September 29, 2022
The lost meaning of "Top Gun"

With the long-awaited “Top Gun” sequel hitting theaters in what might be the most anticipated blockbuster in years, it’s worth revisiting an earlier critique of the original that’s still prevalent today. In the late ’90s or early aughts, if the movie “Top Gun” came up, someone would be bursting with newfound zeal to educate you on what the film was really about – and that was, why of  course – repressed homosexuality.  

The theory was based on two pillars: a half naked Iceman (Val Kilmer) getting very close to a half naked Maverick (Tom Cruise) during the locker room scenes to bitingly decry that he’s “dangerous.” And, of course, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, those volleyball scenes. “See how the camera lingers on the  glistening abs and tight jeans of Tom Cruise! It’s all about the unspoken homoerotic!”  

Part of this theory’s ubiquity came out of a need to release the massive bear hug with which “Top Gun” had wrapped around pop culture. The ode to “F Yeah!” masculinity in “Top Gun” was so loud and fever-pitched, that armchair Gen X cultural critics could not resist the urge to drown it out with a half in jest, half serious counter melody that cried out, “Don’t you see! They’re all just gay!”  

Others in the culture had floated this notion. When the film came out in 1986, New Yorker film  critic Pauline Kael had labeled it a “shiny homoerotic commercial.” And then Quentin Tarantino acting in the1994 indie “Sleep With Me” had a whole riff on the supposed gay subtext of the  movie and how it was about Mav’s “struggle with his own homosexuality.”  

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