Every Saint Has a Past… and Every Sinner Has a Future

Saints and sinners. You probably think I’m talking about politicians. (Question: What do you call a good lawyer gone bad?… Answer: Senator) But I’ve heard enough about politicians for a while, haven’t you? What I’m talking about is the movie Flight with Denzel Washington. Run (or fly) to see it.

Every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future. Oscar Wilde.
Every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future. Oscar Wilde.

I’ve been looking for the right time to trot out this Oscar Wilde quotation, and this is it. Flight is full of sinners and saints, and Denzel’s character is both–like most of us I suppose–unless you are Melanie Hamilton in Gone With the Wind. She was 100 percent saint. Make me nervous to think about it.

Ashley and Melanie in Gone With the Wind
Leslie Howard and Olivia de Havilland as Ashley Wilkes and Melanie Hamilton in Gone With the Wind, courtesy mptvimages.com, via imbd.com

Denzel’s Captain Whip Whittaker is a bad boy but a good man (just my type), and it finally catches up with him. To read more about the movie and see a trailer, check the Hollywood Reporter here and at the Paramount Studios official movie site here.

Here’s something else the movie made me think about: race.

Denzel Washington as Capt. Whip Whittaker in Flight
Denzel Washington as Capt. Whip Whittaker in Flight
John Goodman as the drug dealer in Flight.
John Goodman as the drug dealer in Flight.

Work with me here. Let’s say the “sinner” is a bigoted or biased popular culture/film business. I’m thinking this metaphorical sinner might be redeeming itself and that it does have a future if this particular piece of our popular culture is any indication. I’m not saying stereotypes or bigotry are dead; I’m saying I do not see a racial bias in this film and I think that is cool. Was it intentional, or did they just cast the best actors for the parts? The hot shot pilot is black. The junkie is white. The nerdy, whip-smart lawyer is black. The wanker, God-fearing co-pilot is white. The hot babe flight attendant is black. The (hilarious) dealer (John Goodman) is white.

In a film with clearly black and white actors, about the only thing black and white about their characters is the color of their skin. The legal, moral and ethical issues are much less clear. Dramatic conflict and emotional tension combined with good writing, acting, and directing, are what make it a great movie. That, and one hell of a plane crash.

Ultimately it’s a movie about redemption–for Whip and, collaterally perhaps, for an aspect of our metaphorical sinner-culture. Whatever your politics, Flight is a positive sign that a society which had no trouble electing a black president* is possibly cultivating a popular culture that is not color blind but color neutral.

Hattie McDaniel as Mammy in Gone With the Wind
Hattie McDaniel as Mammy in Gone With the Wind

From Gone With the Wind to Flight is quite a leap. Lord knows we have a long way to go, but look how far we’ve come.

Amen.

*That’s not an endorsement, by the way; this is a non-partisan blog.

14 comments

  1. I first thought the every saint has a past was going towards SMC alumnae which had me conjuring up all kinds of blast from the past…. Love that it is this wonderful review. I will go see it solely on your recommendation Ms. Siskel/Ebert. Will wait with bated breathe for you commentary on Hitchcock.

  2. Love the quote – and especially the source – someone judged, in court, to be a sinner… He knew the territory he was reporting. Perfect reflection for for a Sunday morning – now I don’t have to go to church today!

  3. Well said Frances!
    Crash was filmed at my great aunts farm. They craned in the plane. She is 100 years old and watched from her rocker! I ask if she was paid? She said I hope so

  4. Ms. Frances, ma’am, I do believe you are the voice of reason. Bless your heart. Loved, loved, loved the joke, gave me the giggles (work in the legal field).

    1. Thank you Miss Barbie, and i believe i have to give credit to His Grace for that joke. Glad you liked it. Me too. Xox F

  5. Loved your report on “Flight”. Haven’t enjoyed a movie so much in ages. However, I think moving forward, I will try and sneak in a shrewd and artful breathalyzer of my airline pilots.
    x

  6. Speaking of Olivia de Havilland…did you see her on 60 Minutes tonight? She made a brief cameo in Morley Safer’s story on David McCullough. She’s 96 and lives in Paris.

    1. Oh Clint SHOOT, no, I missed it. I will find the podcast. I am a hug fan of hers, jokey comment about Melanie aside, and she has had a fascinating life. Long story but a few years ago a friend arranged for us to meet while I was in Paris, and she invited me to her house. We had champagne and smoked salmon and talked about Gone with the Wind, which my cousin Susan Myrick had worked on as “technical director.” I asked if she ever thought about Melanie. She said “Oh I think about her all the time…” Thank you, Clint, for telling me about this. I’m travelling today and would have missed it fo’ sho’.

  7. Well, I love how we went from Oscar to Denzel to Olivia to David Mcullough!! (Thanks Clint for reminding me to go back and watch part two of that interview.) I am reading The Greatest Journey now and am swept up… in History!! Thanks for the new movie reccomendation Frances. -You met Olivia De Havilland! In Paris! You amaze me.

    1. Leslie, when I have readers as sharp as you I don’t dare become predictable lest you become bored! Thank you for the comment, x, F

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