There was a time many years ago, before 9/11, when I could arrive at the airport close to the time of the departure of my flight. I could leave my home an hour before the plane would take off and there was no problem getting from the check-in gate to the plane.
Those days are long gone. Now I always leave my home early in order to arrive at the airport at least two hours before departure to allow time for security checks. 7500 deals with a post 9/11 scenario in which terrorists are able to hijack a plane in spite of all the security checks. It is a sober, yet frightening, depiction of people under extreme stress.
The film begins with an eerie shot of footage from surveillance cameras at the Berlin airport. We observe three people traversing the terminal visiting gift shops to purchase liquor and entering rest rooms, leaving with more hand luggage than when they entered. We then meet pilot Captain Michael Lutzman and his American co-pilot Tobias Ellis as they go through their initial flight checks before departing from Berlin to Paris.
Once the plane achieves cruising altitude, the terrorists take advantage of a flight attendant who opens the door to the cockpit bringing refreshments to the pilots. Tobias is stabbed in the arm, but manages to close the door, but not before Captain Lutzman is mortally wounded. Tobias informs air control of the hijacking and the plane is routed to Hanover, the nearest airport.
The terrorists continue to bang at the cockpit door but with no success. Ground control informs Tobias that under no conditions are the terrorists to be permitted into the cockpit, even when they threaten to execute a hostage if the cockpit door is not opened. A hostage is killed, and then Tobias announces to the passengers that the terrorists have no guns or knives and that they can be overcome by the passengers. Will they listen?
7500 is a realistic depiction of what a plane hijacking by Islamic terrorists might look like. Almost the entire length of the movie takes place in the cockpit, creating a sense of claustrophobic dread.
Tobias is confronted with a moral dilemma: to possibly save one hostage, he may have to make a decision that will threaten the lives of every other passenger. He will have to lose a life to save a life, and, indeed, he does not know with certainty that even one person will be saved once the terrorists enter the cockpit and take control of the plane. As the pilot, he knows that he ultimately is responsible for the passengers’ safety and he cannot place them at risk.
Rabbi Yehuda Shurpin presents the dilemma in stark terms. The Torah tells us not to stand idly by the blood of your neighbor (Leviticus 19:16). In other words, if a friend is threatened with death, you should try to save him. But what happens if, in saving your friend, you condemn someone else or perhaps many others to death? The answer is not simple, since every human being, by being created in God’s image, is of infinite value.
Rabbi Yonason Goldson offers another perspective on what transpires in 7500. For him, the critical issue is the passengers’ response to Tobias’ plea for them to take action against the hijackers who have no real weapons. Will they follow his instructions to overpower them? Rabbi Goldson writes: “Nothing catalyzes us like crisis. When the ship is sinking, when the plane is going down, when the enemy is at the gates, we find ourselves motivated to set aside our egos and our petty differences and stand together for the sake of our own survival.” Furthermore, he observes: “With common purpose, we can accomplish virtually anything, as our ancestors did, when they stood before the Creator 3300 years ago and received their instructions and their mission, as one man, with one heart.”
7500 is a tense thriller, but it has lessons for dealing with all kinds of catastrophes. The behavior of Tobias Ellis teaches us that working together with others, maintaining your calm, and having faith in a positive outcome will help you to survive a crisis.