Art and Entertainment

amelia earhart
Charles Sykes/AP
Actress Hilary Swank donates a costume
from the film "Amelia" to the Amelia
Earhart Birthplace Museum at a press
conference in New Jersey, Friday, Oct.
16, 2009.

“Amelia” Leaves Unanswered Questions

October 24, 2009 08:00 AM
by Sarah Amandolare
A new Amelia Earhart film hits theaters this weekend, highlighting the American flying icon’s intriguing life and conspiracies about her mysterious disappearance.

Reviews of “Amelia”

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The film “Amelia,” directed by Mira Nair and starring Hilary Swank and Richard Gere, has been met with lukewarm reviews. Many reviews published in major newspapers and blogs seemed to come to the same conclusion: that Earhart’s magnetism wasn’t fully captured in this film.

Writing for the San Francisco Chronicle, Mick LaSalle discusses the “challenges” faced by the filmmakers due to the fact that Earhart’s disappearance and presumed death remain shrouded in mystery. According to LaSalle, the difficulties might have been overcome “had the screenwriters devised some specific purpose or point in revisiting the life of the pioneering aviatrix.” Without such a reason for creating a film about such a monumental figure as Earhart, the movie ends up being “[n]ot very dramatic,” according to LaSalle.

The filmmakers’ inability to capture the heart or essence of Earhart was also noted by New York Times reviewer Manohla Dargis. Instead of focusing on the young pilot’s motivations for flying around the world, she is made “into a dopey romantic figure,” and no explanation is given for “how a Kansas tomboy turned Boston social worker took to the skies and ... encouraged other women to chart their own courses.”

But Swank, who plays Earhart in the film, has high hopes for audiences that flock to theaters for a glimpse of high-flying action and a love story. In an interview, available on The New York Times Web site, Swank says, “I hope that people are as inspired by Amelia as I was and am,” adding, “If you have a dream, pursue it, but don’t forget to have fun along the way,” in true Earhart style. Swank also expresses what could be considered Earhart’s lasting legacy: her independent spirit and ability to think for herself. To those that aspire to absorb some of Earhart’s ambition and passion, Swank advises, “Believe in yourself and how you see your life for you.”

Earhart’s Style and Panache

Despite the quality of the film, which has clearly disappointed many critics, something about Earhart still attracts audiences. People seem drawn to her spirit and personal style, according to the Kansas City Star, and some women have started adopting the famous Earhart bomber jacket look.

Recently, The Ninety-Nines, an Oklahoma City-based organization founded by Earhart and 98 other female fliers, received “the white jumpsuit, a brown leather bomber jacket and a matching leather hat” worn by Swank in the film. Nair and Swank presented the items to the organization, which will be “added to the collection at the Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum in Atchison, Kan.,” according to BAM’s Blog.

Earhart’s Personality

In contrast to the determination and ambition she revealed later in life, Earhart flew under the radar at Chicago’s Hyde Park High School, and graduated in 1915.

“She took part in no clubs at the South Side high school, held no offices, played no sports,” Stefano Esposito reports for the Chicago Sun-Times.

But one comment made by Susan Butler, who advised on the film and wrote “East to the Dawn: The Life of Amelia Earhart,” is in line with the bold woman Earhart became. “She never made the slightest effort to fit in with her high school class,” Butler said, according to the Sun-Times.

Alternative Theories About Earhart’s Disappearance

In 1937, Earhart had established herself as a record-setting pilot, but wanted more. She set out on May 21, 1937, to fly around the world. During the trip, on July 2, 1937, Earhart left Papua New Guinea and set out for a small Pacific island called Howland where she planned to refuel. Seven hours after she took off, radio engineers realized that Earhart was missing their signals. After a few jumbled messages were exchanged, Earhart reported at nearly 8:00 a.m. that “gas [was] running low,” according to American Heritage. Less than an hour later, the plane’s signal disappeared entirely. Over the next 16 days, nine ships, a crew of 4,000 men and 66 aircraft scoured a patch of the Pacific Ocean as large as Texas, to no avail.
Some contend that Earhart’s plane didn’t actually crash. “Her fate remains one of aviation’s greatest unsolved mysteries,” according to National Geographic News. As a result, “millions of dollars” have been spent researching Earhart’s case, “and several books” dissect various theories. National Geographic outlines three theories: a crash in the Pacific; an alternative landing at Nikumaroro, leaving Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan stranded; or a secret mission to Japan’s Marshall Islands. 

A clip from the National Geographic film, “The Real Amelia Earhart,” can be viewed online. In the clip, a few theorists describe why they refuse to believe the case is closed. “Many are convinced the ‘crash and sank’ theory is wrong,” the film’s narrator says.
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