I didn’t know Liam Neeson is currently starring in a fantasy film. You didn’t either? Well, that’s because “Non-Stop,” his latest feature, is mis-categorized as action. There’s plenty of it: Liam Neeson plays Bill Marks, a U.S. Air Marshal who’s got to kick some ass to save passengers on an international flight. There’s blood, broken noses, and three dead bodies by the end of the first hour.
The big reveal for me in the film’s second half was not the identity of the hijackers, but that I’d been sitting through a fantasy film disguised as action. Warning: The bit of set-up necessary to explain this requires me to spoil the film’s few surprises. The hijackers’ elaborate plan includes making it seem that Bill Marks is the bad guy. The plane’s passengers watch the news reports in real-time that claim Bill will blow up the plane unless he is given $150 million. Fists fly, blood and guns are drawn when some male passengers try to subdue Bill, but he’s a hero with a mission: save everyone on that flight. He’s also got a major challenge: how to convince 150 passengers and crew that he’s the good guy. Bill’s plan? Tell the truth.
Bill tells the passengers that yeah, the news reports about his background are true: he’s lost his family, his job. He’s an alcoholic. He’s not a good father or a good man, but he’s no hijacker. Bill will save the plane and everyone on it, but he needs their help. They all need to work as a team.
There’s a silent pause. Passengers eye Bill and each other warily. Ultimately, though, jaws and shoulders are set in that we-got-your-back resolve. Bill, the embittered, emotionally unstable alcoholic is handed back his gun, and everyone works to insulate the ticking bomb with luggage and blankets.
I suspended my disbelief throughout the whole film, but I could believe that it’s possible to catch a gun midair in a de-pressurizing airplane cabin – then shoot a bad guy between the eyes – more than I could believe such a confession would ever fly in the real world. I recalled some of the hostile environments in which I’ve found myself, neglected classrooms filled with agitated uncaffeinated undergrads in early morning hours. It had never dawned on me to foster that spirit of collaboration and enthusiasm toward a common goal by simply telling the truth.
“Everything you’ve read on Rate My Professor is true. I assign too much work. I’ll make you read literature. And yeah, I’ve lost my child, been laid off and downsized too many times. Sometimes I rely too much on alcohol and refined sugar. I am not a friendly woman. But I am not your enemy. I can save you from illogical arguments, overgeneralizations, incomprehensible word choices, and bad punctuation if you’ll just work with me.”
That approach would have no effect on the students too caught up in below-the-desk texting or looking out the window at the parking lot. Some might wonder if they needed to take notes, maybe the information was needed for the next essay, or was from a reading assignment they missed. There might be some among the awake who would record the rant and upload the video that would later be used as evidence of my being unfit for teaching and interacting with the public. So while Bill saved the day and got commended for his unconventional behavior, my ass would get booted from my job and placed on the too-unstable-to-be-hired blacklist. Sure, I’d like to be a hero like Bill, but I’m realistic. I know that the kind of action I’d often like to take in real life has got to stay in the realm of fantasy. At least I can fantasize non-stop.