You don’t need Sir Ian McKellen to tell you that homosexuality is underrepresented in Hollywood. Embarrassed hints and suggestions in films like Spartacus were as much as the studios would allow, until Tony Scott’s 1986 cold war film Top Gun. After decades of beating about the bush, Top Gun basks in its homoerotic overtures. It isn’t serious and political but rather cool and inspirational. Tom Cruise, in one of his finest roles as the enigmatic and irrational naval aviator Maverick, left female viewers wanting him and male audiences wanting to be him.
Quentin Tarantino, in his 1994 Sleep With Me cameo, describes Top Gun as “subversion on a massive level”. The subversion, against the inherently conservative Hollywood studio system, comes in the form of a story that is prima facie about the best fighter pilots in the U.S. fighting the Russians, but on another level is an allegory for one man’s struggle to embrace his homosexuality.
Maverick (def: a person who refuses to conform to a particular party or group) must decide between the overtly homoerotic brotherhood of the pilots or the heterosexual route represented by Charlie (Kelly McGillis). Throughout the film, there is more focus on (often partially naked) male bonding in locker rooms than there is on actually flying. The film is revolves around male partners. Every pilot has their ‘wingman’ and together they share the mentally and physically draining experience (of flying). Iceman, (Val Kilmer) is an über-man and the sexual tension between him and Maverick is taut from their first yearning stare. The film’s famous beach volleyball montage is a release of all the sexual energy between the pilots that has built up during the previous hour. It’s unashamedly homoerotic, with plenty of sweaty, muscle-bound hugs and slaps to the tune of Kenny Loggins’ ‘Playing With The Boys’, which Scott cuts away from to show Charlie waiting impatiently for her date with Maverick.
Tarantino observes that when Maverick does arrive at Charlie’s house, despite all the signs suggesting they’re going to have sex, he suddenly gets on his motorbike and leaves. The next time he sees her, in a lift, she’s dressed like a male pilot, in an attempt to win him back. She fails and Maverick goes back into battle with the boys, which Tarantino describes as a “gay fighting force beating the Russians.” The film was originally pitched as a dark Cold War thriller but the end result might, subconsciously or not, be one of the most progressive things Hollywood’s offered, and it’s not sensitive or melancholy but a massive celebration of gay power—I mean, come on, they beat the Russians!
By Josh Carter