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Heroism vs. science

This movie sets in motion a series of accidents causing a small catastrophe. The adjective in the title qualifies the noun train. The unstoppable train, as it happens, is an enormous mass, & its inertia is rendered deadly by a combination of massive amounts of fuel & toxic chemicals. The train is headed for a Pennsylvania town where all hell will break loose. In hindsight, it seems you cannot trust people to do what they are supposed to do.

The director tries his hardest to make 70 miles/hour seem like the speed of sound, but must ultimately fail. Astoundingly, he also fails to convey the sheer power of moving a million tons… Perhaps we take the power of science for granted. The woman supervisor calls this ensemble a missile the size of the Chrysler building. It’s a good image, but unpersuasive nevertheless, for that building is not so impressive nowadays, not to mention it is not moving…

Against orders, against the authorized judgment of people ruling, an old black mechanic, soon to retire disgraced, decides to risk his life to stop that train. All the professionals’ ideas are woefully misbegotten. This is not unrelated to their impure hearts. Using his long experience, the hellish courage of his young sidekick, & the knowledge of his supporters – the great man prevails. He does it for free – he expects nor was promised no reward. In fact, he is fired. He is not minding his business even, except if you mean what he knows best, & better than anyone else.

Perhaps the man wants to do something great; perhaps he wants to do what is right, what is necessary; perhaps it is only duty that keeps him alive. Old age is not merciful to those who have not the admiration of their fellow citizens. The only reminder that he is human like us – his two beautiful daughters, who seem perfectly innocent, & live their lives keeping out of trouble.

Only a young white boy helps this old man. He has marital trouble. The wife slapped him with a restraining order for jealousy; a judge unsurprisingly upheld it. But he goes through hell for a job he doesn’t like & people he doesn’t know or owe. To say he is risking his life is an understatement; he’s about to get himself killed for duty. As it turns out, his fierce courage & disregard of danger, his cool head under pressure, & his endurance are worth something… The woman eventually takes him back, suitably impressed with his manliness. Perhaps she has learnt to rely on his possessive willfulness, for it makes him protective. It seems the fame that attaches to the deeds of men is edifying.

For fans of Denzel Washington