This past weekend, family members that I don’t normally get to see were in town. Aunt Judy suggested that some of us see a movie and then get lunch together. “Do you want to go see Sully?” she asked me.
“What’s it about?” All I could think of was Monsters Inc., which didn’t sound like something Aunt Cindy would join Judy in watching.
“Oh, you know. It’s about that pilot who had birds fly into his engines so that he had to make an emergency landing on the Hudson.”
This did not sound promising. How could a feature-length film be made out of an event that presumably took fewer than five minutes? No wonder it was shorter than Florence Foster Jenkins and The Light Between Oceans. I decided to join my aunts, if only so they wouldn’t have to wait 20-40 minutes for me to finish watching a longer movie.
…so to begin with, you can tell that I either didn’t hear, or forgot, that the events of this movie actually happened my last year of undergrad. My roommate pointed out – after asking what rock I’d been under so as to miss this when it went down in 2009 – that deplaning takes several hours when the Coast Guard and police dive teams get involved.
More than that, when you’re the captain responsible, the moments feel like hours. Sully captures both the worst-case scenario – both engines out, a plane dead in the air, everyone having to utilize the exit doors, inflatable raft, and life preservers after ignoring the attendants’ safety lecture – and the best-case scenario: every single person getting off the plane intact, being taken to shore, and receiving medical attention if needed.
– the people on the flight. A wheelchair-bound grandma, picking a snow globe from the gift shop for her granddaughter. An older man, his son, and the son’s friend, all of whom are desperate to get on the flight for a long-awaited golfing trip. A woman and her baby girl, sitting beside a solicitous gentleman. People who are sleeping, people who look sick, people who are excited.
– what might have been. Captain Suhlenberger, Sully for short, has episodes of imagining how it could have gone if he’d turned this way or that. He envisions distressing New York anew by crashing into another skyscraper – especially poignant to watch this past weekend.
– the real-world fallout. Did he make the right choice? Sully wonders throughout. The world hails his water landing as miraculous, while the airline and its insurance agents question whether he might have made it safely back to the runway at La Guardia, plane intact. Algorithms in plenty, as well as pilots put through a simulation, seem to indicate that he could have, and thus should have, made that turn. What, then, becomes of his career? Of his 40 years of flight? This last aspect gripped me the most, as it is entirely possible for someone to put forth the most profound effort, to remarkable results, and still be fired or vilified for it.
Despite my expectation that Sully might be an hour and a half of boredom, I was profoundly moved by its depiction of reality. Theatres are glutted with superhero movies, stuffed with explosions, full of sound and fury and signifying little.
It was good to see the collateral damage kept to a minimum for once.
It was better to see the air traffic controllers, the Coast Guard, the police divers, and other emergency response teams assemble for their work of helping, rescuing, and fixing. In a world full of accidents and mechanical failure and wicked designs, we need the reminder that such men and women are bound to serve when everything goes to hell.
It was best to see Sully taking the fate of 155 souls as seriously as a pilot ought, keeping them all as safe as possible.