’97 Minutes’ (2023) Ending, Explained: Is The Nuclear Catastrophe Avoided?

Snakes on a Plane, Air Force One, and Red Eye are a few classics that have one thing in common. The major plot of the film transpires in an airplane several thousand feet above the ground. Flight movies are a sub-genre of thriller movies, and 97 Minutes, the new movie by Timo Vuorensola starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Alec Baldwin, is another addition to that entertaining list.

The story of the film revolves around the hijacking of Oceanic Flight 420, which only has 97 minutes of fuel left. The hijackers are unaware that they have an Interpol agent in their gang. NSA Director Hawkins and his team try to exploit this fact to save the lives of the people on the plane as well as avoid a possible nuclear holocaust.

Spoilers Ahead

Plot Synopsis: What Happens In ’97 Minutes’?

The films in this sub-genre are generally extremely taut in their storytelling. The film begins, and almost immediately, the plane is taken over by the hijackers. They end up shooting all the staff, and they don’t even spare the pilots. The hijackers gun down a police officer when she tries to intervene, making their intentions clear: they won’t hesitate to kill anyone who comes between them and their mission. The news of the hostage situation reaches the National Security Agency (NSA). Deputy Toyin, who was just about to open an envelope revealing whether a promotion request was accepted or denied, is called in to be told about Oceanic Flight 420. She lets the letter sit on her desk for the time being and goes into the control room. Before she can make a full assessment of the situation, NSA Director Hawkins arrives and takes charge of the proceedings.

Toyin and Hawkins have their own issues, but given the situation, the right call for everybody would be to tackle the problem at hand. The facts available for the hijacking were as follows: firstly, there were five hijackers on board; secondly, the failsafe procedure, which ensures an automated rerouting of a plane to the nearest airport, had failed to be executed; and thirdly, there were messages being received from an Interpol agent from inside the plane. Toyin is too keenly taken by this last fact, but her faith in the agent is not well received by Hawkins, even though the agent inside the plane was probably the last hope of salvaging the situation. Before they can interact with the agent, the subject of a certain “Naznas” comes up, and Hawkins seems visibly disturbed.

Meanwhile, 20 minutes pass and the plane is left with only 77 minutes of fuel. With the failsafe disengaged, the airplane is headed straight for a crash unless a miracle happens. The only known information so far is that the hostiles could be Russian separatists. Hawkins gives the orders for “Code Orange” even after being requested against them by Deputy Toyin. Toyin constantly tries to send him messages through a special earpiece device.

The man wearing the earpiece device is finally introduced. Before he can respond to the NSA’s questions, he finds the pilot bleeding out from a gunshot wound. He asks the pilot’s young son, who was traveling on the plane, to help stop the bleeding while he gets the medical kit to save his life. He asks a passenger to look for a nurse who could tend to the pilot’s wounds. The bearded passenger goes around and finds a nervous yet courageous woman, who is a nurse, to come with him. Meanwhile, the man hides his earpiece and communicates with fellow hijackers in their language, letting others know he is part of the gang. He shows the earpiece only to the nurse, telling her that she has to trust him, as he is an Interpol agent, and keep the pilot alive if any one of them was to get out of the situation alive. She doesn’t believe him, but after she sees him wearing a shrapnel locket in memory of his departed son, she develops a fondness and trust for him.

Does The Pilot Survive?

The nurse and the bearded man try hard to save the pilot. With the pilot’s son sitting right beside his bleeding father, it became a more pressing responsibility. The nurse tells the boy that the hijacker who helped revive his father was actually an agent who would help everyone get out safely. It pisses the agent off, as the more people got to know about his real identity, the more chance there was of the other hijackers also becoming aware of it.

For a few moments, it seems as if the pilot would pull through, but when the cabin pressure rises, it becomes an impossibility. Everyone starts feeling dizzy; some even get a severe nosebleed. Goran, one of the hijackers, punctured the hull accidentally when he shot the plane’s staff. Within minutes, the pressure could increase drastically, cracking open the windows and resulting in the deaths of everyone aboard. Only the pilot knew how to stabilize the cabin pressure. The agent asks the nurse to give the pilot a jolt to wake him up. The nurse knows that the pilot would die if she woke him up while he was still unstable, but with no choice in hand, she is compelled to take the risk . She administers a combination of different medicines in the form of two shots. Indeed, the pilot perishes after the last shot but not before telling the agent how to stabilize the cabin pressure. The agent successfully manages to save everyone’s lives. The pilot’s poor son watches his father die right in front of his eyes. He hysterically punches the agent for letting his father die. Losses were something the agent understood. Angry at himself, he goes into the bathroom and punches the mirror. The nurse suspects the reaction and soon reaches up to him to tend to his wounded hand. Both share a vulnerable moment and tell each other about their lives. The nurse had just gotten out of a bad marriage and quit her practice after being negligent at her job. The agent tells her that his son was seven when he died. She insists on taking over the plane. He shows her how to operate the 3-D-printed gun, telling her to wait for the right time to use it.

What Were ‘Naznas’ And ‘Code Orange’?

Back at the NSA control room, it was found that “Naznas” was the code word for some spooky “end of the world” talk going viral on the Ukrainian dark web. For Toyin, the main concern is that Hawkins initiated the Code Orange, which was a signal to send F-22 jets to destroy the plane midair using missiles.

Toyin instructs Remy, the control room’s chief operator, to warn the agent against the jets, divert the plane’s trajectory, and dodge those incoming missiles, essentially disobeying Hawkins. She didn’t want innocent lives to be taken unless absolutely necessary. Hawkins’ plan backfires on him in the end as the missile from the F-22 hits another plane, killing several innocent people. The debris from the disaster flies at high speed in space and destroys the two F-22 jets. Hawkins shamelessly sends a third jet to finish the job, not conceding the fact that he had just created a tragedy and was hell-bent on creating a bigger one.

In all this chaos, nobody could pay close attention to the clue that was “Naznas.” Two hijackers, Anan and Marko, open a safe, checking up on a nuclear warhead whose label reads Naznas. The “end of the world” stuff circulating around was, in fact, a reality. The hijackers’ plan was to crash the plane, triggering the nuclear weapon of Russian origin to explode. Their theory is that war between America and Russia would give the world a chance to destroy these two countries and start anew. Their plan was to usher in a new world devoid of “superpowers.” Hawkins got lucky that the missile didn’t hit Oceanic Flight 420; otherwise, America as he knew it would have ceased to exist. Once the security footage of the loading trolleys of the flight comes in, Hawkins deduces that the plane could be carrying the long-lost, highly volatile nuclear weapons. He calls in Toyin to give her a patronizing pat on the back for resisting Code Orange right from the beginning. When she starts to assert her ethics about the case, he gives her a long lecture expanding on the proverb “heavy is the head that wears the crown.” He knows that she has applied for a promotion five times because she wants to restructure the system and do away with the likes of him, but he warns her that the position comes with its own bed of thorns. He tells her about the time when his daughter was kidnapped, and her head was severed on a live telecast by the same organization he was forced to let go of due to his superior’s orders. Toyin lets him be for a while.

Who Is Enid Slouris?

Hawkins returns to the control room with a fresh perspective, totally convinced that the only chance he has rests with the agent on the flight. He asks Remy to help the agent install a new failsafe device. He is given the identification of the five hijackers. One faceless name rings a bell: that of Enid Slouris. Enid was like a nemesis to Hawkins. Hawkins was aware only of his involvement in Enid’s son’s death, who had died after Hawkins accidentally blew up an entire school trying to catch his daughter’s killer. But who was Enid, actually? Was it Marco or Anan? With no face on the ID, it was hard to guess.

With only a few minutes of fuel remaining on the plane, chaos engulfed the passengers, and they rose up against the hijackers. The agent stabs Marco and strangles Anan. He is then contacted by Hawkins to enter the cockpit, where Remy will guide him to re-install the failsafe, and the flight will be rerouted from the control room to the nearest landing strip.

’97 Minutes’ Ending Explained: Is The Nuclear Catastrophe Avoided?

The agent successfully installs the failsafe. All he had to do now was punch the authorization code into it, and the control room would reroute the plane safely to a nearby airport, but he didn’t. Here came a twist even Hawkins didn’t expect. The nurse is told by a dying Marco that, in actuality, he was the Interpol agent and the one in the cockpit was the gang’s leader. The man now in control of the plane was Enid, who had found Marco’s earpiece that he lost during the turbulence. He took out his gang members whenever he got the chance because he couldn’t ascertain which one of them was the actual traitor. He interacted with the NSA and regained control of the plane with their help, making it possible for him to crash it and detonate the nuclear bomb. Hawkins had destroyed his happy family by taking his son away from him, and now he would take away his entire country. His plan, however, is thwarted by Kim, the nurse, who shoots him and gets in the cockpit to try and steer the plane. In his dying moments, he sees the innocent pilot’s son and remembers his own young son, who had died at the hands of a stranger. His conscience awakens, and he realizes that the chain of revenge should stop with him. Realizing that the autopilot couldn’t reach the designated far-away airport, he gets in the cockpit and helps Kim manually land the plane on a nearby private runway just seconds before the fuel runs out, helping her avoid the nuclear tragedy. After the successful mission, Toyin finds her sixth rejection waiting for her in the envelope she left on her desk. Hawkins, however, resigns and lets her take the lead.

97 Minutes is a 2023 action thriller film directed by Timo Vuorensola.

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Ayush Awasthi
Ayush Awasthi
Ayush is a perpetual dreamer, constantly dreaming of perfect cinematic shots and hoping he can create one of his own someday.

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