Treading on the thin ice of an unwitting romanticism of war, the films of the genre have progressively made a conscious effort toward indulging in a more cautious narrative. Gone are the days of coming down firmly on one side of the fence and parochially celebrating the successes or grieving the losses of a specific troop. J. D. Dillards’ “Devotion” doesn’t venture into the bigger picture, and it has a good reason for that. Faithfully telling the real aching story of the friendship between Ensign Jesse Brown and Lieutenant Tom Hudner, “Devotion” intends to do justice to the inspiring memory of the two friends, their wins, and their losses. Refreshingly for a war movie, in the story of Jesse and Tom’s personal and shared struggles, suicidal patriotism and military sentiments take a back seat. Instead, we are guided to look at a man who has fought through the discriminatory hard-handedness of his surroundings to flourish in his art of flying and another man who breaks out of his privileged outlook on life to be able to wholeheartedly embrace his friend.
‘Devotion’ Plot Synopsis: What Happens In The Film?
In the wake of the warm turn of a cold war, the US Navy’s first black aviator regurgitates the slurs he has grown up being shot with, and Jesse stops to acknowledge the fresh presence of Tom Hudner. Jesse welcomes the white American flier from a safe distance, but he isn’t defensive yet. Coddled in the privileged atmosphere of the Naval Academy, Tom craves the thrill of a fight that means something. Sadly for him, the Second World War was over before he could contribute. In the warm corner of his general sensibility, Tom feels a responsibility to be friendly to Jesse. In playful banters of the locker room that carries the underlying threat of turning vile and seeing the overall intolerant treatment Jesse faces, Tom finds his white-guilt sympathizing with Jesse’s struggles. That soon grows into a broader sense of appreciation and respect when Tom flies for the first time with Jesse and witnesses his all-consuming passion for the air.
Keeping the world at arm’s length is how Jesse conducts himself when he is out and about. His sympathetic crewmates could barely imagine a crumb of the hatred and violence Jesse has endured on his path to the US Navy. The hardness he has assigned as his shield allows him to rest easy only when he is in the loving sanctuary of his home. In the warm embrace of his loving wife and while holding his little daughter in his arms, Jesse finds the weight of his resistance slipping away for the time being, only to be on guard again when the white supremacist world points its poison darts at him. Jesse knows the Bearcats through and through. But when the more complicated and harder-to-maneuver Corsair comes the Navy’s way, Jesse finds himself having a hard time figuring out his way around it.
When the Korean War sends the troop on a Mediterranean-bound mission, Jesse has to quickly find a way to grow accustomed to the moodiness of the Corsair. After losing crewmate Mohring to a fatal crash caused by Corsair’s unpredictability, Jesse is understandably suspicious of the safety measures of the aircraft. But if life has taught him anything, it is the ferocious drive he has to cling to in order to keep his fire alive and prove the naysayers wrong. On a mission to destroy the bridges on the China-North Korea border, Jesse defies a direct order to fly through ceaseless fire and destroys the one bridge left behind. While his courage and tenacity are appreciated by all, rule-abiding Hudner mentions his insubordination in the mission report solely out of ignorance and instincts.
What Stands Between Jesse And Tom?
Life has clearly not treated the first black Naval officer and a celebrated back-from-the-Academy white aviator the same. No matter how hard he tries, Tom can’t really even begin to scratch the surface of the depth of pain and anger Jesse has to handle every waking moment. He has routinely faced the filth of racism in every stage of his life. The cynics, defeatists, and racists had poured gallons of venom on Jesse’s path even before he had the guts to have a glorious dream at a time when black people weren’t afforded the privilege. And when he did broadcast his ambition of being one with the birds, discrimination held his wings down with acute hatred. Even the authorities that were supposed to provide a helping hand at the dawn of his career cruelly conspired to make him fail his tests and make him repeat things several times just to burn him out. Even his advisors, who hoped for his death, made Jesse skeptical of everyone around him. We are not allowed a direct look at an extreme form of erratic violence against Jesse. But in Jesse’s muted expression of constant self-preservation and his defense mechanism of painfully screaming out the hateful words he has endured, we see the reflection of a man who has seen the highest severities of racist hatred and continues to battle the risks of discrimination even in his days in the Navy.
Tom, despite his best efforts, can’t get through the wall Jesse puts up. He witnesses the awful treatment Jesse faces on a regular basis and wants to lend a helping hand. But life has taught Jesse that there is only one man he can trust completely, and that is himself. While Tom may not be racist, his personal experiences haven’t allowed him to see the extremes to which racism can escalate. He doesn’t realize why it triggers Jesse when he blames Carol’s disregard for clear instructions for his death. Breaking the rules is how Jesse has kept himself afloat so far. Breaking the rules is how he has been surviving. He has been a one-man army in his battle against racial discrimination for so long that he has learned only to rely on himself. Tom swooping in to defend him against the marine who insults Jesse on the boat or the one who attacks him at the Cannes bar doesn’t sit right with Jesse. When writing the report on Jesse’s insubordination, Tom doesn’t understand why a report like that will have a more damning consequence on Jesse than on someone like Tom. His act of making up for it also comes as a reminder of his sheltered mindset.
How Does Jesse Brown’s Life End?
Jesse suffers the distance from his wife every single day that he is away. He writes weekly lest she feels alone and unloved. Even in the direness of his circumstances, he doesn’t forget to plan a beautiful surprise for her birthday. All he wants is to do his job and go back home to the person he loves more than anything in the world. Did they see themselves being shipped off to an active war zone? Probably not. But as they’re taught to always be prepared, and fly they must. The growing tension at Chosin Reservoir has resulted in the marines being trapped in the trenches, where death comes to them in the form of bullets and the freezing cold. It is the angels they wish for, and it is the angels they get. Plunging down and into the thick of hellish crossfire, the US Navy fights long and hard to hold off the Chinese army and give the Marines an easier path to wipe off the enemy.
Jesse has by now mastered the art of flying the intimidating Corsair. But there’s only so much he can do to not get shot down while also taking care of his mates. As fate would have it, Jesse’s plane is shot and is losing fuel fast. His wingman Tom guides him in the moment of crushing anxiety and instructs him to crash into a clearing over the mountaintop. Jesse gives it his all to land as safely as possible. Sadly, even the best efforts cause the kind of massive friction that sets his Corsair on fire. Helpless in the air, Tom can’t figure out why Jesse isn’t coming out of the flaming aircraft. Tom, while flying the aircraft, bravely flouts the order of his superior to fly down and rescue Jesse. Out in the crippling -30 degrees, Jesse hardly has the strength to nudge himself out of the devastated Corsair. Even with Tom’s help, getting his crushed legs out turns out to be an impossible task. By the time the search and rescue team arrives and puts the fire out, Jesse has already lost his battle with the cold and the pain.
‘Devotion’ Ending Explained – How Did Ensign Jesse Brown Come To Mean The World To Lieutenant Tom Hudner?
Through countless trials and errors, Tom did manage to get Jesse to let his guard down. Most of all, Jesse recognized Tom’s wholesome intentions. In a line that requires trust over anything else, Jesse saw in Tom, a man who would have his back. And there is nothing more important than that kind of camaraderie when one is in the clouds fighting off enemies he can hardly see. Seeing Tom make an honest effort made Jesse give him a shot at friendship. He was even invited into Jesse’s sacred space, his home with the two people he loved more than anything. Daisy’s words about Jesse painted a picture of a man whose light shone brightly within but feared expressing itself in the risky world out there. Seeing him with his family humanized the aloof aviator for Tom. “That was a man I would do anything to save,” thought Tom. That was a man who had more than enough to deal with and deserved a friend by his side when he was risking his life. Jesse bringing Tom home, made Daisy realize that her husband truly trusted him. She placed the weight of protecting Jesse up in the air on Tom’s steady shoulders. And it was a weight he accepted happily and respected throughout.
More than anything, what Jesse wanted was a true wingman he could rely on. In Jesse, Tom saw the kind of resilience he had never seen before. He also saw absolute bravery in his outlaw nature while staying safely close to the necessary rules. Flying together was an honor for them both. They respected each other’s ethics, encouraged each other’s drives, and silently swore to have each other’s backs. The righteous Tom learned the importance of breaking the rules from Jesse. That, assisted by his desperation for saving Jesse, strengthened Tom’s fearless action of defying a direct order from his superior. Saving Jesse was his priority. Out in the ache of the cold, he had to be convinced to even leave Jesse’s lifeless body behind. Not being able to save Jesse completely shattered Tom. What broke him even more was being unable to retrieve his body. He was, however, comforted by Daisy, who knew that he must have done everything he could to save her husband. Tom never let his fire die out. He continued his effort to bring Jesse home. His last attempt was in 2013, and all he could come back with was an invitation to come back soon. The grim truth of Tom passing away before he could bring Jesse home is soothed by the comfort of Jesse Brown, and Tom Hudner’s families still share a wonderful friendship to this day.