Study Guide

Airplane! Absurdity

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P.A. SYSTEM (MALE VOICE): The red zone is for the immediate loading and unloading of passengers only. There is no stopping in the white zone.

P.A. SYSTEM (FEMALE VOICE): No, the white zone is for loading and unloading, and there is no stopping in the red zone.

This banter, which only gets more ridiculous as it continues, is one of the first gags we get in the movie. It's possible that the audience might not even notice this conversation as it develops in the background, but in typical straight-faced Airplane! fashion, it doesn't draw attention to itself. It just is, and it is hilarious.

TED: What a pisser.

This is one of the film's most classic one-liners, Ted breaking the fourth wall as well as the tension of a dramatic scene with some terrific ZAZ absurdity. Elaine has just poured her heart out to Ted, and this is all he can say. We can see why she left him.

AIRLINE CHECK-IN LADY: Smoking or non-smoking?

TED: Smoking, please.

The ticket agent hands Ted a ticket with smoke pouring out of it. Here's a prime example of ZAZ's terrific use of overly literal, surrealist humor, using both wordplay and visual cues to make a joke.

TED: But enough about me. I hope this hasn't been boring for you.

Ted's story sets off a totally absurd running gag of suicidal seatmates, from seppuku-committing WWII-era Japanese generals, to self-immolating South Asians. They couldn't bear to hear one more second of Ted's war stories.

CAPTAIN OVEUR: Have you ever seen a grown man naked?

One of the movie's more suggestive gags, actor Peter Graves executes this running joke in perfect deadpan, highlighting the absurdity of the situation—a boy visiting the cockpit. It's sure not the friendly banter you expect when you take your son to see the pilot in person.

TED: And that, as much as anything else, led to my drinking problem.

Another of Airplane!'s best visual gags, and most quotable lines, reframing the concept of the "drinking problem" quite literally in absurdist fashion. He can't get the drink to his mouth or even anywhere near it.

TED: Surely you can't be serious.

DR. RUMACK: I am serious. And don't call me Shirley.

If we had to choose a single line that best represents Airplane!, this would be the one. Dr. Rumack's deadpan response epitomizes ZAZ's penchant for puns, where everyone is in on the joke except the characters. What would make him think Ted is calling him Shirley?

MCCROSKEY: Two more minutes! They could be miles off course.

KRAMER: That's impossible. They're on instruments.

When we cut to Ted, Dr. Rumack, Elaine, and Randy on the flight deck busting out some old timey swing, we're rewarded with a totally corny pun on the term "instruments."

DR. RUMACK: I just want to tell you good luck. We're all counting on you.

By the time a stone-faced Leslie Nielsen drops this line for the third time, we have already landed safely. An absurd finale to the end of the

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