Recently, a friend of mine announced on Facebook that she had never seen Top Gun, with the implication being that she intended to keep it that way. I commented that at some point, I would have to tell her my “How I’ve never managed to see Top Gun” story. I was going to write it as a note on Facebook, but, frankly, I tell the story often enough that it’s probably time to write it down and purge it from my brain once and for all.
I’m going to go ahead and spoil the ending right away, because it’s a long story with an unsurprising ending: No, I have never seen Top Gun, despite the fact that I’ve tried to watch it (or planned to do so) on several occasions. There. Now you know. So no blaming me if you read the whole thing, get to the end, and realize that there’s no great lesson or stunning conclusion.
Granted, I think the components of how I’ve never watched it are fun, but… well, you’ll see.
It all started when the movie first hit home video. I didn’t have a ton of male friends as a kid, but I did have some, and all of them had seen the movie. Literally, to a person.
And yet, I hadn’t watched it.
Thinking back on it, I know at least part of that had to do with my parents. As my mom recently stated to me, my brother used to tell our babysitters that we weren’t allowed to watch movies with kissing in them. That was how he perceived the issue. In truth, however, it was all the stuff that comes after kissing that my mom was trying to avoid.
In other words, Top Gun had, shall we say, scenes of a somewhat adult nature. Granted, they probably weren’t all that bad, since it was a PG-rated film. But still.
And while I was ten or eleven, my brother would have been seven or eight, and generally when I watched something, he watched it too.
And on the other side of the equation, I had no real interest in viewing the flick. I’m not a big fan of planes, and whatever battle sequences I might have enjoyed were readily available on, say, GI Joe.
In a sense, I filed Top Gun away with all the other movies I wasn’t watching, which were mostly horror films that my friends’ strangely permissive parents had no troubles with them viewing.
No matter. Top Gun went from being the movie every kid was watching, or had watched, to being yesterday’s news.
During the summer of my first year home from college, my girlfriend and I cut a deal. I had taken her to see Pulp Fiction, which she had hated so much I’m not even sure I can describe the anger using words. If I was writing this on paper, I’d probably just spill a blob of ink and call it a rage cloud. That about covers it. Much of her rage came from how much violence there was in the film.
We decided, or perhaps she decided, that we were going to start “trading” movies. She would choose one, and I would choose one.
She also wanted to us this movie-exchange to fill me in on movies she’s enjoyed when she was younger, and I would, in turn, do the same. (One of her choices was, no lie, Commando. Which is, of course, much less violent than Pulp Fiction. But I digress.)
And this is where Top Gun was about to reenter my life. She had seen the movie as a kid and loved it, and as the summer drew to a close, she promised that when I came back from college for Thanksgiving break, Top Gun would be next on the list of movies we would watch.
Then she dumped me, just before Thanksgiving.
There’s a story there, too, but now it’s almost 15 years in the past, and why dredge it up? What it boiled down to was, we weren’t going to be together forever, and we certainly weren’t going to be watching Top Gun together either.
I went back to college, and started spending more and more time hanging out with a friend of mine. I’m going to leave her name off of this, just because I haven’t asked permission to use it. I’ll call her A, for Anonymous.
You know how there are people in your life who come in for kind of a short burst, and become sort of oddly all-encompassing? That was A. We fell into each other’s orbit, and settled there, and it was a lot of fun. We liked hanging out. We enjoyed watching movies, and talking, and eating together in the cafeteria of the college. She had a car, and when she or other friends were heading out for coffee or ice cream or taco bell, she’d call me. (I should state, for the record, that some people wondered if more was going on. Nope.)
Here’s the key thing: Her roommate had a copy of Top Gun. And they probably watched it just about every day. Or maybe every third or fourth or fifth day, in rotation with a handful of other movies that were always, always, always on every time I dropped by. (I recall that Robin Hood: Men in Tights was also in heavy rotation.)
I mentioned, at the time, that I hadn’t seen Top Gun all the way through, and also about my breakup, and how the two things tied together. And she decided that we needed to watch it.
We grabbed the videotape, and took it back to my room. We got comfy, and started the movie… and about three minutes in the picture started to flutter.
I pulled out the tape, and it was quite literally broken.
I felt terrible, sure that my VCR had somehow eaten the tape. But when I took it to A’s roommate and offered to get her another copy, she told me not to worry about it, and that she had watched it so much she was surprised it hadn’t happened earlier. A and I watched Alien instead.
Later that semester, I found myself with some free time, and started flipping through the channels, and there it was: Top Gun. Granted, it was on a network channel, where it would be lacking most of the bad words and any scenes of an adult nature would be trimmed down, but, well, now I was starting to feel like the movie was deliberately avoiding me.
I got about five minutes in, and A called, asking if I wanted to go for ice cream. I told her I had no money (which was true) and she said she would pay.
You can’t beat that. So I went.
The semester ended, and summer came, and with it: free time. I had to find a job, yes, but my school let out later than the local colleges, and I found myself scrambling every year to find anyone who would take me on for three months. Most years, I had my name in at four or five temp agencies, and I still barely managed to find work, picking up a day or three at a time.
One night, my parents were out, and I once again found myself flipping through channels, looking to see what was on. And there was Top Gun again, virtually at the point I had shut it off when A had called me for ice cream.
I started watching, and five minutes later my parents came home. When my dad asked me why I was watching Top Gun, I told him I had never seen it. “It’s a chick flick with planes,” he said. And I realized that I wasn’t really watching it because I wanted to watch it, but because it kept avoiding me.
So I turned it off, and went up to my room, and did some reading instead.
College ended, I got married, and video formats began to change. Despite the fact that a bunch of planes flying loudly through the air is the kind of thing my dad should have loved when it came time to show off his TV/Audio system, he stuck with Twister instead.
But I made new friends, including one who set up a projection TV and sound system in his basement. He had a house-warming gathering, and everyone showed up and brought food.
The night wore on, and my wife and I had to be up early the next day, so we ducked out before he could show everyone an entire movie, instead of loud snippets of various flicks. The film in question? Top Gun.
I asked a couple friends about it later, and learned that the movie had started skipping with about 20 minutes to go. My friend tried cleaning the DVD, but to no avail. His used disc was non-functional past a certain point. So even if I had decided to stick around, well, I still wouldn’t have seen all of Top Gun.
That was a little less than five years ago.
The thing about Top Gun is, I’m pretty sure I could see it any time I wanted to. A quick library search shows me that my local library has it on both DVD and VHS, and there are multiple copies… there is no way all of them can be scratched or checked out.
More to the point, the DVD is cheap now, since it’s been out a few years. I could own it, if I really wanted to, and no one could prevent me from seeing it.
But here’s the thing: By all accounts, the movie just isn’t all that great. If it really is, as my dad states, a chick flick with planes, well, neither of those two things is really designed to catch and hold my interest.
And, in the end, chances are good that I might have seen most or all of it anyway. It was, after all, a ubiquitous film for much of my youth. It was on regular TV. It was on cable. It was the subject of a Tarantino monologue. As I said before, my friend A had it running in her room almost every time I went in there, and I couldn’t help but see bits and pieces of it.
And of course, I’m well aware of most of the famous scenes. You’ve Lost that Loving Feeling. The death of the partner. Goose? The fact that there’s a scramble of some kind in the end.
Ultimately, the reason I may never get around to seeing the movie might be that in a sense, I’ve already seen it, and whatever meager pleasures the movie might hold have already been offered to me.