SULLY: Miracles and Virtue | FCC 129

In SULLY, Tom Hanks plays Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, who safely landed a passenger aircraft in the Hudson after its two engines failed. The event itself is a miracle that could only be accomplished by someone of virtue. Join us as we discuss these Christian themes and so much more on this episode of the Finding Christ In Cinema podcast.

For your convenience you will find each podcast segment at the time referenced below:

  • 00:00:00 – Introduction and Previous Episode Recap 
  • 00:02:46 – Movie Discussion
  • 00:16:04 – Christian Themes in SULLY starring Tom Hanks
  • 00:46:53 – Listener Challenge and Feedback
  • 00:52:52 – Well-mannered Frivolity 
  • 00:54:06 – Upcoming

Miracle on the Hudson

On January 15, 2009, the world witnessed the “Miracle on the Hudson” as Captain “Sully” Sullenberger glided his disabled plane onto the frigid waters of the Hudson River, saving the lives of all 155 aboard. The plane’s two engines failed because of a “bird strike,” an unfortunate scenario in which a flock of birds unexpectedly flies in a plane’s path. Captain Sully had only to rely on forty-two years worth of experience to land the plane on the water’s surface so carefully that not one life would be lost.

That all 155 souls survived was Sully’s main concern upon landing. As the stewardesses are ushering people into life rafts, Sully wades into the flooding cabin to ensure that everyone has been evacuated. Even after everyone is safely in the harbor, he courses through the crowd to convince himself that everyone is okay. It isn’t until he’s left the scene that he hears that all 155 passengers are alive and well. But even after all that, he still can’t fully grasp this miracle.

This image from SULLY shows Tom Hanks as Sully and Aaron Eckhart as Jeff Skiles.

In those 208 seconds, Sully became a savior. Like Jesus saves all those who follow after him, Sully saves the lives of those under his care. Think of the Hudson River like the flood in Genesis that was sent to wash away the sin and decay that had covered the earth, and then Sully’s aircraft under his guidance, just like Jesus’s blood, saves all those within them. It truly is a miracle.

Sully and Christian Virtue

Ay, but here’s the rub: Sully did not become a savior overnight; instead, he became a savior over time through practice and discipline.

This understanding of virtue – considered by some an archaic term – comes from the former Anglican bishop and leading New Testament scholar N.T. Wright:

Virtue is what happens when someone has made a thousand small choices requiring effort and concentration to do something which is good and right, but which doesn’t come naturally. And then, on the thousand and first time, when it really matters, they find that they do what’s required automatically. Virtue is what happens when wise and courageous choices become second nature. (from his book After You Believe, Zondervan 2010)

In Sully’s interview with Katie Couric, he breathes confidence when he says, “I was sure I could do it.” He then goes on to say that he doesn’t feel like he did anything too extraordinary; “I’m just a man who was doing his job.” When Katie asks him how long he’s been a pilot, he reveals to her that he hasn’t just become a pilot over the few weeks or months but over forty-two years. “My whole life,” he concludes.

This image from SULLY shows Aaron Eckhart as Jeff Skiles and Tom Hanks as Sully.

These are only the answers of a virtuous man – someone who is so steeped in doing the right thing when it doesn’t matter that doing the right thing when it does matter happens naturally…second naturally, that is. If anyone without this second nature had been in his place – and we get a very poignant image of this in the character Jeff Skiles – they would have been thumbing through the handbook and taking more time to make the decisions that Sully was making instantly.

Sully had written the handbook on his heart, and he had years worth of experience to make it stay there. The same can be said of us Christians, who should have the Word of God – Jesus himself – written on our hearts and then made permanent by years and years of intentionality, practice, and discipline.

Paul illustrates putting on this virtuous way of life by comparing it to putting on new clothes. N.T. Wright takes it a step further in saying it’s like being given clothes that are too big for you at that moment so that you may grow into them. This growth, of course, takes time.

Key Texts for Sully

Let these passages be your guide as you watch SULLY with your friends and loved ones.

John 10:28 NIV

I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.

Galatians 3:27 NLT

And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes.

Finding Christ In Cinema is the show where we discover Christian themes in movies past and present. Join us and together we’ll dig deeper into the silver-screen classics of yesteryear as well as the box-office hits of today. Brought to you by the Great Commission Transmission Network. View the complete show notes – including links to articles discussed – by clicking here.

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About Brenden Taylor

Brenden is an educational assistant and tutor by day and a theatre practitioner by night. He has his M.A. in Theatre Arts and is always looking for a good way to use stories to soften peoples' hearts. Find him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @LeviTheBeliever.
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