Die Hard/Top Gun
One could hardly choose two more aptly genre-defined films in describing male image and raw masculinity. Both Die Hard and Top Gun portray the masculine form in its most basic and raw fundamentals; the protagonists played by Bruce Willis and Tom Cruz, perpetuate the stereotype of the American Male Hero, the former is the classically class-defined heroic ‘average Joe’ whilst the latter is the sweaty, brooding and rebellious freedom fighter.
In Top Gun the tropes of masculinity are varied; there exists a special and arguably intimate relationship between Maverick and Goose, more tightly bound than brothers (at one point Maverick indeed says that Goose is the ‘only family he’s got’). After all, their lives depend on one another. The homoerotic undertones of the film, the rippling muscles and sweat paired with the raw machinery and phallic shining fighter jet are all projections of male masculinity and what it means to be a real ‘man.’ All these themes are blatantly exhibited in the film’s very opening scenes, with the rock n’ roll music, dusk lights, smoke and the fierce fiery thrust of the fighter jet as it physically ejects off the runway. Incidentally the aircraft carrier thus becomes the ‘climax machine’ as mentioned in class; at the start there’s all this smoke, its subtle, alluring, enveloping, and starts to build up, and then as the plane takes off the music erupts. In this way the build up and layering of the senses combine to create a stimulating tour de force for the audience; it creates this setting of a masculine-dominated, testosterone-fuelled, fantastical staging of male sexuality. This layering of sight and sound, visual and audio is necessary to fulfill all the stereotypes perpetuated by the Top Gun ‘way of life’. As we discussed in class, from the reading on aesthetics and contemporaries, ‘a blend of analogue and digital film making lays bare the inner mechanics of cinema, its texture, emphasizing the process of manipulating and creating moving images. Film, in this regard, can be conceptualized as an enormous canvas.’ In this way, Top Gun can be viewed as a film of a series of layers, both in its cinematic execution as well as its plot; the sound of the jets, the view of the smoke and the blue sky, the beads of sweat on the male body all make up a stunning picture frame which encapsulates the internal and external power struggle of the protagonist; both with his tormented past, and turbulent future.
In Die Hard the concept of layers is also a key theme. Physically with the building itself and its numerous floors and layers that make up the main stage for the action and fighting, as well as the layers of the character of Bruce Willis, as the hard-lined NYC cop, the desperate husband, the ‘savior.’ In this film the emphasis is the restoration of masculinity; Willis not only has to ‘save the day’ but also employ the reunification of the family nucleus with his actions, thus being the true American hero both as a national icon as well as the head of the family unit. Like Top Gun there is an overwhelming desire to categorize the protagonist as the archetypal macho action figure; with his ripped wife-beater, and phallic gun, he is one man against all odds, and of course is able to overcome them all. In reference back to the theme of male relationships, in the same way that Maverick and Goose entertain a bond that is more unique than blood or marriage, so do we see the connection between Willis and Powell, as they represent their own inter-racial counterparts. Not surprisingly, women are not the focus of either film, except in a sexually dominated fashion. In this way, both films perpetuate the physical and similarly emotional and social accusations of the male sphere. They are cult, as every male American boy wants to be John McLane and Maverick.