Director: Campbell Hooper
Writer: Matthew Harris
Starring: Dylan Pharazyn
Statistician John Wilkins is sucked out of a plane at 43,000 feet where he must quantify his descending thoughts in the 3 minutes and 18 seconds before he hits the ground.
Hooper’s film engages light-heartedly in the abstract gap between human experience and reality in sequential time. The statistician protagonist’s hypnotically calculated stream of consciousness rationally narrates his thoughts as he processes his plummet towards the inevitable, “It’s not going to be okay!” moment. However, it’s the visuals, with Hooper’s background in advertisements and music videos, which make 43,000 Feet stylistically interesting. Rather than showing footage of the fall itself, the film places us in the isolation that Wilkins feels from the real world that he hurtles through.
Fragmented visuals are used to represent Wilkins’ journey towards his fate. He is surrounded by the confusion of falling rain as he puts his suitcase into the boot, you see the car door lock, the light switches on, he thinks about what he will say to reporters if he survives. As the character composes himself the shots become clean; empty skies intersected by graphs, the story of a time travelling bum, and the eight injuries he will receive if he falls in the correct manner.
You know he is falling, but the playfulness of the visuals, the narration of the intimacy with the protagonist’s pseudo-omniscient thoughts and a detachment from his predicament creates an interchanging feeling. Both of the weightless space between reality and the incongruous limbo that Wilkins inhabits. These tensions and oppositions in Hooper’s composition make the short stylistically interesting and give it an extremely thoughtful and wry, stimulating quality. It sensitively confronts human intellectual arrogance and portrays our actual separation from the world itself.
Perhaps where the film falls down (no pun intended) is that it takes a liberty in asserting the stereotypical detachment of the statistician as the voice of humanity. It is difficult to believe that someone sucked from a plane, statistician or not, would reflect on his past and what he would say to reporters if he survived in such a composed way. For this reason the director could be accused of being overly ambitious in his subject matter and indulging too far with his concept whilst simplifying and failing to capture the full horizon of human experience. But 43,000 Feet gets away with it because it is ironic, engaging and clearly doesn’t take itself too seriously.