This paper reviews the crisis presented in the 2016 movie Sully. The crisis being discussed is that of the protagonist’s development of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms after experiencing the horrific event of a plane (which he is piloting) losing function in both engines, forcing Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger to make an emergency landing in the middle of the Hudson River. This paper suggests therapeutic processes and the steps required during those processes that could ease Sullenberger’s post-traumatic stress symptoms and anxiety which resulted from the traumatic event. These therapeutic techniques have been researched and approved by psychological researchers and are proven methods for relieving PTSD symptoms. Healthy coping mechanisms will also be suggested to Sullenberger, as will steps which could strengthen Sullenberger’s resiliency, thus preventing similar responses to future traumatic events. This paper will also examine the grieving process which Sullenberger goes through and determine its effectiveness in relieving his PTSD symptoms.
Exploring and Evaluating the Crisis in Sully:
Suggesting Coping Methods and Ways to Develop Resiliency to the Main Character
The movie Sully depicts the harrowing story of Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, a US Airways pilot forced to make an emergency airplane landing on the Hudson River after both of the craft’s engines are injured and rendered useless. This life-threatening experience, although lasting only a short while, ingrains itself into Sully’s mind as he develops symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after the near-tragic incident. Post-traumatic stress disorder is classified in the DSM-5 as a “Trauma- and Stressor- Related Disorder” (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 2017). As such, there is a multitude of proven methods for recovery from the condition as well a constant inflow of new information and proposed treatments to lessen the effects the symptoms have on its sufferers.
Exploration of Crisis
The traumatic event which the protagonist, US Airways pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, experiences is that of near-death when the engines of his plane are incapacitated by a flock of birds, causing the plane to cease functioning. During the scene in which Sullenberger realizes both of the engines are disabled at an altitude of 2,800 feet in the air, he makes the quick decision to force the plane to land in the middle of the Hudson River, effectively saving the passengers and preventing any casualties. However, despite the majority of the population celebrating this event as a feat of heroic proportions, Sullenberger is left with the infamous mentally scarring condition known as post-traumatic stress disorder. In one instance, Sullenberger is viewing the cityscape evident from behind a large window. Amidst this tranquil surveying, he begins to experience flashbacks of the life-threatening event, seeing himself back in the cockpit of a plane with the two disabled engines. Flashbacks are among the symptoms of PTSD, alongside avoiding stimuli which reminds the sufferer of the traumatic event and increased alertness (Breslau, 2009, p. 198). With Sullenberger’s near-death experience and subsequent development of PTSD symptoms acting as a major crisis in the film, he battles with the condition throughout the duration of the movie.
Post-traumatic stress disorder is a well-researched topic and thus has a myriad of therapeutic processes aimed at alleviating the symptoms. VanElzakker, Dahlgren, Davis, Dubois, and Shin (2013), a group of researchers, suggested that exposure therapy was a working method to eliminate the conditioned fear which resulted from a traumatic experience and allowed PTSD symptoms to continue (4.1 The Fear Condition Model of PTSD section, para. 8). It would be ideal for Sullenberger to partake in this form of therapy, which involves first exposing the patient to weak trauma-related stimuli, then progressively strengthening the stimuli so that the patient can redevelop a feeling of safety around the stimuli. In Sullenberger’s case, views of buildings and planes can be introduced to him first, allowing him to disconnect the images with the response of fear he has been conditioned to feel. After progress has been made, he can then take part in flight simulations to refamiliarize him with his ability to pilot an airplane safely.
Stappenbeck et al. (2014) detailed coping methods associating with aiding in the recovery of PTSD, including cognitive restructuring and experiential acceptance (Coping Skills With Potential Utility for Those With Comorbid PTSD/AD section, para. 2). With these methods, Sullenberger would need to accept that his fearful responses to stimuli related to the trauma is biased and unrealistic, and then replace those unfavorable thoughts with more realistic views on the stimuli. To illustrate this method, Sullenberger would view a plane and, rather than succumbing to an initial reaction of fear, take into account that most plane flights occur without accident or injury. Sullenberger would also need to gain awareness of his fear of these stimuli and actively try to see feared stimuli as an insignificant object rather than acting upon avoidant behaviors regarding the stimuli.
Resilience is another factor which would prevent Sullenberger from reacting in a similar nature to traumatic events in the future. As much as 84% of the population will be involved in a traumatic event in their lifetime; however, most do not develop a condition such as PTSD (Horn, Charney, Feder, 2016, p. 119). This is due to most people having natural resilience to such conditions. In order for Sullenberger to strengthen his resilience and prevent further trauma, he could implement such steps as seeing crises as surmountable rather than impassable, keeping an optimistic outlook, and accepting support from family and friends.
Assessment of Grief Process
While Sullenberger’s wife displays concern for him throughout the film and the flight’s passengers likely suffered anxiety after the ordeal, Sullenberger himself is depicted as the main victim of the post-flight unease. His process of grieving the loss of his comfort around stimuli that triggers his PTSD symptoms is not fully effective for alleviating the condition, as he largely ignores the symptoms after experiencing them. During one of these instances, a friend disrupts Sullenberger amidst a PTSD flashback of the incident. Sullenberger is experiencing the terror of the plane going down once again in his mind when a man interrupts his thoughts by repeating his name to get his attention. Sullenberger responds by snapping out of the flashback and conversing with the man, and not talking much of the flashback he was experiencing. Sullenberger does not seek therapy or any type of help for his condition, and rather gets tangled in a mess of arguments debating his role in the accident, which only serves to weigh him down with more stress.