I see that you’re hurtin’, why’d you take so long
To tell me you need me? I see that you’re bleeding
You don’t need to show me again
But if you decide to, I’ll ride in this life with you
I won’t let go ’til the end
So cry tonight
But don’t you let go of my hand
You can cry every last tear
These are the lyrics to the song sung by Lady Gaga in the closing credits of Top Gun: Maverick. This song has been on the Billboard Top 100 chart for 6 weeks. The film TG:M is on its way to breaking a billion dollars worldwide at the box office this year. People (millions of people in every demographic all over the world) want to see Tom Cruise, playing himself (j/k), save the day. At the end of the movie they expect you to want to cry, and then Lady Gaga tells you to just let it out.
The only bit of acting that was hard to believe in the movie was the guy who was trying to play the arrogant jerk. The writers were trying to inject some drama with his lines, but the whole cast was so good-hearted and earnest. These folks seemed about 2 meters from heaven, and I don’t just mean because of flying at high altitudes.
After seeing TG:M in theaters this weekend, I watched the original 1986 movie (free on Amazon Prime right now) for comparison. The locker room banter in TG1 seemed more genuinely mean-spirited. That was back when bullies were bullies and no one was afraid of getting canceled?
An emotional anchor to the new film is the might-actually-last romance between Cruise and a single mother. This is a contrast from the 1986 film in which baby-faced “Pete” and his instructor appeared to live out their respective sexual fantasies next to each other. And, this gets us back to the wholesome “Hold My Hand” song. People are lonely these days. This movie fills an emotional void. The audience feels safe with grown-up Cruise, perhaps especially at a time when it feels like there are not a lot of grown-ups in leadership.
Seeing this movie felt like a religious experience, speaking as a religious person (more on religion in TG:M from Ross Douthat). I did some reading online after the movie. One man claimed that he had seen the movie three times and “cried all the way through it on the third time,” just as Lady Gaga recommends. I am noting this a social phenomenon. Of course Hollywood producers are good at manipulating emotions but it’s still interesting to see which high-budget films end up working.
Our 2022 brains are addled by an endless online livestream of atrocities, school shootings, and erratic presidential tweets. We know that the brain is plastic. Trauma or abuse damage the brain. There are also ways to repair it to improve focus and feelings of connection. I’m not sure if this movie is simply making people feel better temporarily or is actually making viewers be better. At least one government will ban TG:M. Personally, I’d worry if my citizens didn’t get to see this movie that it would create a Vibes Gap.
A life hack I figured out this week is that you can download “Top Gun Anthem” and just play it when you are doing dishes or picking up your kids. You can feel awesome at such a low cost.
To get a little more practical, the producers were shrewd about when to release this movie in order to maximize box office revenues. Production started in 2018 Before Covid. They could have caved and released the movie on streaming services. They waited until they could do a more traditional release with the cast traveling the world in person to promote the film. We know that people will pay for experiences (e.g. axe throwing, escape rooms, etc.) so maybe theaters aren’t done yet if the right movies come along.
Another connection that interests me is that I was just reading some Founding Fathers debating the first draft of the US Constitution. Patrick Henry was quite worried about having a “standing army”. He thought of the military as a potential threat to the American project. It’s interesting to see, for now, how this is working itself out in the culture. What would Patrick Henry’s reaction to TG:M be?
Edit: Now I’ve seen a WSJ essay about the “token jerk” character and how the actor was uncomfortable pretending to be comfortable being arrogant.