the Hudson instead of making an emergency landing at one of the New York area airports. A computer simulation is said to have found he could have made such a landing. Sully, then, in the time-honored fashion of courtroom drama, gets to explain to his dunderheaded tormentors why the simulation is wrong.
It never happened in real life, but the story sort of fits with a familiar movie “narrative” of corrupt bureaucrats working against ordinary guys and gals who have behaved heroically and on behalf of corporate interests, in this case the airline (U.S. Airways, as it then was) and its unnamed insurers, who are supposed to be trying dishonestly to prove the hero no hero at all. There is also, slightly buried here, a man-vs.-machine drama — the computer simulation versus Captain Sully’s having “eyeballed it” — as well as just a hint of man-vs.-media as, for a brief moment at least, the TV reporters who are such a big part of the story scent scandal arising out of the NTSB inquiry.