Top Gun (Addendum)
Director: Tony Scott. Cast: Tom Cruise, Kelly McGillis, Val Kilmer, Tom Skerritt, Anthony Edwards, Rick Rossovich, Michael Ironside, Meg Ryan, Tim Robbins, Whip Hubley, John Stockwell. Screenplay: Jim Cash and Jack Epps Jr. (inspired by the article "Top Guns" by Ehud Yonay).

Get in here, Davis!!!
Davis, what is this bullshit that I hear about you giving Top Gun a C-grade review? What kind of elitist, unpatriotic crap are you trying to pull around here, anyway? Didn't you grow up in the goddam US of A? Weren't you a red-blooded boy of eight or nine when this thing opened? Didn't you live on a Marine Corps base at that very time?
Uh, sir, yes, sir. But I didn't actually see the movie until I was in college.
DON'T fuck with me, Davis!! Are you telling me that the movie that basically defined half a decade of commercial filmmaking, the movie that single-handedly broke open the home-retail market in VHS tapes, the movie that starred the guy who every other guy in American wanted to be, and every gal wanted to be with... You're saying you didn't even see this thing? Until you were in college?? That's hard for me to believe, Davis. I suppose you were a little nerd! Was that it, Davis? Too good to go to the movies, boy? Didn't you see anything that year?
Sir, my parents took me to see Children of a Lesser God, sir. And Hannah and Her Sisters.
I know I saw the Oscar show that year, and I think I wanted....
Oh, for crying out loud, Davis, I didn't ask for your life story. I don't care about the namby-pamby... Children of a... Davis, I'm looking right here at your original review of Top Gun, which it says you posted in, - er, 1998? I suppose that's when you were in college? Are you that...? Chrissakes. Anyway, I'm not sure I like what I see, Davis. It says here, and I quote! -
"Top Gun, that definitive mid-80s ode to U.S. Navy jet piloting, is precisely the movie that its cocksure, petulant protagonists would have made about their own exploits. Never have I seen a movie with such outrageously polished sheen—imagine a sports car with a layer of Armor wax three inches thick. The whole film throws at us a gallery of The Beautiful People, or rather The Beautiful White People, of whom only two exist with any real distinction from the others....

"Top Gun is less concerned with formal virtuosity than with the giddy rush of its own pumped-up inanity. It exists with insane, gleeful pride as variations on a theme of buff, WASPish can-do. Cruise's liaison with McGillis, the many locker-room confrontations, and the extended beach volleyball sequence at the film's middle serve no plot point but to showcase hormonal urges, refined pectorals, and groundless self-confidence as some sort of moral good. Jet piloting is the ultimate gesture not of national defense but of personal style, as if the planes were the ultimate, unfeminizing fashion accessory."
Yeah, I'm kind of proud of that last part.
Davis, do you think we are here to discuss what you are proud of? You're here because I don't even think you know what you are talking about. Listen to this:
"When Meg Ryan appears as Goose's grieving widow, she mourns with Maverick in exactly the extravagantly tearful but utterly uncritical fashion that these arrested adolescents would want of their wives. She glosses over the fact that Maverick's idiotic abandon killed her husband; she instead uses the occasion to valorize the importance of moving on, of taking those jets into the sky and doing proud by Goose's memory—maybe with a few fancy 180 spins?"

Now, first of all, I don't even know what a "180 spin" is. A 360 spin, I would understand, but in the military, we call those barrel-rolls. I bet they don't teach you that stuff in Children of a Lesser God, do they? I bet you didn't know that, did you, Davis?
Yeah, my brother...
I mean, Sir, my brother has been bothering me about that for years now.
As well he might, Davis, what you've written here is nonsense! And I suppose you recall that Maverick is exactly not to blame for the death of his co-pilot, Goose? You might recall that there's a whole scene in the movie where a military review board exonerates Maverick of any wrongdoing? Where they determine that a flat spin from another plane stalled the engine, inducing an "unrecoverable spin" in Maverick's own plane? What we call a "jet-wash"? Any of this ringing a bell, Davis?
Yes, sir, my brother pointed this out as well.
Ah, your brother pointed this out as well. Well, he must be a smart guy, Davis. Not like his brother. I bet your brother wouldn't let a, uh a fallacious review, I bet he wouldn't leave that posted all this time, would he? Since 1998? I bet he might be interested in stuff like the TRUTH. Accuracy! You know, this is why we embed guys like you these days, try to keep our standards up. Else we'd have who knows what, up there on the Net. Misinformation! Don't you guys copy-edit at this website, don't you even fact-check at this... Nick.. NixFlix NetFlix? Nick's Pics? What is the name of your goddam website, Davis?
It's "Nick's Flick Picks," sir. And yes, sir, I do try to copy edit and get the quotes and the story-points straight, but you know it's hard sometimes to remember precisely—
Oh, it's HARD. To REMEMBER. These men are out flying F-14s, specially selected and getting primed for élite military service, up against MiG jets and hostile enemy forces, getting tailed and locked into missile-sights and shot down. Out in the wild blue yonder, with a parachute and a $30 million piece of precision equipment on their hands. And YOU, you're having a hard time REMEMBERING, that's HARD for you.
Davis, can you name me one good reason why you, who call yourself a film reviewer, why you can't even remember a key story-point like Maverick's unequivocal exoneration in the accidental death of his colleague? Can you possibly convince me to accept that Top Gun is as... "cocksure and petulant" as your review would have me believe, when you don't even know what happens in it? Maybe life is imitating art here a little bit, Davis? Is it possible that maybe Maverick isn't the only person I can think of who occasionally gets a little bit carried away, a little reckless in the performance of duty? Mm? Anything to say for yourself, Davis?
Sir, I know I was wrong, sir, but in a way, I also think I was right. And I think this film really creates the conditions that make it easy to lose the details. If I may?
Well, by all means. I would love to hear how it is the movie's fault that you can't remember it right.
Sir, the whole aesthetic of the movie is tied to this whole devil-may-care attitude about rules, specifics, political realities. All these guys are out there fighting MiG jets, but the movie is really careful to completely avoid an actual characterization of the terms of conflict. It's a Cold War movie that doesn't even want to get into the Cold War, or even into the subject of war, period. If it could find a way to disengage the jets from their whole connection to combat operations, I'm sure it would have done so, because Tony Scott and Tom Cruise and the screenwriter guys, I get the sense that their shared impulse in putting together this movie was, like, "Wow, jets are amazing!"
Jets are amazing, Davis!
Right, okay. Sir. But the way Maverick just can't help goosing the control tower with those dangerous fly-bys, and the way he insists to Charlie that when you're in the cockpit of a fighter plane, you can't think or else you would die. I mean, this movie hates thinking. It doesn't even want to have one-dimensional thoughts, like "Russians are bad." The bad guys don't even have faces, they have these enormous, black visors covering their heads, so the air-combat sequences can seem as depersonalized and unpolemical as possible.

What's cool in Top Gun is to be in a jet, but not take it too seriously. I think that's why the movie—which, from a standpoint of acting or screenwriting or sexual politics or soundtrack-selection is just a bad, bad movie—I think that's why it's easier to take than something like Pearl Harbor. It indulges the crowd fantasy of flying and winning and looking amazing in your amazing plane without trying to force a bunch of "America Is #1!" stuff down your throat. That message is pretty implicit in the movie, but even the Miramar base seems more like a volleyball camp or a honeymoon resort than a base of military training and civil-contractor research. The movie's willing naïveté is so profound that it overcomes any resistance. Those jets are pretty cool-looking, when they're just considered as fashionplate objects. And when other fashionplate objects are flying them. And in the last shot of the movie, the planes have genuinely anthropomorphized and taken the place of humans: two F-14s flock together and fly off into the sunset, photographed as if they are holding hands, or holding wings, or doing whatever planes in love would do. That orange sunset is at least a lot sexier than the indigo-filtered perfume commercial that is the "sex scene" between Tommy and Kelly.
I'm sure you are getting to the part where you justify your error?
Okay, so from a screenwriting perspective, Sir, we know you can't just have a movie where Tom Cruise gets high off his Xtreme piloting, because there's no conflict in that. The movie is scrupulously avoiding the most obvious framework of conflict, which would be an us-vs.-them military engagement, so it needs something else. I reckon the whole rest of the movie comprises the script falling all over itself to justify the flying scenes without turning Top Gun into a nonstop, autopilot reverie. Like, have you ever seen a surfing movie? Where the guys or gals just surf, and tell us how cool it is, and then they just keep surfing? It's soooo boring.

So there's Iceman, Maverick's meanie rival in the Top Gun Academy, but when you think about it, he is sort of a red herring; he seems like an antagonist, but really all he does is voice fair concerns about Maverick's recklessness. And there's the love thing with Charlie, and she's no good for conflict, because a) it's the Reagan era of sexual politics, so it occurs to absolutely no one to actually put this woman in a cockpit and make Maverick work to keep up with her. They even manage to get her in a kitchen, and her big moment of authority is in telling him when he has to eat what she's made for him. Plus, b) you can't kill her off, because then there's no happy ending, leaving Maverick all alone among these sweaty, huggy men, who lounge around half-nude in their locker room like Fassbinder characters, and keep saying things to each other like, "You can be mine," and "This gives me a hard-on." Charlie's only job in this script is to give Maverick/Tom Cruise his validation papers as a straight dude in a notably homo milieu. (Which is kind of weird, then, the decision to name the great Hetero savior Charlie, and put her in caps and bomber jackets, and make Maverick follow her into the ladies' room right after meeting her... but whatever.)

Two strikes, still no conflict. Next up is the whole dumb thing about Maverick trying to live up to his Dad, who is somehow both a legend and a pariah in the flying community. And there's some kind of secret there about why Pop was so controversial and how he died and why no one will talk about him. I realize that the Toms, Cruise and Skerritt, have a big heart-to-heart late in the movie where this is all dissected and explained. And having seen Top Gun five or six times, I can barely recount the details of this talk, because the subplot itself is only there to give Maverick something, anything, to look wistful and tortured about, to make him Deep. Character Motivation 101. It's just the movie buying time.
You are referring, I believe, to how Maverick's father lost his life making incredibly brave diversionary returns into a theater of aerial warfare that policy-makers had not sanctioned, and that by using his jet-piloting prowess to rescue his buddies during an illegal confrontation, he managed to martyr himself in circumstances that no one was allowed to talk about? With the implication, too, that his own teachers and colleagues were so envious of his ability and impatient with his narcissism that they were secretly gratified by his spin-doctorable, undiscussable demise?
Sure, have it your way. I mean, Sir, yes, sir. But while Tom Skerritt is saying all that, it's late in the movie, and I'm just looking for some cool afterburn patterns. You know that old Far Side comic where Gary Larson reveals that what a dog hears is actually just "Blah blah blah blah blah Fifi blah blah blah?" This is the mental state that Top Gun instills in its viewer. We simply don't care. We don't even listen, or at least, I don't. And in that sense, Top Gun is profoundly ideological, because it has nailed the technique of atrophying its audience into this delirious state of non-picky, non-judgmental, non-attentive slavery to sheer spectacle. Hot planes, hot hunks. The rest is prattle.

But again, you can't just leave the movie at that, either, or it will be too obviously superficial, and Maverick will seem like every twit at the video arcade with cockamamie delusions of cockpit grandeur. Dad's already a memory when this thing starts, we never see him, even in flashback—
Which I've always taken to be metaphorical of the lost generations of military heroes. As in, how is this pipsqueak pilot, from a country that hasn't seen real battle in over a decade by the time Top Gun comes out, how is he going to live up to the mythical bravery of his father's generation, his grandfather's... these dead heroes. But, you know, don't listen to me, I've never even seen Hannah and Her Sisters.
Uh... well, you know, that's sort of interesting, Sir. But it still isn't enough to hang Top Gun on, because as Abu Ghraib has just taught us, American audiences don't respond to anything unless they can see it in front of them. To give Maverick a kind of "depth" that anyone will care about, you've gotta kill off someone we've seen him connect with. So it's gotta be Goose. I mean, the movie's really a love story between them, anyway, and I'm not trying to be all Celluloid Closet. But the Maverick/Charlie thing fizzles, and Goose is barely seen with his wife; there are even a bunch of scenes where Goose accompanies Maverick to cruisy bars around the base, looking for a woman to "talk dirty" to him.

Translation: these two guys have by far the movie's most important, most intimate relationship. And the reason they have it is so Tom Cruise can be Evil Knievel up in the air, flashing his pearly whites and pulling all his pranks, getting ticket-buyers and repeat-viewers all stirred up about his whole sexy-rebel schtick....while here on layaway, we have a sacrifice-in-waiting, a dear and decent friend who can be killed off at any moment as a recipe for Instant Depth of Character. Goose is only in this movie to reflect Maverick's glory, first in chummy life and then in death. If Top Gun weren't so committed to making Maverick the great Frat Boy of the Skies, the balancing pathos of Goose's demise wouldn't be necessary. So in that sense, sir, Maverick's idiotic abandon did kill Meg Ryan's husband.
Sir... I think we're never going to agree on this, Sir?
Davis... (Sniff, sniff.) You stink!
Sir, yes sir, I do stink, sir. But I still say Top Gun gets a C.

Academy Award Nominations and Winners:
Best Film Editing: Billy Weber & Chris Lebenzon
Best Original Song: "Take My Breath Away"
Best Sound: Donald O. Mitchell, Kevin O'Connell, Rick Kline, and William B. Kaplan
Best Sound Effects: Cecelia Hall & George Watters II

Golden Globe Nominations and Winners:
Best Original Score: Harold Faltermeyer
Best Actress (Musical/Comedy): Janet McTeer

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