During moments of airplane turbulence, it’s hard not to imagine hurtling through the sky to your bone-evaporating death. The power of positive thinking is a formidable tool in the optimist’s toolbox, yet there’s no way to avoid at least considering such an outcome in these moments. Movies and shows like Almost Famous and Seinfeld have depicted people’s panic attacks as sky-danger appears imminent; others, such as Lost and Alive, show what it’s like when it actually happens. But none of these works have actually given their characters interiority while getting sucked out of a plane into the open air. A new video that appeared online recently does just that, but not in the way you might think.
If the short film 43,000 Feet were aiming for exactitude, it might simply involve the word “No!” with about a thousand o’s in it, followed by a string of high-pitch obscenities. Instead, director Campbell Hooper’s film takes a more meditative, philosophical approach, giving us one particular man’s take on the situation, delivered in a dry, all too even voiceover, possibly coming from the afterlife.
Created with funding from the New Zealand Film Commission, 43,000 Feet follows the brain-flow of bespectacled statistician John Wilkins after he disembarks from a plane, mid-flight. The film posits that instead of the typical life-flashing-before-your-eyes scramble of thoughts, you might just wonder about practical concerns like how much it’s going to hurt when you land, and what you’ll say if you somehow survive. Since Wilkins is a statistician, he also makes calculations, deducing from height and velocity that it will take around 3 minutes and 48 seconds to hit the ground.
43,000 Feet is longer than 3 minutes and 48 seconds–perhaps too long. By the time viewers hear the fantastical parable of a homeless guy and a time machine, they may consider falling out from under the video’s spell, despite how visually interesting it is. Overall, though, in recreating the character’s final moments in various ways, Hooper’s film gets across its central message that time moves differently in different circumstances, and with different outlooks, even though, for us, it is most certainly finite.