Theme: The Miracle on the Hudson
On January 15, 2009, US Airways Flight 1549 made a miraculous landing on the Hudson River. Director Clint Eastwood has made a gripping re-creation of the “forced water landing”, weaving it around the life of the now famous Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger. Sully is a hero journey, and while the NTSB may cry foul for being cast as the antagonist, audiences love every minute of the high stakes drama.
The Other Story
There is another story always in the shadow of Sully and it is not, as many might think, the untold story of the NTSB inquiry into Flight 1549. The opening scenes of Sully’s nightmare of a plane crashing into a building and bursting into flames recall the national horror of September 11, 2001; this is the other always present story.
Eastwood has cleverly brought 9-11 into Sully by careful film editing, recalling that fateful day while at the same time showing the “Miracle on the Hudson” for what it is . . . a cosmic story of redemption. As one character says toward the end of the movie, “It’s been awhile since New York had news this good, especially with an airplane in it.” It is no coincidence Sully was released to theaters on September 9, 2016, the Friday before the 15th anniversary of 9-11.
Sully is the hero of the story. What the movie makes perfectly clear in flashbacks to his early life and the eventful scenes in the cockpit is this: forty-two years of training and experience were required for the last two hundred and eight seconds of flight 1549. As Captain, he not only had to make the ultimate decision of where to attempt a landing, he also had to execute it. There was no time for procedures, reading instructions, consultations, or any other input. It all came down to forty-two years of preparation in one human being to save one hundred and fifty-five souls.
The caliber of the man is demonstrated in not only his experience and professionalism, but in his care of the passengers. In the frantic moments after the landing, he acts like a shepherd who has to gather the flock and get them to safety. One of the most moving scenes in the entire film is when he gets the final count of one hundred and fifty-five people alive and safe. Had one life been lost, it would have been a failure to him; for as their Captain, he was the one entrusted with their lives.
What was the miracle on the Hudson? A woman passenger interviewed by reporters in the opening scenes captures the essence of it: “You think you’re going to die, miraculously you don’t”. A doomed flight with duel engine failure at an altitude of twenty-eight hundred feet goes into the water, and no one dies. This was a baptism unto life made possible by the captain, his crew, the passengers, and 1200 responders who all came together as a team.
In the closing credits, there is a reunion scene of Captain Sullenberger with his wife and the passengers of Flight 1549 gathered around the relic of the old plane. Their celebration is a taste of the new life they are experiencing, having passed through death into life. Before they were all individuals and strangers; different in ethnicity, age, gender and religion. Now as Captain Sullenberger tells them, “Because of the events, we will be joined in our hearts and minds forever”; they have an unbreakable bond which makes them the living body of flight 1549. Something more wonderful than an airplane has been created.
The plight (dangerous, difficult, hard to get out of) of Flight 1549 is a microcosm of the plight of the entire human race. Everyone is a passenger on a doomed ship. The old creation received a fatal blow . . . everything and everyone is under condemnation and is passing away. The “good news”, the true miracle is the God who created the world entered into it in His Son Jesus Christ and going down into death, he defeated the Powers of Sin and Death on the cross. In his Resurrection and Ascension, he now reigns as the one true Lord. He has plighted (promised) his troth to all those who are baptized into his death and resurrection, giving them the Holy Spirit . . . the life of the New Creation.
There will one day be a grand reunion celebration with the “Captain” and all his passengers. They will look on the relic of the old creation and tell stories of coming through the waters into new life, and then they will go forth into the New Creation.
Then he who sat on the throne said, ‘Behold! I am making all things new!’ And he said to me, ‘Write this down; for these words are trustworthy and true. Indeed’, he said, ‘they are already fulfilled. For I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. A draught from the water-springs of life will be my free gift to the thirsty. All this is the victor’s heritage; and I will be his God and he shall be my son.
Revelation 21:5-7, The New English Bible