If there’s one thing more depressing than war films, it’s military films that aren’t war films. Because that’s just militarism for its own sake; the cinematic equivalent of a ceremonial flypast.
An Officer and a Gentleman is such a film; a Reaganite propaganda movie from 1982 about a US Navy Aviation Officer in training named Zack Mayo (Richard Gere), so called because he’s repellent to me as a vegan. The drama plays out exactly like Top Gun, right down to the horrible ’80s soundtrack and repressed homoeroticism.
Compared with Top Gun, this movie makes more (that is to say minimal) attempt to give the hero a backstory, but the problem remains the same: why should we care about whether or not this arsehole passes his training and gets the girl? Like Maverick this is a guy who does whatever he wants and still winds up on top because he’s a straight white man and this is America.
The picture alternates between scenes of nauseating military training and even more nauseating romance, as our Naval heroes meet a pair of women (Lisa Blount and Debra Winger), one of whom is so desperate to marry a pilot that she’s willing to fake a pregnancy to trap him. The things people used to have to do before uniformdating.com…
The other woman in the film (Lisa Eilbacher) is a largely capable officer candidate who still needs Mayo’s help to climb a wall. It’s telling that this is the movie’s way of showing his growth as a person, as it demonstrates its deeply conservative message; that young men will find meaning in discipline, their country and a good woman.
Although none of Mayo’s behaviour comes close to being admirable, the movie still goes out of its way to be judgemental, sexist and generally depressing. I know taste was an alien concept in the ’80s but this combination of Mayo and corn leaves a nasty taste indeed.