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The Aviator’ by Martin Scorsese Film Analysis

Howard Hughes was an eccentric man. He made astonishing decisions in business usually driven by an insatiable appetite for perfection. He was aggressive in all his activities. This made him very difficult to work with because his goals and interests surpassed all other considerations in life. This aspect of his life makes the motion picture “The Aviator,” a very interesting source of insight into organizational behavior. Hughes always got what he wanted regardless of costs. On the other hand, his eccentricities worsened by Obsessive Compulsive Disorder made it impossible for him to form strong personal relationships. In organizational behavior, the main issue of interest is the impact of the interaction between the different players in the efforts to achieve organizational goals.

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Synopsis of the Film

The Aviator is a biographical film about the life of Howard Hughes. The film concentrates on Hughes’ life from early adulthood and ends towards the end of his life. In the opening scene, Howard’s mom is washing him. This scene sets the stage for Hughes’ Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, which worsens later in his life. His mother tells him that the world is not a safe place for him because it is full of germs.

The next portion of “The Aviator” concentrates on the production of the film, “Hell’s Angels.” Hughes works on this film for a total of four years. The first production of this film is ready for release in two years, but Hughes decides to shoot the film afresh to include sound. The sound was a new concept in cinema at the time. In this portion of the film, Howard comes out as a rash person, but with a compulsive obsession to achieve his goals and his ideals. He employs people at will and makes very big business decisions without much reflection.

Hughes’ obsession with the production of “Hell’s Angels” paves the way for his obsession with aviation. This starts as a desire to develop better airplanes for “Hell’s Angels,” but quickly grows into a desire to make aviation history. In one scene, an engineer working on a new place model stands pensively as Hughes inspects the fuselage of the plane for the smoothness of rivets. Hughes had instructed that all rivets must be countersunk to eliminate all drag when the plane is in the air.

The final portion of the film deals with the increasing impact of Hughes’ Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, coupled with his efforts to build the Hercules plane. He started the Hercules project as a military contractor but finished it as a personal project after he lost the contract. The film ends with Hughes flying the wooden Hercules aircraft, but also exhibiting signs of a relapse into depression.

Theories and Applications

Transactional Theory of Stress

Transactional theory of stress relates stress to the imbalance caused by internal and external pressure on an individual (Colquitt, LePine, and Wesson 132). The process of restoring the balance is what gave the theory its name. The most common type of stressor for many organizations is inadequate time. In organizations where time is a critical factor, its management is a major cause of stress for both managers and workers.

In the film under review, time was a major cause of stress for the people working with Howard Hughes. In one scene, one of his associates becomes visibly shocked when Hughes reveals that he wants to shoot “Hell’s Angels” afresh. The first production run took two years and cost two million dollars. This sum was already very significant for the film industry. However, just before the release of “Hell’s Angels,” Hughes came across a film that had sound and decided that “Hell’s Angels” must have sounded too. This meant that the film had to go back into production for another two years before its release. This was serious cause stress for Hughes’ associates.

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The second demonstration of stress arising from time constraints is the production of the Hercules plane. This plane was supposed to go into production before the end of the Second World War. When the war ended, Hughes lost the contract he had with the government and had to complete the plane using his own money.

Expectancy Theory

The expectancy theory postulates that employees direct their efforts towards pleasure and away from pain (Colquitt, LePine, and Wesson 166). In other words, the theory postulates that employees direct their efforts toward enjoyable outcomes.

Hughes used different tactics to motivate the people working for him in the film under review. Early on in the film, Noah Dietrich comes to see Hughes in the production set of “Hell’s Angels.” In their discussion, Hughes says he will double Dietrich’s pay but will expect him to work four times as hard. Hughes then says that this arrangement will see him employ Dietrich for half his price. Hughes uses two tactics to motivate Dietrich. First, he offers to double his pay. Secondly, he gives Dietrich a challenge to test his management abilities. These two actions give Dietrich an expectation of pleasurable rewards related to working for Hughes

The second incident of interest in motivation theory in the film is when Hughes is working on developing the fastest plane. He goes to the workshop to meet the production team, and he is not happy with the use of protruding rivets on the fuselage of the plane. He orders the team to use countersunk rivets to make the fuselage smooth. His theory is that the rivets increase the aerodynamic drag on the plane. In his calculations, a smooth fuselage would help to increase the airspeed of the plane. In this case, Hughes places higher demands on the production team to motivate them to achieve this goal. The production team knows that it will be painful for them to fail to meet Hughes specifications. They, therefore, do their best to give Hughes the results he wants.

Equity Theory

The Equity Theory states that workers are motivated to maintain fairness in the workplace if they feel equitably treated in the workplace. Employees must feel that they are getting a fair reward for their efforts in the context of the rewards given to other employees and business associates. In the case of Howard Hughes, the equity theory explains why he lost key employees despite offering them very competitive pay.

One of the challenges that Dietrich faces when he starts working for Hughes is his distrust of regulators and his tendency to operate outside the limits of the law. Dietrich keeps reminding Hughes that they must file returns to the authorities; otherwise, Hughes interests would be shut down. Howard Hughes was not keen on business ethics whenever they interfered with his goals.

Hughes also demonstrated that his allegiance was to his projects and objects of his passion and not necessarily people. The film has a dramatic scene showing Hughes and his fiancée arguing. The Fiancée is the actor Katharine Hepburn. The phone rings while the two are embroiled in an argument, and Hughes promptly leaves to answer the phone. Hepburn is incensed by this. She follows him into the room and dares him to pick the call.

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After a tense moment, Hughes gradually picks the phone and tells the caller that it is a bad time. However, Hughes is soon engrossed in a discussion with the caller because it concerns the cancellation of the Hercules contract. Hepburn’s countenance collapses, and it is clear that she is too angry and disappointed to fight any more. Their relationship collapsed because Hepburn did not feel that Hughes treated her fairly.

Integrative OB Model

In light of the Integrative OB Model, the three theories presented above have several points of commonality. Time was the main aspect reviewed during the discussion of stress as a factor influencing organizational behavior. The use of time affected the effectiveness of the operations of Hughes’ company and contributed to the stress levels exhibited by various teams working for him. It is clear that because of Hughes’ low regard for professional ethics, especially financial accountability, his associates dealt with heightened stress. On the other hand, Hughes dealt with this situation by offering handsome pay to his employees.

The performance of different employees depended a lot on the interests of Hughes at any time. While the engineers working for him did their best according to conventional wisdom, Hughes always placed higher demands for perfection on the engineers. For instance, he was the first person to build a plane with countersunk rivets to reduce aerodynamic drag. He was also the first persons to build a large plane that could carry a battalion of troops and adequate equipment to launch an attack. Hughes achieved this by ensuring that his engineers were well paid and that they were motivated by the challenging goals he set for them.

On the other hand, Hughes lost his associates because of his whimsical nature when it came to the making of major decisions. Dietrich resigned from Hughes’ business empire after a dispute. Part of the dispute was that Hughes wanted to inflate the price of one of his companies before selling it to raise money for more aircraft. Hughes wanted Dietrich to invest some of his money in this plan. Similar, Hepburn left Hughes because of his inability to value their relationship. In this regard, Hughes floundered mainly because he interfered with the trust other people gave him. Also, he was not keen on observing business ethics.


The main lessons gleaned from this assignment are as follows. First, there is a direct link between theory and practice in organizational behavior (Colquitt, LePine, and Wesson 4). The film reviewed has many aspects that demonstrate the impact of certain behaviours on the well-being of an organization. Secondly, it is clear that organizational leaders play a critical role in the operations of the organization. In this case, the convictions of Howard Hughes determined the eventual success or failure of the projects he undertook.

The main contribution of this assignment to the understanding of organizational behaviour is that organizations are dynamic. Different forces act on an organization at the same time, and they lead to different outcomes. The influence of different players varies. However, all the players contribute to the eventual state of the organization. Secondly, the overall character of an organization depends on the influence of the most powerful people in that organization.

Work Cited

Colquitt, Jason, Jeffery LePine and Michael Wesson. Organizational Behavior: Improving Performance and Commitment in the Workplace. New York: McGraw-Hill/Irwin, 2012. Print.

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