‘The plane was doomed.’ This is the pilot’s opinion, stated in confidence. We are privy to something only an old friend from his Navy days hears from the man. Confronted with the possibility of criminal negligence, he claims for the first time that only he could have done what he did. Perhaps this is not the usual defense in a democracy, but we must wonder whether power does not reveal to us the man.
We are not inclined to the vulgar opinion, according to which success justifies anything. Nevertheless, a pilot’s job is to guide his boat, & he must know how to do it; necessity is such that failure is a hard act to follow. But we are also skeptical of the much more respectable opinion that rules guarantee success. Piloting planes requires knowledge, but it’s illegal to fly without a license & assorted papers.
We are living in a democracy, so the question we focus on is the pilot’s moral virtue. This is not merely a matter of equality – the woman, of course, makes this argument. The woman says ‘we’re the same.’ Presumably, she means all junkies are the same. The man is a drunkard, but insists it is his choice – he destroyed his life, but he chose to drive away wife & boy, never to speak to them, except for the money.
One guy, also a kind of friend, films his first moments with the new-minted hero. The first thing he catches on camera is the man’s ass, as he struggles to get up on his crutches & move. We see this man drinking & taking drugs, not only when he flies, but also when he drives; & any other time. Someone might object: Surely, such a habit cannot be explained by recourse to pleasure. But men do not live for pleasure.
There is one quality we see in this man which we do not expect to see in a pilot. One day, drunk, he pays an unannounced visit to his former wife’s house, ostensibly to ask to see his boy. She asks him, is he drunk. He is. He is annoyed she always asks that. Presumably, he dislikes being moralized. His son is angry & tries to kick him out for shouting at his mother.
Outside, he ends up face to face with reporters inquiring into his affairs, as he had avoided the press in the wake of the plane crash. He says, this is not the proper time, I will tell my story at the proper time, but now is the time for grieving. The press can neither smell the booze on him, apparently, nor otherwise notice; they are also polite in leaving him alone.
A heart-breaking story, a glimpse of greatness