Friday, September 27, 2013

Predator Might be the Most Masculine Film Ever...

One of the earliest sequences of the 1987 John McTiernan film, Predator, is probably the most testosterone filled of any 80s action movie. Curiously, the intensity of this moment is ramped up through the use of the music of one of the most effete of the 50s rock-n-roll musicians: Little Richard. Long Tall Sally plays throughout the three-minute scene, the entirety of which is red lit - a kind of lighting which is often used in strip bars. There aren't any lingering shots of male bodies here, however, but rather close ups of the men's faces as they prepare to be dropped into the jungle. The camera rests on strong jaws, thick necks, square heads and cleft chins. The men cover their faces with camouflaging war paint. Jesse Ventura's Blaine dips snuff and offers it to his fellow soldiers. They all refuse which prompts him to insult their manhood, calling them "slack jaw faggots." He insists that the tobacco will make them "sexual [him]" causing one of the men to suggest that Blaine perform a sexual act on the end of his rifle. After which, Blaine ejects tobacco juice on Dillon's (Carl Weathers) shoe. There is so much tension in this scene....the anxiety of men about to be dropped into a battlefield in which "they are on their own." They are leaving civilization behind and entering a world in which they are alone and are responsible for their own defense. They must protect themselves. So they are getting themselves psyched up for battle and much of that excitement seems to veer toward the sexual. There is a tinge of the homoerotic here, though it is not purposeful. Or rather, a misreading of the sexual energy in this scene could label it as such. Yet I perceive this moment in the film as something unabashedly male and more in the spirit of serious competition as to whom is the most masculine.

This film also focuses on men's spaces--the helicopters, the military offices and all the arenas of war. There are almost no women in it until much later when a Central American woman named Anna (Elpidia Carrillo) is rescued by the soldiers. As much as the film is about men's spaces it is also concerned with men's bodies as these are on full display throughout later scenes. Predator features some of the most immense of the 80s actions stars- Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers,  Jesse Ventura and Sonny Landham. Early on in the movie, Dutch (Schwarzenegger) and Dillon lock sweaty fists and arm wrestle in greeting. Later, in the jungle, these are the men who lead the smaller and weaker men; they are the true alphas. Finally, Dutch is shown to be the ultimate alpha. The only one to survive (along with Anna whom he rescues and protects) after the film transforms from action film to sci-fi/horror when the alien that kills everyone off in spectacular and gruesome fashion is introduced.

Interestingly, it is the return of the music of Little Richard in the latter part of the movie that is used to showcase the spectacular failure of the mission and also the failure of almost all of the men. Mac (Bill Duke) has been seemingly driven mad by the deaths of his fellow soldiers and attempts to kill the predator on his own. While pursuing it, he sings a part of the chorus of Long Tall Sally over and over until it is a chant, as if in an attempt to psych himself up just as the soldiers used the song in the beginning of the film. It is a compelling moment, not just because Duke is a remarkable actor, but because it is the moment that establishes that the destruction of the group that was once so united in strength is real.

It seems that the final message of this film is that only the biggest and manliest man is capable of defeating both worldly and otherworldly menaces. In all, this is a film that celebrates maleness at the same time that it almost eroticizes it. The sexual charge here isn't between men and woman but rather in the competition amongst men. The suggestion isn't that they are attracted to each other but must, at all costs, be bigger and better and tougher and stronger than each other and must at every turn prove that strength. 

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