On Flying

Flying has become commonplace. It’s a cramped experience, with our legs stuck under the seat in front of us, and our ears and eyes stuck to consoles. Whoever described airplane passengers as cattle had it right – we are corralled, spoon-fed, plugged in and complacent. No one complains about the food, while everyone looks motionless and unmoved. Only during moments of turbulence do we feel alive again, alerted to our mortality when the plane jolts back and forth in the sky. Everything on a plane feeds fluid, like liquid, like we’re moving in slow motion. I feel like I’m non-existent above the clouds, straddling countries and identities (travelling across the Atlantic always makes me feel like I’m negotiating my American-ness).

I miss soaring. I am too seldom weightless. Sometimes, on my bike in the evenings in Copenhagen, riding back from work, I peddle hard to see if I can break the complacency barrier. I remember moments of soaring as a kid, like my stomach dropping when Emma and I egged our dad on to drive a little too fast on “the bumpy road,” or when I pumped as high as I could on a swing just to get to that split second right as I began to fall again. A plane is now the closest I get to physically soaring (I’m not the rollercoaster type), or maybe dancing to a really good song.

But thanks to the movies, I do get to soar, as often as I like. Some people say that movies are manipulation; I say they help us fly. This is why it gave me much great pleasure to watch Hugo today, as I was on a plane, flying home for the holidays. The air turbulence was jolting only for a few minutes, but the film helped me feel alive long afterwards. Hugo is a movie lover’s movie – under the guise of telling the story of a children’s adventure, Martin Scorsese is really paying homage to the magician who gave the world its first moving pictures, Georges Meliès. Hugo, the boy who helps Meliès restore his own faith in the magic of the movies, is like the uninitiated cinephile, and I am a bit envious that he gets to experience Meliès’ wonders for the first time. On the other hand, I also feel as though I’m taking a fresh look at his magic by seeing it through Hugo’s eyes.

It’s quite funny, but also perfect, that Hugo was made using the most advanced digital equipment and tools out there, when Meliès only had analog film to work with. It’s a testament to Meliès that his cinematic spectacles are still awe-inspiring, and that his sleight of hand still works today. I’m sure Scorsese has his own sleight of hand in Hugo, but in an age of digital effects, we as audiences are immune to how they work. We are all believing and complacent with our effects these days, consuming them without notice on those small screens on the back of our airplane seats. So I’m super glad to see Scorsese put Meliès back on his pedestal, because when we soar during a movie, we have Meliès to thank. 

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