Image A Sound A- Extras B
starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Cate Blanchett, Kate Beckinsale, John C. Reilly
screenplay by John Logan
directed by Martin Scorsese
by Walter Chaw About a third of the way into Martin Scorsese's fabulous The Aviator, a young Howard Hughes (Leonardo DiCaprio), with ingénue Jean Harlow (Gwen Stefani) on his arm, attends the premiere of his lavish WWI epic Hell's Angels (1930)--a picture that burned a significant portion of Hughes's millions before becoming a smash, and one that still contains some of the most daring, astonishing aerial sequences ever shot for a motion picture. As paparazzi throng, smothering Hughes with flashbulbs and red carpet questions, he looks dazzled, confused: a consequence of his deafness in some part, sure, but also, I'd suggest, a clue into this idea of Scorsese's--which he's had since at least Taxi Driver--that film is a waking dream, a kind of bad yet thrilling hallucinogenic dope trip; this Howard Hughes is a sleepwalker who is, at this moment, struggling to stay asleep. Later, Hughes takes his lover Katharine Hepburn (Cate Blanchett) up in his airplane where they cruise the sky above the Hollywood hills and share a (gulp) bottle of milk. (No small step for the pathologically germophobic Hughes.) The source for Hughes's mental illness is traced to a haunted opening scene where as a child he is bathed by his mother (comparable in repressed eroticism to the notorious bathtub sequence in Jonathan Glazer's Birth) and warned that the world outside can only hold for him the promise of abandonment and mortal contamination.