by Bonnie Anderson and Dan Webster
On January 15, 2009 a U.S. Airways jet made a successful controlled water landing on New York City’s Hudson River. It was necessary because an intake of birds to the plane’s two jet engines shortly after take off from New York’s LaGuardia airport shut down both engines.
The film, directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Tom Hanks as “Sully” (Captain Sullenberger), provides dramatized (how do you dramatize an incredibly dramatic situation?) footage of the pilots (Hanks and Aaron Eckhart) in the cockpit during the bird strike and the engines quit. The decision-making at that time between captain and co-pilot is studied and controlled.
Sully’s main concern is the “150 souls” on board the plane, and as the flight attendants repeatedly yell, “Brace, brace! Heads down, stay down,” the reality of those words can easily haunt the pilots and any of the filmgoers who travel by air.
A feeble attempt is made at encouraging the audience to identify with the passengers (travel to a golf game is of paramount importance for three guys who need seats on the plane) and some minimal shots of the passengers as they are seated. Views of the passengers increase once Sully declares, “Brace for impact,” and the scenes continue to increase and become more personal as the passengers slide from the plane and struggle to stand on the wings as they float on the Hudson and the plane slowly sinks. A few of the passengers went into the river.
You’ll admire the crew of ferry boat Yogi Berra and other Hudson River rescue teams as, with competency and caring, they pick up the survivors from the freezing water. The passengers are portrayed as scared, not terrified, but listening to instructions and making attempts to help each other.
The drama continues as the National Transportation Safety Board gets its required investigation underway. In a “cameo-type” appearance Katie Couric shows up as a T.V. newscaster to ask if this now famous pilot is a “hero or a fraud”?
This experienced pilot and “regular guy” has one big concern about the landing and it is this: how many people were on the plane and how many are accounted for. The number of “souls” as Sully refers to the passengers is 155. Hanks does a good job of conveying legitimate and heartfelt concern. It’s a story of courage, bravery, competence and extraordinary talent.
Stick around for the closing credits. You’ll see video of a reunion of the real Sully and the real passengers talking with each other. You’ll see he truly believes “all lives matter” and he brought his experience and intuition to bear and lives were spared.
“We will be in each other’s hearts for the rest of our lives,” says Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger. And we get to see why.
Bonnie Anderson is a very active lay leader in her parish, diocese and in the wider Episcopal Church. She is an experienced community organizer and lives in suburban Detroit. Dan Webster is an Episcopal priest in Baltimore, Maryland and a former broadcast news executive. But don’t expect only east coast urban perspectives here. As it turns out, they both grew up in Southern California. They blog about films and faith at Faith Reels