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Bittering or Bettering

March 18, 2014

I have watched this movie close to ten times, and even though it was released over a decade and a half ago, I have to admit that Air Force One is one of the best movies I’ve ever watched. It grips you from beginning to end, and even after its over and the credits are scrolling on the screen, the tension you just experienced in the movie makes you feel like something might just happen in between the credits. If you’ve never watched the movie, you need to go look for it today and watch it. The cast in this movie, starting with the main character Harrison Ford who in the movie acts as the president of the United States, will leave you sitting on the edge of your seat.

For its time (1997), I have to admit it was an amazing movie, and if I may add, I still find it a gripping movie. I wonder why it never won an Oscar. Anyway, in order for me to drive today’s message home, I have to act as a “spoiler” for those who haven’t watched the movie yet.

The film begins with an American Special Forces unit capturing General Ivan Radek, the dictator of Kazakhstan. Radek's regime had caused an enormous amount of bloodshed for Kazakhstan, and there was word that his stockpiling of nuclear weapons would have plunged the world into a second cold war. His capture was made through the joint cooperation of President James Marshall (USA), and Russian President Petrov. After his speech, the president, his family, and his men board Air Force One, which takes off on its return trip to Washington D.C. Unknown to the President or anyone else, a rogue secret service agent named Gibbs has secretly allowed access into the plane several men who are supporters of General Radek.

Gibbs kills several agents in a crucial protective position on the plane and the hijackers, led by Egor Korshunov, don bulletproof vests and collect weaponry that is used by the Secret Service. Korshunov and his men quickly gain control of the plane, killing several Secret Service officers and capturing the 1st Lady and the president's staff. In the chaos, Marshall is ordered into an escape pod in the cargo hold. Once Air Force One is hijacked, the pilots attempt an emergency landing at Ramstein Air Base, but are soon killed with one of the hijackers taking control of the plane. A group of F-15's are sent after Air Force One as an escort. The plane is piloted towards Kazakhstan, and Korshunov, the head hijacker, places a direct call to the White House, where Vice-President Kathryn Bennett and Defense Secretary Walter Dean listen to Korshunov's demands. Korshunov requests the release of General Radek, with the stipulation that a hostage will be executed every half hour until his demands are met.

Shortly thereafter, the President's escape pod is found, but he is not inside. During the firefight, Marshall stayed aboard the plane, intent on saving his family, a fact which neither the White House or Korshunov are aware. Korshunov assumes that the President escaped Air Force One, while the empty pod's discovery by the White House has them speculating that Korshunov and his men have killed Marshall. The drama that ensues is unimaginable but the long and short of it is that the president manages to kill a few of the hijackers, saves most of the hostages but gets caught in the process. Korshunov orders him to make the call to the Russian president asking him to release General Radek. Of course Marshall refuses and as a result, the hijacker threatens to execute the president’s daughter. This would move any loving parent and as a result, he has no choice but to make the call in order to save his daughter.

To cut a long story short, a lot happens mid-air but eventually, the President is able to get rid of the hijackers, save his family, stop the release of Radek who is killed trying to run away. Marshall manages to get assistance from a friend in the White House on how to pilot Air Force One with the help of Caldwell, another agent. The plane heads for an airfield in Turkey, but is soon intercepted by some rogue MiG fighters piloted by Radek loyalists. The F-15's that turned away at Kazakhstan's borders move in to intercept the MiGs. Most of the MiGs are destroyed by the American pilots but all the same, Air Force One loses an engine and suffers major damage to its tail gear, preventing a safe landing.

With no way to land and the plane losing fuel, a C-130 Hercules is routed towards Air Force One, and a mid-air "zipline" rescue is put into effect. For those wondering what zipline means, this is a transportation system or piece of recreation equipment consisting of a cable stretched between points of different elevations, a pulley, and a harness or bar for attaching a rider, who moves by gravity. In the case of Air Force One, this was between two aircrafts i.e. the Air Force One itself, and the plane (the Hercules whose call sign was Liberty 2-4) that came to rescue those still on the plane. 

Back to the plot, though efforts are made to save Marshall first, he demands that his wife and daughter be evacuated first. A wounded Agent who took a bullet that was meant for him is the third person across, but due to Air Force One's continued engine failure and rapid descent, only one more person can be rescued. Marshall refuses to leave the other men behind, but his words are interrupted as Agent Gibbs shoots the zipline attendant, and also kills Caldwell. At that point the president realizes who the traitor has been all along. Both Gibbs and Marshall fight for the zipline strap, with Marshall just barely getting it attached when the zipline breaks free from the doorframe, leaving Gibbs aboard the plane as it crashes and breaks up in the Caspian Sea. Marshall continues to struggle to secure his zipline strap as the team aboard the Hercules reels him in. Once he is finally secure aboard the Hercules, the pilot changes the plane's call-sign from "Liberty 2-4" to "Air Force One" (this title applies to any aircraft that the President is aboard). As Marshall is reunited with his family, the F-15 squadron resumes flanking positions as they escort the First Family home.

Like I said at the beginning, I’ve watched this movie so many times but always for entertainment purposes. I watched it one more time this last Thursday night and it is while watching it that I had multiple mind-gasism.

The Wahenga have a saying that says “kikulacho ki nguoni mwako”, and this is evidently displayed in this movie. The hijackers would not have had access to the plane if they had not received aid from Gibbs, a Secret Service Agent the president trusted his life with. He knew every single detail about the plane, the president’s security detail, the passengers that were aboard Air Force One, the flight path, etc. He was that close to the president. Yes many of our woes, pains and afflictions are caused by people who know us well, people we would not hesitate to trust with our lives, our secrets, our fears, our concerns, our everything.

But then personal gain, personal vendettas, insecurity, envy and a whole load of other negatives take precedence and common sense flies out of the window. The same people start plotting your down-fall, whether its in business, within the employment circles, on individual levels, etc. Well, one thing I learnt from this movie is that no matter how much your “enemy” plots to bring you down, God will always offer and escape route for you, even if it means hanging on a string mid-air. He will always get the right people to protect you as He eliminates those who do otherwise. Gibbs meant for the president to sink with the plane, but instead, he is the one who sank with it.

The second lesson I learned from this movie is phenomenal. I liked the part where the Hercules plane changed it’s call signal from Liberty –2-4 to Air Force One as soon as the President was on board. For those few hours the president was on board the Hercules, its value shot up to the point where it had escorts. Nothing physically changed about the Hercules, but it is the person in it that made the difference. Question is, when was the last time someone’s life changed for the better just because you were in it? When was the time a place changed to a better place just because you were in it? What does your presence in other people’s life do to them; does it make them better or bitter? Food for thought…

The third thing I learnt from the movie is that no matter how bad things are, no matter how impossible a situation is, there is always a way to get out of it. The only problem is that most of us focus so much on the problem and the challenge it is posing that we forget to look at the possibilities and the ways to overcome them. Like someone once said in yet another movie 'Everything will be all right in the end. If it's not all right, it is not yet the end”....... Patel, Hotel Manager, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel' So this week I’d like to encourage us to focus on the possibilities and not the impossibilities. Yes though you may have many enemies around you, as long as there is no enemy within the enemy without can do you no harm.

In conclusion I'll say this; it is not easy to know who is trustworthy in the world we are living in today. Unfortunately, you cannot live a solo life because no matter what you do, you have to interact with someone at some point. If it was possible to do this, I'd have been the first to do so. The only hope we have is in God protecting us from those who want to do us harm. While He does that for us, my prayer is that you on the other hand will work towards bettering the lives of the people you come into contact with, not bittering them. Every day presents a new opportunity for us to have an impact in the lives of those we come into contact with. Let your impact be positive.

Wishing you all a week filled with possibilities and positivity.

PS: Article published in Tanzania's Guardian on Sunday on the 16th March, 2014, under my weekly column  "Thoughts in Words".

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