Aviator (2004) stars Leonardo DiCaprio in the role of Howard Hughes, an American aviator, engineer, film producer and director, and an entrepreneur. The movie has three central themes- Hughes’ love for aviation and passion for building and flying airplanes, his vision and commitment to his dream, and his love for beautiful women. In a sub-plot the Father of Psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud would have loved, Hughes’ relationship with his mother is shown to be responsible for many of the problems in his later life, such as his obsession with cleanliness and hygiene, and his relationship with other women. Despite Hughes’ family business of machine tools (Hughes’ tool company), his own success came primarily in the movie business (e.g. Hell’s Angels) and aviation (the H-4 Hercules and TWA). The movie does a great job of portraying the entrepreneurial spirit and business acumen Hughes had. It is definitely a movie worth watching (Warning: It runs 170 minutes, longer than most Hollywood movies).
I have to admit that before I watched the movie I knew almost nothing about Howard Hughes. I found it fun to learn of an entrepreneur who, despite his mental illness, became one of the wealthiest people in the world through his willingness to dream big and take the kind of risks most other people would have said no to. Unlike other real-world entrepreneurs whose life stories Hollywood usually capitalizes on, Howard Hughes was not a rags-to-riches story. On the contrary, he was born with the proverbial silver spoon to a financially successful inventor and entrepreneur. One of my favorite scenes from the movie is Hughes’ testimony in the Congress about international aviation and why it is in America’s interest to allow companies other than PanAm to fly international. If one remembers that back in those days PanAm was THE 800-pound gureilla in the airlines industry, one can see what Hughes’ was up against.
All in all, a good movie, with lots of things (e.g. obsession with hygiene, beautiful women) to distract the viewer from the business aspect of Hughes’ life and work. One blogger even puts Hughes’ in a list of “7 saints” he admires most, with Steve Jobs, Bill O’Reilly, and (hold your breath!) Atilla the Hun. Another analyzes Hughes’ relationship with women. Bryan Caplan, Associate Professor of Economics at George Mason University presents an interesting and novel analysis of Howard Hughes’ mental illness as portrayed in the movie (I have to admit I have never heard this explanation before, so I think it’s worth reading). I could give more examples, but I think the point I am trying to make is clear- Aviator is a movie worth watching because it is about a seemingly-crazy guy all sorts of people continue to talk about till today.