Year Released: 2004
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Starring: Leonardo Dicaprio, Cate Blanchett, Kate Beckinsale, John C. Reilly
(PG-13, 166 min.)
"There is no great genius without some touch of madness" Seneca
If you’ve ever doubted the wisdom of Seneca, see The Aviator. Leonardo DiCaprio continues to show the range and depth that first surprised a bit in the better than expected Catch Me if You Can. He plays “eccentric” (as in nuts but loaded) millionaire Howard Hughes with all the hysterical heights and manic madness that led him to triumph and disaster. He is at once a charming cad, a chivalrous jilted lover, and an almost pedophilic procurer. But it is because of his obsession with flight, not women, that Hughes teeters on the edge of bankruptcy throughout his adult life.
The film opens with an eerie scene, a solemn Mrs. Hughes bathing nine-year-old Howard as he stands in a metal tub. She warns him of the dangers of germs and disease in swampy, mosquito-infested Houston. This strong undercurrent of obsession infused with psychosexual overtones ties the rest of the film together.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of The Aviator is the portrayal of Hughes’ relationship with Katherine Hepburn. On a first date Hughes takes her up in a plane and then hands over the controls. It has the same exhilarating feel as that wonderful rapids ride with spinster Katherine Hepburn and uncouth bachelor Humphrey Bogart of African Queen, complete with a matching thrill on Hepburn’s part, and the same chemistry that feeds on physical danger.
The Hughes/Hepburn relationship also explores the clash between Eastern establishment wealth and nouveau riche pretenders so aptly portrayed fifty years earlier in Edna Ferber’s Giant,. What endears us to Hughes, so much that we may even forgive his later crassness with women, is his utter honesty, his refusal to suffer fools gladly, and his complete contempt for hypocrisy. A golden exchange occurs during a luncheon with Hepburn’s family at their manicured rolling estate. After voicing her hope that Mr. Hughes is not (gasp!) a Republican, Mrs. Hepburn announces proudly that they are all socialists.
“It’s easy to be a socialist, when you already have money,” Hughes replies without missing a beat.
Hepburn as portrayed by a gorgeous auburn-haired Cate Blanchett is more frivolous, glamorous, and vainly insensitive than those of us more used to her later films might suspect. She is almost matter of fact in her (or is it his?) seduction of Hughes, and curtly blunt when she ends their engagement. But Hughes, who continues to dally with Ava Garner (Kate Beckinsale), Jean Harlow (Gwen Stefani), and sundry others during their love affair, doesn’t exactly play by the rules. Hepburn is right when she says they both are fragile with more rough edges than most people.
Long after the affair has ended, each shows surprising unselfish tenderness towards the other. Hughes turns the tables on a reporter determined to publish scandalous pictures of a married Spencer Tracy and paramour Hepburn. And much father down the road, when his rough edges have sprouted into blossoming mania, Hepburn tries to lure Hughes from his self-imposed agoraphobic squalor. There is none of the brusque New England salt when she thanks him for keeping those photos from the papers as she talks to him outside his closed door and asks him to re enter the world. And for a time, at least, she turns him from the sirens’ call to madness.
Perhaps it is good that the film ends when it does, with Hughes triumphant in a court battle and overtly sane for all the world to see, one last glimpse of the bold aviator before his protracted spiral to ravaged oblivion.
If you go to this movie because of your fascination with Howard Hughes, pioneer of aviation, you may walk away disappointed. But if you want to know more about the flawed genius as a man in all his tattered complexity, you will be richly rewarded.
I’m almost tempted to give you a recipe for roast beef, so rare that it looks almost raw. In the movie, it takes all the psychological strength he can muster for the naturally queasy Hughes to avoid vomiting on the crisp white linens, the sparkling goblets, and the fine china that graces the table of Senator Brewster, played to awe-shucks villain perfection by Alan Alda.
But I wouldn’t want to put you or Howard through all that again. Let’s create some old fashioned comfort food to capture the little boy (or girl) in all of us.
You must have milk with these delicious chocolate chip cookies, but thank goodness it no longer comes in bottles, so you won’t be tempted to refill them in the same way Howard did.
And your cookies must be crafted in a special way to please the eccentric millionaire, with no gooey chocolate chips to profane the edges.
Chocolate Chip Cookies
- 2 1/4 c. all purpose flour (sifted)
- 1 tsp. baking soda
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 c.(2 sticks) butter
- 3/4 c.granulated sugar
- 3/4 c.packed brown sugar
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 2 large eggs
- 2 c.(12oz.) pkg. semisweet chocolate morsels
PREHEAT oven to 375 degrees F.
COMBINE flour, baking soda and salt in small bowl. Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar, and vanilla in larger bowl and mix until creamy.
Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in morsels.
Drop by rounded tablespoon onto ungreased baking sheets.
BAKE for 9 to 11 minutes or until golden brown. Allow tostand for 2 minutes.
Remove to wire racks to cool completely.
Recipe Source: cooks.com