by Matt McKenna
Sully isn't a movie about a pilot’s heroic skill to land a plane on the Hudson river and save the lives of the hundred-fifty-five people onboard. Instead, it is a movie about the decision by a pilot to land the plane on the Hudson River and what it must feel like to be both praised and second guessed for that decision. The movie is therefore an analogy for living in the aftermath of any tough choice made in public, and has there ever been a choice made in public tougher than Apple CEO Tim Cook’s choice to remove the headphone jack from the new iPhone?
Sully is based on the real life story of Captain Chesley Sullenberger who, after having a bunch of birds slam into both engines of the airliner he was flying, lands the aircraft on the Hudson River. Miraculously, everyone on the flight survived. Understandably though tiresomely, the movie repeatedly revisits the moment the birds hit the engines, probably because it's one of the few dramatic events in an otherwise pretty thin story. Not that I mind a short movie, but even after showing a dozen views of the plane splashing into the river, Sully still clocks in at only ninety-six minutes. And outside the water landing, the story that does exist is mostly fictional including the comically evil antagonists of the film, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigating the incident. For unexplained reasons, the NTSB desperately wants to prove that Captain Sullenberger should have turned the plane around to land back at LaGuardia Airport instead of dropping it into the Hudson. In reality, the NTSB didn’t try to prove that at all, but it’s hard to blame screenwriter Todd Komarnicki for adding this twist since it is the film’s only source of drama after the landing itself.
In addition to giving the film something to do, another benefit of turning the least controversial governmental body in the history of governmental bodies into a bad guy is that Sully is transformed into an analogy for making tough decisions in public. In the film as in reality, Captain Sully is nearly universally adored for his decision to land on the Hudson; Bartenders buy him drinks, women he doesn’t know hug and kiss him, and he appears on the David Letterman show to thunderous applause. What the nasty NTSB provides the film is a balance to that adoration; The fictional versions of the NTSB members claim the Captain was reckless and endangered the lives of the passengers on that aircraft–the safe bet was to try to land on a runway back at LGA, and Sully famously decided not to do that. The drama of having people second guess a big decision is what provides the tension in the film and must also be what provides the tension in Tim Cook’s life.
Other than almost resembling a mustache-less version of Tom Hanks’ Sully, Tim Cook’s main similarity to the movie version of the Captain is that they both had to make tough, potentially unpopular decisions. While Sully had to make the life or death decision whether or not to land the plane on the Hudson River, Tim Cook had to make a decision nearly as important on whether or not to remove the headphone jack from the upcoming iPhone 7. Where Sully had to go against instructions from air traffic control telling him to turn back to LaGuardia, Cook had to go against instructions from the legions of people on Twitter telling him to keep the analog audio jack around so it wouldn’t be a hassle to plug in their headphones. In the end, both Sully and Cook followed their hearts over the pleas of their doubters–Sully landed in the Hudson, and Cook removed the headphone jack from the iPhone.
In Sully, time is kind to the Captain–his decision is vindicated by the investigators. Will Tim Cook be so lucky? Will the folks complaining that they’ll no longer be able to use their favorite analog headphones without an adapter forgive Cook for his decision? We shall see, but even if Tim Cook and Apple does regret removing the headphone jack from the iPhone 7, purchasers of the consumer electronics device will have at least have one new uncontroversial feature that has a Sully tie-in–it’ll be water resistant.