3 Stars — Thought-provoking

“There is more to life than being a passenger.” This declaration by aviator Amelia Earhart (Hilary Swank) appropriately expresses how she lived her life, and it sums up this dramatic film based on her life.

Directed by Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding), and written by Ronald Bass (The Joy Luck Club) and Anna Hamilton Phelan (Girl Interrupted), Amelia focuses on the last years of her life. Omitting her earlier years in which Amelia considered a variety of careers that were dominated by men, the film instead focuses on her relationships with her husband, George Putnam (Richard Gere), and Gene Vidal (Ewan McGregor), the father of Gore Vidal (William Cuddy).

A modest aviator, even by her own evaluation, Earhart was nevertheless fearless. Having been born on the Kansas plains, the film shows her seeing a biplane as a young girl (young Earhart is played by Ryann Shane) and vowing that she would learn to fly. That desire became a passion that drove her to a life of fame and adventure, but also to her early death.

However, the lack of presentation of the whole of her life weakens the impact of her story, as the film focuses more on her relationships with her two lovers than on what made her the woman she was. Although the film definitely shows that her love for flying was her first love, focusing only on the last years of her life and her relationships with Putnam and Vidal makes the film a less engaging study than it could have been. There was so much more to Earhart, including her work in securing equal rights for women, as well as the conflicted relationship she is said to have had with her father. Both of these dynamics influenced her choice to be a part of the male-dominated world of aviation as well as her decision not to make a “medieval commitment” to faithfulness in marriage.

That’s not to say that the film doesn’t present a very intriguing person who catches our admiration. Wanting to be the first person to circumnavigate the globe makes her a woman worthy of our exploration. Being a person who relished the unique geography and cultures of the nations of our world such that she is compelled to travel to see them instead of merely reading about them also makes her fascinating. The film inserts us into the cockpit of her adventures in ways that take us along on her journey.

The final scenes leading up to her mysterious disappearance with her navigator Fred Noonan (Christopher Eccleston) are appropriately presented as incomplete. Trying to find the miniscule Howland Island between New Guinea and Hawaii, Earhart is unprepared. Though there are many arguments among historians as to what actually happened, the film suggests she didn’t understand the technology necessary to guide her to the island by the Navy. It makes the event seem less a tragedy than a foolish mistake, and her passion more dangerous than inspiring.

Whether Earhart was foolish in her attempt to fly across the Pacific Ocean, or whether she was a woman pursuing her dreams — as the film declares — she is a person who lived life not as a passenger but as a pilot in charge of her ship. It is that decision, for good or for ill, that made her the person she became and who we remember.


» Having seen the film’s presentation of Earhart , do you believe she was living her dream or being driven by an obsession? What is the difference?

» The partnership Earhart and Putnam had could be described as a business partnership more than a marriage. Only after Vidal came into the scene do we find them making a conscious choice to be together. Do you believe the choice was made for love or for larger passions — including money and aviation?

» Living in a day when hundreds of planes cross the Pacific Ocean daily, it’s hard to look back on a time when this was impossible and to attempt to do so cost early aviators their lives. What do you think is comparable in our world today — challenges that we believe are impossible and cost people their lives, but in the future will become commonplace?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com.