Directed by J. D. Dillard and based on Adam Makos’s book of the same name, “Devotion” is centered around the life of Ensign Jesse Brown, as remembered by his wingman, Tom Hudner. Jesse was the first African American aviator and was often subjected to racial remarks, but he channeled his anger into fulfilling his dream of becoming a pilot. The film unfolds during the time when Brown had already become a United States Navy officer, and his presence as a uniformed officer threatened the racist white individuals around him. Brown had earned a respectable position in his professional field, but the world was not yet too eager to celebrate a Black aviator.
Plot Summary: What Is The Film About?
“Devotion” pays tribute to America’s forgotten war and the many lives lost in the 1950s Korean conflict as North Korea invaded South Korea. While the north was supported by China and the Soviet Union, the United States and the other allied countries joined forces with the south to help defend them. Lieutenant Tom Hudner joined Fighter Squadron 32 and was introduced to Ensign Jesse Brown. In the locker room, Hudner heard Jesse hurl racist abuse at himself, a behavior that took him by surprise. He raised concern over the conversation he overheard, but Jesse chose to leave it unheard. He introduced himself, and Tom realized that the man preferred to keep his conversations short. He mostly maintained his distance from the friendly banter of his teammates. A protective measure, perhaps knowing how often such banters turned into a series of hateful exchanges. No matter how sympathetic his teammates were to his struggle, they could never comprehend the extreme hardship that he had to go through as the first Black aviator. He was looked at differently by them, making it all the more difficult for him to trust the men around him and build friendships. Paired with Brown, Hudner went on an unexpected detour while flying for the first time after his transfer. It was Brown’s way of testing the new aviator, his skills, and his mentality, and above all, analyzing how far he would go as a wingman.
Ensign Jesse Brown was married to the love of his life, Daisy. While he had to maintain a certain toughness in his professional field, when it came to his personal space, Jesse was a loving and caring husband as well as a father. He was building a new life with his wife in a predominantly white neighborhood. Jesse could not escape the judgmental stare of his neighbor as he drove to his driveway. As he and his wife were spending a warm moment together as a family, the police arrived at their doorstep. They learned that their neighbor had complained about the music they were playing. For the Browns, this was not unusual. White neighbors causing trouble simply because they could not accept a Black family living amongst them was quite the expected move. It was not easy for Jesse to stay away from his family, knowing the kind of treatment they were subjected to. Daisy supported and encouraged him even when he doubted himself. One of the most challenging moments for him was landing the Corsair. He was used to flying Bearcats, and he struggled to see outside in the Corsair. He believed that the new model would bring death upon him, considering how little he could trust what he was flying. While Brown managed to land safely during the training, flying the aircraft would continue to be a challenge for him.
‘Devotion’ Ending Explained: What Led To Tom Hudson And Jesse Brown’s Friendship? What Led To Brown’s Death In The End?
Tom dropped Jesse off at home after his car broke down on the side of the road. While Jesse barely brought his colleagues home, he invited Tom and introduced him to his wife and daughter. Tom was special to Jesse, though he preferred not to disclose his affection overtly. Daisy realized that the fact that Jesse brought Tom home meant that he was one of the few friends Jesse could trust. She asked Tom to promise to be by Jesse’s side during their journey together since she would not be able to protect him from any danger. That day, Tom got to see another side of Jesse—the warm, fun, and relaxed person that he had never seen before. Tom knew Jesse was not just fighting for himself and his identity but also for his family, who loved and cherished him and would look forward to his return.
The magazines wanted to interview Jesse as he reached the deck. They wanted him to discuss his struggle as a Black aviator, but that was not a topic Jesse felt comfortable discussing. He did not wish to be treated differently, and he had worked hard all his life not to be differentiated. He was not ready to discuss his struggles for publicity, and he left the interview in a hurry. As he was joining the rest of his team, a marine officer made a racist comment. Jesse looked him in the eyes, maintained his silence, and walked away. Tom wanted to protest on his friend’s behalf and wondered why Jesse maintained his silence. While it was all too new for Tom, Jesse had been living his reality since the day he was born, and he was used to fighting his fights alone and in his own way. He did not wish to create a scene, and he perhaps believed his actions would do the talking. A similar conflict occurred between the marine officer and Brown in Cannes when he cursed Brown for interrupting his conversation with actor Elizabeth Taylor. Tom interrupted them after noticing the heated discussion, and the mariner took the opportunity to push Brown. Tom punched him in the face, and it all resulted in a massive commotion. While it was good to have Tom’s support, he was not ready for anyone else to fight his fights. He had always been self-sufficient, and Tom’s friendly presence was extremely new for him, so he might have feared getting too comfortable around him. When Carol Mohring died during the practice session, Jesse expressed his reason for insecurity. While Tom blamed Mohring for making a technical error to cope with his death, Brown explained that doing what one is asked to do is not enough in his case. During flight school, he was forced to take the swimming tests ten times because the authorities conspired against him to make him fail. While Tom believed that he would be alive if he simply followed the instructions and manuals, for Brown, it was not that simple. He could not trust the source of instructions because he was aware that the ones supposed to keep them alive would conspire to kill him. Tom, a white man, gradually started to realize that things that he did not think twice about were extremely difficult for Brown to trust.
In the Sinuiju mission, the squadron was tasked with destroying a pair of bridges on the Yalu River between China and North Korea. With thorough coordination, Brown and Hudner successfully tackled a Mi-15 fighter jet, and in the meantime, the rest of the team focused on destroying the bridges. In the end, one bridge remained standing, and Brown was determined to destroy it single-handedly. He went ahead and successfully attacked the bridge against Hudner’s order. Hudner was asked to write a report on the entire mission, and he mentioned how Brown disobeyed his order to tackle the bridge. What Hudner believed would be an honest mention of what had occurred, Brown explained how it had cost him with insubordination in his fitness report, and as a result, he would be denied any promotion. Hudner tried to gather the testimony of the other teammates who spoke for Brown’s action, but it was not enough. Hudner failed to realize at that moment that he could not treat Brown like any other white teammate because the entire system was against him. He could not get away with anything, even if he did it in the best interest of the mission. He requested that Tom stop playing it safe if he truly wanted to help and uplift him. Just when Brown doubted himself, a group of black sailors gifted him a watch with “Above all others” inscribed in it. They were proud of Brown and wanted to show their appreciation for him. He was an inspiration to every Black kid who dared to dream and fly one day. Even though it was often a lonely fight, they reminded him of the importance of his presence. He represented them all, and by holding his place, he was teaching every white racist man a lesson.
Tom and his team were sent on another mission to help the marines who were overpowered by the Chinese and North Korean armies at Chosin Reservoir. The sudden arrival of the aviators gave the marines an added advantage. But during the mission, Brown’s Corsair was attacked, and it was leaking oil. He could not fly any longer, and Tom advised him to crash land at a clearing on a mountaintop. While Tom noticed that Brown was making movement, he was not leaving his Corsair. Hudner risked his life and crash-landed to save Brown. Even though it was not an advisable decision, he was not in a position to make a logical choice. He walked up to Brown and realized that his legs were crushed inside. No matter how hard he tried to pull Brown out of the aircraft, he could not. He waited for emergency help, and even though they tried their best to rescue him, it seemed impossible. Brown realized that he would not survive, given the conditions. As he was gradually losing consciousness, he asked Tom to tell Daisy how much he loved her. Tom hoped for help to reach Brown and bring his remains back, but reaching that site was risky and could expose others to danger.
Tom was awarded a medal of honor for his bravery. He extended his sympathy to Daisy, who was glad that Tom kept his promise and was with Jesse till the very end. The Brown and Hudner families continue to remain friends. Tom Hudner visited Pyongyang in 2013 hoping to bring John Brown’s remains, but he was asked to return in September by North Korean authorities. Hudner died at the age of 93 on November 13, 2017.
One of the most memorable scenes in “Devotion” is when Jesse Brown reads from his little book the verbal waves of abuse he was subjected to from a young age. The words brought tears to his eyes and a determination in his heart to prove every racist wrong. He was carrying a heavy weight on his shoulder, and the journey was extremely lonely, but there was a fire in him to reach the sky and silently protest against all those who had wronged him and looked down upon him.
“Devotion” is a 2022 Drama Thriller film directed by J.D. Dillard.