THE ‘NETTE EFFECT: Anatomy of an addict
By Antoinette Connell | Tue, November 20, 2012 - 10:00 AM
I TOOK IN the movie Flight and for me it would have been another Oscar-worthy performance by the brilliant Denzel Washington except for the fact that my recovering addict buddy was with me.
The title might have conveyed the impression of an action-packed film that most with a fear of flying would want to avoid. Instead, it takes another path and delves into the turbulent private life of pilot Whip Whitaker, an alcoholic on a collision course with all those in his life.
Viewers joined the film with Whitaker already deep into his addictive behaviour, which jolted me because I was there at the beginning when my friend started his descent into alcoholism. I was firm with him whenever I thought he had enough to drink but it never registered with me that he was slipping into alcoholism.
So as we sat in the cinema with my friend predicting Whitaker’s every move I was stunned. He’d not seen the movie before that night.
Each time Whitaker said something and I felt he would live up to it my buddy, without knowing my thoughts, would whisper, “don’t believe him, he’s not going to do it”.
There in the dark with hushed tones, he explained to me that addicts lied their way out of situations or into their next drink. He said they meant well and at the point of making the promise sincerely believed they could do it.
Whitaker was a functioning alcoholic and that he had done the near impossible of inverting a plane and then landing it without the loss of many lives only served to bolster his belief that his addiction was not a problem. That, my friend also explained, was part of the reason functioning addicts continued on their destructive path.
Whitaker’s liberty would only come, my friend again explained, when he fully accepted responsibility for his action; anything less and he was doomed to repeat his mistakes.
Throughout the movie Whitaker made many valiant attempts to stay on the wagon and it was almost unbearable each time he didn’t stay the course. The New York Times review accurately interprets the struggle in a scene towards the end. It reads: “There is a single image in Flight of a miniature bottle of vodka that’s more nerve-racking than almost anything in the thrillers released this year. Shot in close-up with a room blurred in the background, the bottle looks so very big for something so small, like a totem of some mystical deity.
It represents a million earlier drinks downed in a forlorn, existential frenzy, but it also resonates with a foreboding that the director Robert Zemeckis sustains for several unsettling seconds. What gives the image such tension, an almost unbearable throb of suspense, is that you know that right outside the frame is a man who is just dying for that drink. And you’re dying a little along with him.”
Right at that moment my friend leaned over and told me what the addict’s decision would be. He was right but I’ll not spoil it for those of you who haven’t seen the film.
As we exited the cinema I offered my friend some hand sanitizer and to my amazement he declined informing me that he avoided anything that contained even the tiniest bit of alcohol.
That meant toothpaste, mouth wash, certain types of cheesecake and even chewing gum were out.
He diligently reads the ingredients on all packaging and inquires before he buys any food that may contain even a hint of alcohol.
My friend is very good-natured and takes everything in stride. In the end we joked about his misfortune of living in a country that has been an expert at producing rum since the 1600s and that is the one thing he cannot touch.
•Antoinette Connell is the DAILY NATION Editor.
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