Though it's handled rather flippantly throughout the film, there's an important, actually quite serious undercurrent running through Airplane!: an examination of PTSD, and how it affects war veterans in their attempt to adjust to normal life after returning from combat.
This theme is more prevalent in Airplane!'s forerunner Zero Hour! The 1957 film is based on a teleplay by British/Canadian novelist Arthur Hailey, who was a war veteran himself, having served in the Royal Air Force during WWII. So humor us for a moment as we analyze an incredibly un-serious comedy in terms of a few very serious issues: war, trauma, and PTSD.
Questions About Warfare
ZAZ intentionally leave the war nameless and use flashback footage of WWII dogfights and early flight efforts. Why do you think they did this? Is this a good decision?
What techniques do ZAZ use to show Ted's PTSD? Are they successful?
Is Elaine right that Ted needs to take some responsibility in order to get his life back on track? Or is there more to the story?
Chew on This
Given, ZAZ's reliance on the narrative of Zero Hour! for crafting their own in Airplane!, Ted's PTSD as a plot point is more a product of Arthur Hailey's writing than it was a deliberate inclusion by ZAZ. This means that it was an afterthought in the ZAZ interpretation.
Airplane! is actually a very clever commentary on warfare and PTSD, using absurdity and humor to point out the absurdity of war itself. So meta.