by Alvin G. Burstein, PhD
As a youngster, going to a movie was a special experience for me. Omaha could swelter in the summer heat and in the nineteen thirties and forties the marquees of the theatres promised twenty degrees cooler inside” which added to the attraction of the exotic decor and the magic of the silver screen.The exigencies of covid made me bid farewell to considerable delights, but I came to relish the world of streaming movies which included actors who were strangers to me and writers and directors who were not denizens of Hollywood.
But when the movie rating aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported a film showing only in theaters Paramount’s Top Gun: Maverick—critic ratings of 97%, audience approval ratings even higher and blockbuster earnings of over 913 million dollars in its first weeks– fully vaccinated and boosted, I decided to on a mask and take the risk..
Before I tell you about the film, I must disclose two personal biases: the first is that I found the half hour or more of advertisements of all kinds followed by the glare and blare of coming “attractions” beyond annoying. Then, too, the film’s star, Tom Cruise, playing Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, has been a highly visible public advocate for Dianetics. Dianetics was founded by L. Ron Hubbard. His first description of this approach to self-improvement was published in the May, 1950 edition of the pulp magazine Astounding Science Fiction. Later, Hubbard was quoted as saying “You don’t get rich writing science fiction. If you want to get rich, you start a religion.” As a psychologist and psychoanalyst, I regard Dianetics as having evolved into a cult, an exploitative one.
That said, I enjoyed the film. It is a confection of familiar devices that provide excitement, if not suspense.
Its center is an attack on a site at which an unnamed foreign nation is about to develop an atomic weapon. The details of the attack echo the raids on the death star in Star Wars that involve the running of a perilous gantlet. The emotional tone of the film is an echo of that in Independence Day, a triumphant patriotic exceptionalism that teeters on the edge of jingoism. The film features a sexy woman bartender who echoes Marion in Raiders of the Lost Ark.
To me the most interesting aspect of the film was its exploration of the interaction between human and mechanical factors at the extremes. The attack teams in this film must fly at speeds that subject them to 10 g forces and at speeds where there is no time to think, where, as one of the characters puts it, the question of “What were you thinking?” doesn’t make any sense.
That, too, is an echo. In Ford v Ferrari, the race driver says, “There’s a point at 7,000 rpm where verything fades. The machine becomes weightless. It just disappears. All that’s left, a body moving through space and time…7,000 RPM…that’s where you meet it. You feel it coming. It creeps up near you, and it asks you a question. The only question that really matters. Who are you?”
To say that these devices are familiar is not to diminish their very artful deployment in this film. Top Gun: Maverick is like an ice cream sundae—no surprises maybe, but a thoroughly enjoyable