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Love, Loss & Top Gun

(Ground Level One)

By Stuart Strachan Jr.

One of the realities of getting older (at least for me), has been a diminishing enjoyment of movies, or at least, the action genre. It’s the formulaic, always-the-same story-arc that makes it hard for me to get into action films. 

Risk/Reward and Movie Sequels

The worst for me are the Marvel movies that seemed to dominate the big screen for the past twenty years. A few were decently entertaining, but most were so predictable I couldn’t muster much enthusiasm. When my wife and I (somewhat surprisingly) decided to watch Avengers: End Game, we realized we didn’t know half the characters.

With that said, there are certain franchises that, if the reviews aren’t universally terrible (Here’s looking at you Dumb and Dumberer To), I’m up to watch. When I heard they were making a second Top Gun I was skeptical.  I mean, I did see Indiana Jones & The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Having grown up quoting “NO TICKET!” about a million times, I couldn’t wait for an addition to the franchise.

The result, however, was so far from meeting my expectations I became disenchanted with the entire series. So the stakes are really quite high when a film as popular as Top Gun gets a sequel THIRTY-SIX years after the original. That’s a long time for expectations to marinate. 

So I was not one to sit outside the theater on opening night, throwing caution to the wind to see whatever might grace the screen. But then the reviews started coming in, not just on Rotten Tomatoes, but from friends and family. Everyone raved. So we made plans.

And overall, I loved it. 

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The Strachans & Top Gun

When I was a kid, Top Gun was a regular at the Strachan household. We all loved it, but none more so than my dad. Not one to spend a lot of time watching movies, there was something compelling about TG that continuously drew us back to that 110 minutes of pure adrenaline and joy.

We never discussed why my dad liked the movie so much, but I know at least part of it had to do with his interest in flying, as well as nostalgia over his time in San Diego as a twenty-something college student.

Stuart (I am a junior, after all) loved to quote parts of the movie to me and my brother (“I want some butts!”) a common refrain when we were shirking our various household responsibilities. If you need a bit of a refresher, that was the line shouted out by an officer after Maverick managed a fly-by of the control tower, causing the officer’s hot coffee to spill all over his shirt.

From the action scenes to the competition, the general “cool guy” personalities, Top Gun was a massive hit at our home. 

 

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The only reason I think we didn’t watch it more was just how gutted we felt every time “Goose” would die (Sorry, Spoiler alert for a 36 year old movie!) 

And while that scene proves to be a pivotal point, a crossroads in Maverick’s life, I never would have thought it would prove to be so significant for the film’s successor, Top Gun: Maverick.

 

Love, Loss & Top Gun

Both movies are in a lot of ways, about loss, and specifically how Maverick responds to those he loves.

In the first film the focus is on Maverick’s career, and how he will respond when two of the people he cared about most: his father (that scene with Tom Skeritt discussing his father still resonates with me all these years later) and his best-friend/wing-man die doing the same thing he has chosen to pursue with his life. 

In the second film, the focus is again on Maverick, but not on his career, but on Goose’s son, Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (played by Miles Teller). Maverick continues to blame himself for Goose’s death, leading him to thwart the career aspirations of Rooster. The tension created by Maverick’s decision to thwart the younger Bradshaw’s career leads to the central conflict of the movie. Maverick, like most of us, is guilty of trying to control his circumstances rather than dealing with the pain of losing his father and best friend. 

All of this created a rather strange effect on me, because as I was processing again the loss of Goose, and the consequential strained relationship between Maverick and Rooster, I couldn’t help but think of my own father, who would have loved to watch that movie. Who would have loved to see it with his two sons, whom he loved very much. But this was not possible, at least not in an earthly sense, because my dad passed away from a rare disease about five years earlier. A one-in-a-million disease, as we were told. 

And just as unlikely as it is for one of us to get a “one-in-a-million” disease, it’s not zero-in-a-million. Someone, somewhere is going to get it, and is going to die. So it was quite emotional for me to watch this movie about death and loss and how to live in the midst of all of it. Each of us, if we live for a significant period of time, will have to face loss. The question ultimately becomes, will we have the courage to face it head on. As someone wiser than me once said, “No grieving; no healing. Know grieving; know healing.” 

It took Maverick (yes a fictional character, but let’s be honest, we’re a lot like him) decades to finally “know grieving.” But eventually he did, and in so doing, he “knew healing.”

Remaking of a 1986 Blockbuster

(Ground Level Two)

By Scott Bullock

With theaters shuttered for a good portion of the pandemic, many of us who enjoy the art of storytelling on the big screen were confined to our more humble home entertainment centers. Before Covid, some thought that the era of Hollywood Blockbusters made for a large venue with Dolby Cinema, IMAX, overpriced popcorn, JuJyfruits, stuck-together Junior Mints, and sticky vinyl seats, was facing extinction with the meteoric impact of the phrase, “straight to streaming.” 

Then, Memorial Day Weekend of 2022 arrived and Top Gun: Maverick dropped its sprinkling of former blockbuster gold dust magic. 

Despite the somewhat cotton candy thin plot of the movie, the aviation scenes are spectacular. It is hard to sit still watching the combat formation of F-18 Super Hornets at seven times the force of gravity performing maneuvers that defy our spatial awareness. Plus, at age 60, Tom Cruise still manages to maintain a semblance of youthful vigor that leaves those of us younger than him, but still “old” to our Millenial and Gen Z friends in a bit of a jealous stupor, a state that is tempered by the “good vibes” we feel for the prequel. 

Top Gun Image of Plane<br />

There are enough “shout outs” to the 1986 movie, with the exception of an absent Kelly McGillis, to lure in those of us who came to maturity in the era of John Hughes Teen Movies, New Wave, and Reaganomics: Cruise’s aviator glasses and flight jacket; a testosterone jacked beach scene of volleyball exchanged for a football scene with the addition of a little estrogen; a reckless and helmet-free ride on a Kawasaki Ninja; and of course, a raucous version of Jerry Lee Lewis’s Great Balls of Fire played by Rooster, the son of KIA pilot, Goose, who tickled the ivories to the same tune 36 years prior. 

My 14-year old son and I each saw the movie three times in the first months of its release, but for entirely different reasons. 

LB’s first official visit to a “museum” as a five-year-old kid was to the USS Midway in San Diego. He was enamored by the carrier, its flight deck, and fighter planes, and while we all wanted to leave, he wanted to stay. He sketched his first design of a luxury jet on a flight to Germany that following summer and three years later expressed deep disappointment when we had to leave the Imperial War Museum Duxford in Cambridgeshire, Britain’s largest aviation museum, having not had the opportunity to board the Concorde G-AXDN on display.

Top Gun: Maverick was aspirational for LB while for me it was nostalgic. Art has the tendency to move each of us in different ways. It can pique interest, inspire imagination, and evoke memory. 

Psychology speaks of explicit and implicit memory. The explicit memory takes effort on our part. We search through our cerebral filing cabinets for facts, figures, and information that we once filed there many years before. Implicit memory, though, often hits us like a rogue wave because it is tied to emotional experience. 

Our explicit memory of learning the Preamble to the Constitution will long fade before the unconsciously learned implicit memory of our wedding day or birth of our first child. Nostalgia and art work with implicit memory. Art can evoke something that triggers a memory of times past and nostalgia becomes our interaction with that memory. Top Gun: Maverick evoked memories of the halls of my high school and the “Stranger Things-like” Stratford Square Mall of the 1980s where I would loiter with my friends around the indoor fountain and food court, the venue in which I first saw Top Gun. Faces of classmates, Friday-night football games, and trips to the Sand Dunes of Lake Michigan were sparked by simply watching a film. 

Why does that matter for those of us who preach? Storytelling, whether on the big screen or from the voice of a humble servant in worship, has a form and weight to it that has the power to inspire and to invoke, to ignite imagination and evoke implicit memories and the emotions that accompany them. A well-laid story has the ability to open hard hearts, soften stiff spirits, and prepare a person to receive the truth that transforms. 

We at The Pastors Workshop do our best to provide you with illustrations that do just that, but we also hope to encourage you to drink deeply from the well of the stories told in art, entertainment, literature, and the world around you because we truly believe that this is how God designed us, people who illustrate the One Story through many stories for the restoration of humanity. 

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