Study Guide

Airplane! Warfare

Warfare

TED STRIKER: You know I haven't been able to get near an airplane since the war. And even if I could, they wouldn't hire me because of my war record.

This line from Ted, concerning his uncomfortable military past, is straight outta Zero Hour!. It was a serious commentary about how a person's war record could affect his civilian life later on, especially if there were bad outcomes.

ELAINE: What's hurt you the most is your record since the war. Different cities, different jobs, and not one of them shows you can accept any real responsibility.

In 1980, when Airplane! was released, the memory of the Vietnam War was still fresh. Ted's reality is similar to that of many veterans coming home, trying to reintegrate as functioning members of society. Elaine seems to be blaming Ted for being a slacker, but the poor guy is tormented by flashbacks and panic attacks. Isn't it more than a failure to accept responsibility?

FLASHBACK VOICEOVER: The decision to proceed is yours.

Through grainy black and white flashbacks of war footage, we catch glimpses throughout the film into Ted's psyche. These memories still haunt him. The flashback tells him that he was the one who made the decision to proceed with the disastrous mission.

TED: That's the way I've always wanted it to be, Elaine.

ELAINE: But it won't be. Not as long as you insist on living in the past!

It's clear that Elaine doesn't understand the extent of Ted's trauma. It's probably significant for Ted that his loved ones don't acknowledge the pain he feels as legitimate. Flashbacks aren't really "living in the past."

ELAINE: They've cleared you of any blame for what happened on that raid. Isn't that good news?

TED: Is it? Because of my mistake six men didn't return from that raid.

ELAINE: Seven. Lieutenant Zipp died this morning.

Though the character Zipp is introduced flippantly as part of a throwaway joke by Elaine, and really only exists for the sake of Dr. Rumack's speech at the end of the film, Ted still feels tremendous guilt over Zipp's fate.

ELAINE: What's his problem?

TED: That's Lieutenant Hurwitz. Severe shell shock. He thinks he's Ethel Merman.

Despite the fact that this is one of the funnier scenes in the movie (with the real Ethel Merman), it's actually a very clever way to comment on the absurdity of war—in this case, PTSD as it affects the patients in the military psychiatric hospital. "War is hell," Ted concludes.

FLASHBACK VOICEOVER: Stay in formation. Target's just ahead. Target should be clear if you go in low enough. You'll have to decide. You'll have to decide. You'll have to decide.

This voiceover appears hilariously over grainy footage of ridiculous flying contraptions crashing, but speaks to the demons that continue to haunt Ted. But it's time now for him to take control—which he does. It's a stretch and a huge simplification to believe that one corrective experience like landing the aircraft successfully will cure Ted of his PTSD. But, hey, it's a movie, so we'll let that one slide.

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