Making a movie about the life of Howard Hughes, one of the most eccentric and brilliant figures in American history, wouldn’t be an easy task because of how much he actually did. Leave it to Martin Scorsese to, not only attempt, but succeed and bringing this larger than life figure to silver screen with The Aviator. Combining a story about film and aviation history and mental disease, this is an epic and hugely impressive biopic that captures the essence of film almost perfectly.
As the sole heir to the Hughes Tool Company, Howard Hughes (Leonardo DiCaprio) has a lot of extra cash to throw around, and ends up using it to create on of the first truly epic films, Hell’s Angels, after years of production. While living a life in Hollywood and beginning a relationship with the likes of Katharine Hepburn (Cate Blanchett), Hughes isn’t one to forget his true passion: aviation. Soon, Hughes becomes involved with government plans to build many different types of aircraft that will become essential in World War II. Meanwhile, Hughes has his own plan to create the Hercules (aka the Spruce Goose), the largest plane ever created, but only after he can control his deepening paranoia and OCD.
The Aviator begins with what can only be described as a film buff’s dream come true. The first part of the movie shows Howard Hughes almost killing himself and going bankrupt in order to complete Hell’s Angels. Along the way, though, we get to see him interact with some major stars of the time. We get to see Jude Law as Errol Flynn, Gwen Stefani as Jean Harlow, and later on Kate Beckinsale as Ava Gardner. This isn’t my favorite part of the movie, but it’s easy to see how much fun Martin Scorsese is having with the material, the likes of which he would prove his loyalty to in Hugo some years later. It was a wild time in Hollywood and it’s done so well in this movie. Cate Blanchett especially is note perfect as Katharine Hepburn.
After the story moves past Hughes’ work in Hollywood, it moves onto his career in engineering airplanes for the military. While this is still a very interesting part, it begins to get a little confusing. One of the big problems is that there’s a point in the movie where it doesn’t say what year it is. This is all happening during the days of World War II, so depending on what year it is is important to what Howard the government are doing. Since I didn’t know what year it was, it got a little tricky to follow along at some points. Still, I had an understanding of what he was doing and it was still awesome to see the genius at work, building up an empire, even while his world seemed to be crumbling all around him.
The most interesting part of The Aviator to me was the depiction of mental illness. Mental illnesses and genius together is a huge interest of mine, seeing how one affects the other, so it was really interesting seeing a depiction of Hughes’ paranoia and obsessive compulsive disorder take a toll on his life. This is OCD in a way that I’ve never seen depicted before, a dangerous, life altering OCD. It’s almost hard to watch scenes when Hughes forces himself to say certain sentences over and over again or even struggle to get out of a bathroom in the most germ free way he can. It puts that entire disorder in perspective and how damaging it can really be.
It’s not surprising that The Aviator turned out as great as it did. With Scorsese and his cast of actors along with an amazing human being as the subject, it has all of the ingredients for an interesting and entertaining movie, even clocking in at 3 hours. There’s a lot of history in this movie, and it may not be told in the most coherent of ways at times, but most of this ride is really something memorable. It celebrates history, achievement, and Howard Hughes himself.