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Film / Flightplan (2005)

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Flightplan is a 2005 thriller film directed by Robert Schwentke and starring Jodie Foster.

Foster plays Kyle Pratt, an airplane propulsion engineer whose husband has mysteriously died from falling off the top of a building. She and her six year old daughter, Julia (Marlene Lawston), are now heading back to Long Island from Berlin aboard the massive new passenger plane she helped design, the Elgin 474. The body of her husband is in the hold.

Three hours into the flight the two take a nap; when Kyle wakes up, Julia has disappeared without a trace. Everyone on board the plane, including air marshal Gene Carson (Peter Sarsgaard), flight attendant Stephanie (Kate Beahan) and Captain Marcus Rich (Sean Bean) insist that they never saw her daughter. Moreover, Julia's name is not on the flight manifest and there is no evidence that she was ever on the plane. That's when things get crazy.

Not to be confused with Japanese video game developer Flight-Plan, or Non-Stop, another thriller on a plane.

Flightplan provides examples of the following tropes:

  • And There Was Much Rejoicing: A variation of this where the passengers applaud Carson for arresting Kyle after all the hullabaloo the latter put them through.
  • Apathetic Citizens: Lots of people did see Julia running around the cabin but somehow none of them remembered this (though some of the kids on board did) or noticed the bad guys walking off with her. When her mother raised a fuss and got the airplane redirected, the assholes cheered at seeing her dragged back to her seat in handcuffs by Carson, the bastard who kidnapped her. To be fair to them, this was immediately after she had endangered everyone on board with her antics.
    Carson: We picked her up, shoved her into a food bin and nobody even looked up. You understand what I'm saying? Nobody cares about Julia!
  • Armor-Piercing Question: When confronting her alone on the plane, Kyle asks Stephanie if she has the guts to essentially kill Julia, a little girl and somebody's daughter, in cold blood for money. This is enough to catch Stephanie off-guard long enough for Kyle to deck her.
  • Bait-and-Switch: If one were to assume that the interpretation that Kyle's daughter has been kidnapped is correct, the movie seems to be building on a typical ransom/extortion situation. It turns out that Kyle is the actual target and Julia was just collateral damage needed to manipulate her mother.
  • Batman Gambit: Pulled on every passenger except Kyle. All Carson had to do was sucker Kyle into pissing off the Apathetic Citizens, and they took everything he said as gospel truth since that meant they had someone to blame for the inconvenience. Even if Kyle was perfectly calm despite her daughter disappearing into thin air, that would simply creep the passengers out even more. Yeah, the movie's not that far-fetched.
    Carson: People will think what I tell them to think. That's how authority works.
  • Bavarian Fire Drill: The core of the Big Bad's plan. Kyle pulls one of her own to turn the tables on the highjackers late in the film. Using the fact that the passengers and crew think she's the hijacker to her advantage to make everyone get off the plane so she can look for the bomb and Julia without interference.
  • Bittersweet Ending: In a sense. Kyle has found her daughter Julia alive and cleared her name. And Carson has been blown up by the very bomb he planted for this conspiracy. All the passengers are safe, and the remaining accomplices of the conspiracy are being interrogated. But this is also a hollow victory, as the passengers feel guilty at having earlier cheered on Carson for arresting Kyle. They'll have to live with the regret that their apathy nearly cost a little girl and her mother their lives. And at the end of the day, Kyle's husband is truly dead. But as a small token of apology, one of the passengers Kyle was wrongfully accused by earlier helps her with her luggage.
  • Broken Bird: Kyle is clearly this after the untimely death of her husband. She must cast that aside though once her daughter goes missing.
  • Cassandra Truth: Given that Julia has seemingly disappeared without trace and there is no evidence she was ever on board, Kyle cannot convince anyone she is telling the truth.
  • Complexity Addiction: The villains could have just as easily put some explosives in an ordinary briefcase, rigged it with a remote detonator, and just talked to the airline via email. Murdering Kyle's husband and kidnapping her daughter for a Deceased Fall-Guy Gambit would have worked out brilliantly... if they had used literally anyone other than the woman who designed the damned plane!
    • Nothing better shows how overly complicated their plan is than by remembering that step one involved murdering an American expatriate just so they could use his casket to smuggle the bomb on board the plane, and to get his wife and daughter on board the flight to set up a Deceased Fall-Guy Gambit. If the authorities had even suspected that Gene was involved in Kyle's husband's death, or if Kyle herself had stayed to cooperate with the investigation if the police suspected foul play, the plan would have been foiled before it even got off the ground.
  • Condensation Clue: The heart Julia drew on the window confirms that Kyle isn't going crazy and hadn't just imagined that her supposedly dead daughter was on the plane.
  • Deceased Fall-Guy Gambit: What the villains' plan would have become in its final form. After arriving in their final destination, they would have made all the other passengers leave with Kyle still in custody. Quietly sneaked off the plane, detonated the bomb that was strapped onto Julia vaporizing her body and destroying all evidence she was ever on board and killing Kyle who would still be on board. They then tell their story to the authorities, get praised as heroes and jet to a nice warm, extradition-free island to enjoy their money before anyone realizes that a thing or two doesn't add up.
  • Diagnosis: Knowing Too Much: Carson tries a gambit to play to Kyle's grief. A therapist on-board the plane converses with Kyle, questioning whether the death of Kyle's husband is affecting her mind, making her question if she actually came onto the plane with her daughter, or if they both died at the same time.
  • Dramatic Irony: When Carson finally has Kyle under custody, the entire plane applauds him for successfully wrangling her. Unknown to them, they're applauding the very man who started this all, and the woman they readily deemed a nutcase is a victim unwittingly trapped in this twisted fiend's game.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Compared to Carson, Stephanie gradually grows nervous as the conspiracy goes on, hinting she's feeling guilty about having to kill Julia as part of the plan. During the climax, when Kyle asks if she would kill a little girl for money, Stephanie's hesitation strongly implies even she doesn't think it's right.
  • Fall Guy: One of the main goals of the plan is to frame Kyle for the hijacking in order to provide the villains with cover to escape.
  • Final Exchange: After finally rescuing her daughter, Kyle takes the detonator to the bombs on the plane. Carson nearby asks her if she was going to blow up the plane. Kyle answers, "No, only you." Cue an Oh, Crap! moment when he finds where the bombs are.
  • Frame-Up: The villains' plan is to collect $50 million in ransom money from the airline, but frame Kyle as the hijacker who used the pretext of a missing child to pull it off.
  • Gambit Roulette: The entirety of the plan of the villain requires such an insane amount of factors that are required to go right that, in reality, there's no way this could happen and that it's not even a surprise when the plan ends up failing.
  • Gaslighting: Much of the action involves the villains trying to convince Kyle, and by extension the rest of the passengers and crew, that she's suffered a break from reality. Subverted in that it's much more effective on the witnesses than the target.
  • Genre Shift: The first half plays out as an interesting psychological thriller, where we begin to believe the main character actually imagined her daughter and was completely crazy from grief. But then it turns out her daughter actually WAS kidnapped, and every single one of her crazy and far fetched ridiculous theories were right, and terrorists actually DID kill her husband and kidnapped the daughter to get her to look crazy, thus shifting into more of an action film.
    • The movie also tricks the viewer into thinking that it's a simple kidnapping/ransom movie. It actually turns out that the protagonist is being targeted and terrorized by a psycho (one who has a deceptive social position, as usual) for self-serving reasons.
  • Gender-Blender Name: The female protagonist is named Kyle, which is typically given to boys.
  • Greed: It's revealed late on in the film that Air Marshal Gene Carson planned on hijacking the plane, framing Kyle as the scapegoat, and blowing up Julia simply because he wanted $50 million, likely to feed off his ego
    Carson: You have no idea how happy I'm going to be to end this case.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Downplayed. The flight attendant who was in on the plot with Carson doesn't help Kyle. But she does show a guilty conscience at carrying on the conspiracy at the expense of a little girl, somebody's baby. What's more, she doesn't help Carson any further when Kyle decks her.
  • Humiliation Conga: Hoo boy... Harassment at its finest. First Kyle's husband is murdered, causing her emotional distress, then Julia is kidnapped by Carson. Carson then makes her look unstable by inducing panic and fear in her by taking away all evidence that Julia was onboard while leaving her enough clues to suggest she might be harmed, and eventually rendering her completely untrustworthy. She then figures out that Carson randomly selected her based on her knowledge of the plane, and planned to murder her and her family so he could get away with extortion and blame her for his crimes. He's also quick to rub it in her face how he fooled everyone into trusting him and making her look like a nut.
  • It's All About Me: It seems clear that Carson has a very high opinion of himself. He never thinks of any of the potential collateral harm he might cause during his plot on a huge flight of 400 passengers, still maintains a jerkass attitude while pretending to help Kyle, and turns out to be obnoxiously arrogant, doing nothing in the climax but boast about how smart and perfect his plan was while blaming his success on the apathy and gullibility of everyone, and seems deluded into believing he can get away with his crimes right up until his fate.
  • Jerkass: Most, if not all of the flight attendants are portrayed as this, with one even saying it's ok to hate the passengers. Fiona is the sole exception who maintains a positive attitude and seems to be sympathetic to Kyle. Interestingly enough, real life flight attendants called for a boycott of the film due to this portrayal.
  • Just Plane Wrong: Yeah, aircraft windshields don't shatter like that, otherwise the pilots would be in grave danger if they ever did. There's also the fact that Kyle is stated to know the insides of the plane because she is a propulsion engineer, which is not correct at all, as they work on the engines on the wings. The correct position would be avionics engineer. It also stretches credibility for even a 400 passenger or so plane that there would be so much space left in the depths of the plane when they are normally tight and packed.
  • Kansas City Shuffle: What the villains are ultimately trying to pull on passengers of the flight. They intended to make everyone think that Kyle was using her claims about Julia to draw attention from the fact that she was hijacking the plane. By focusing on her, no one would pay attention to them and no one would suspect anything.
  • Mama Bear: Kyle. Her actions potentially put hundreds of lives at risk and she accuses passengers of terrorism (seemingly just on the grounds of them being/looking Arabic). Granted, she foiled a terrorist plot and saved the day, but that's coincidental. As far as she's concerned for most of the movie, it's just her daughter who's in danger, not the entire plane.
  • Missing Child: Kyle's daughter Julia somehow goes missing mid-flight, which seemingly should be impossible. The tension of the film comes from Kyle's insistence that Julia really was there, the question of whether she had a psychotic break due to grief, and finally her efforts to thwart the people who kidnapped Julia.
  • Mr. Exposition: One of the scenes pretty much play this out between two of the characters. Carson apparently needs to tell Stephanie the details of the plan out loud even though she already clearly knows in advance, just so the audience knows what's going on.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: The trailers made out the film to be a legitimate horror thriller. Turns out it merely plays with those elements in what is actually an elaborate kidnapping plot.
  • Not Now, Kiddo: Several other children on the plane confirm that they did see Julia, but they are brushed off by the adults who either care more about the inconvenience Kyle is causing or are in on the kidnapping plot.
  • Oh, Crap!: Bonus points for being one for multiple reasons at the exact same time. While under the impression that the crew is disembarking the plane so a significantly more thorough search can be made for Julia, Kyle rushes out to the captain to speak to him one last time. The captain, believing that Kyle has been playing them all as Carson has said, royally chews her out for trying to "continue the charade'' and bitterly trying to assure her that she'll get her money as she demanded even though Carson is trying to get him to be quiet. Not only does this essentially clue Kyle in on what's happening (and that she and her daughter are both in grave danger), but it also exposes Carson's plan and effectively ruins his chances of succeeding. Both of them are standing right there as the captain says all this.
  • Out-Gambitted: Kyle ultimately foils the hijackers by using the fact that the crew thinks she is the hijacker to her advantage; she tells everyone to leave the plane before Carson can do so, knowing that he would have to go along to avoid suspicion. Allowing her to search for the bomb and Julia without interference and completely turning the tables on them
  • Paranoid Thriller: Two-thirds of the film is spent unsure of whether the mother is delusional or being conspired against. It turns out to be the latter.
  • Public Secret Message
    Gene: Got two questions for you: What're the movies? And how loud do these headphones go?
    Stephanie: Never quite loud enough.
  • Red Herring: We are led to believe the Arabs aboard are terrorists who kidnapped Julia as a hostage. In the end, it turns out they're not involved at all. Additionally, the pilot is played by Sean Bean, who has a history of playing villains. He isn't involved at all either.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Stephanie, the flight attendant who aided Carson, attempted to flee from him after being decked by Kyle. Despite this, she got arrested for her part in aiding his scheme.
  • The Sociopath: Carson is clearly a textbook example of this. His position as an air marshal is strongly suggested to be a cover for his criminal and unlawful activities. He appears to have absolutely no empathy whatsoever as indicated by blowing up an innocent 6-year old child to get away with his crimes and the fact that he doesn't even seem to be interested in making himself look good unless it benefits his plan. He is very good at being charming and his most advanced skill seems to be consummate lies.
  • Standard Female Grab Area: Kyle is manhandled multiple times by people such as Carson and the flight captain grabbing her by the arm to lead her somewhere or restrain her.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: While the film is known for being ridiculous and unrealistic, there are some realistic scenarios in it. Crew members would obviously overrule the passengers, so it would likely take at least a few passengers claiming to see the child that would probably first put doubt in the minds of the crew if there is someone among them who can be trusted. Also, there will likely be passengers divided in being sympathetic, neutral, or seeing Kyle as a nutcase.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: The trailer reveals that the daughter does exist on the plane, and gives just enough clues for anyone to correctly guess who the villain is.
  • Unnecessarily Large Interior: The plane is shown to have enough empty and unused space for Kyle to play Metal Gear Solid with the airplane staff. Film-makers discussed researching actual commercial plane layouts, including getting copies of blueprints, and then tossed it all out for the demands of the plot.
  • Unperson: Julia is removed from the flight manifest and no one will claim they saw her.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: The success of the entire plot relies almost solely on nobody among the passengers acknowledging that Kyle and Julia had boarded the plane together.
  • Voodoo Shark: The very few times there is an explanation as to what exactly is going on in the story and why seems to only open the door for more questions. For instance, how did the villains know that Kyle would fly to the States to bury her husband instead of cremating him? How long did it take them to go with her as their fall guy? How did they know that she would go to the corrupt morgue director? How did they get on the plane in the first place and so on? Just who exactly was the psychopathic Carson and how deep did the relationship between him and Stephanie go? The movie never explains any of these major questions at all.
  • Whole-Plot Reference:
    • The plot is very similar to Alfred Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes, most notably the missing person's existence being proven by their having drawn on window condensation.
    • The missing person being a little girl and her mother's struggles to prove she existed also drew lots of comparisons to Bunny Lake is Missing.
    • For a modern comparison, the entire film follows the exact same plotline of Breakdown.
  • Workplace-Acquired Abilities: Kyle is an airplane propulsion engineer. Her skills are handy for searching the plane, switching off the light, and deploying the oxygen masks.
  • Wrongful Accusation Insurance: While she was legitimately trying to find her daughter and prove that Julia was kidnapped, there is still the fact that Kyle sabotaged the plane (forcing an unplanned landing), terrified the passengers and falsely accused and assaulted one of them. This is all just ignored at the end.

Alternative Title(s): Flight Plan