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Who’s Your Wingman Now? Pushing the Envelope With ‘Top Gun’ | Press "Enter" to skip to content

Who’s Your Wingman Now? Pushing the Envelope With ‘Top Gun’

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SCOTT Yes! Even though we didn’t choose this first viewing-party selection for present-day relevance, I’m starting to think it was a timely choice. The feeling of movement and open space it conveys, even on a small home screen, is intoxicating. You really feel the thrill and danger of flight, and also the more gravity-bound pleasure of zooming through the streets of Miramar on a motorcycle. And except for those stretches in the third act when he has to go off by himself and figure things out, Maverick is never alone. All the boisterous hugging and locker-room bantering, even the cringey “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” pickup scene in the crowded bar — there’s no social or physical distance in this world.

And at the heart of it is one of the tenderest, truest, most tragic love stories I’ve ever seen: Maverick and Goose. Holy Achilles and Patroclus, Batman! Great Gilgamesh and Enkidu! In Navy parlance, Goose is Maverick’s RIO (radio intercept officer), but Homer would recognize him as a classic Hetairos, a sacrificial friend whose death is a crucial moral and emotional test for the hero.

“The volleyball scene will forever remain immortalized as a centerpiece of jock gay iconography. Never before had gay bros received such direct service from a blockbuster film, and it changed gay history forever.” — Jonathan, Poughkeepsie

DARGIS “But Achilles kept on grieving for his friend,” as Tony Scott more or less filmed through billows of steam, “he longed for Patroclus’s manhood, his gallant heart.” That kind of trench camaraderie, no matter the time or place, is often irresistible, however crudely or cynically deployed. You can hate war and war movies, yet still get misty-eyed by stories about square-jawed lugs who, in between dogfights and gunfire, are reduced to puddles as they cradle fallen fellow soldiers in their arms.

Both “Wings” and “Top Gun” stage the beloved comrade’s death similarly, with one man holding the other in a modified Pietà, an image that evokes Mary cradling the dead Jesus. “Wings” is the better film, by far, and its dramatic death is heartbreakingly tender. Wellman, a fighter pilot in World War I, stages it so that it resembles a love sequence, one sealed with a kiss. Goose’s death isn’t as touching, because Scott and Cruise can’t sell it. But the film is trying to reach us emotionally, to make us feel this world’s anguish and not just its exhilaration. It’s a melodrama with screaming jets.

Maybe, to some, the flying is fabulous but the showboating of Tom Cruise’s character is a cringy salve for these anxious times. And the romance? Blech. Happily, I don’t know such people. — Eileen57, London

SCOTT And also with a perhaps less-than-stirring heterosexual romance. The big sex scene between Kelly McGillis (as Charlie) and Tom Cruise is shot in a weird (and very ’80s) blue light that is so much colder than the slanting orange sunshine of the beach volleyball scene or the warm yellow of the indelible moment later on when Maverick, grieving in front of a mirror in his tighty-whities, is comforted by Tom Skerritt. (The director of photography was Jeffrey Kimball.) Cruise and McGillis are both gorgeous, but there isn’t a lot of heat between them. Maverick and Charlie are both hardheaded careerists pursuing a workplace romance, and there’s something efficiently transactional about their connection.


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