Film * John McTiernan * I’m Sure There’s a Theme Somewhere* 1987
Yo, I just had a million dollar idea, stay with me. So I just wrote that article about Alien, and then I watched this dumb action classic Predator, and what if, like, they fought each other? ‘Cuz it’s like, the Predator is a super-hunter and only stalks the baddest of the bad, which in this case is mid-eighties Arnold Schwarzenegger, but what if he hunted the perfect organism? Huh? Eh? Sounds like it would make a great video game. Anyway, shut up, it turns out there’s not a ton to talk about when it comes to Predator. I thought there might be, but boy this is a cornball movie, which tracks, because I loved this shit when I was about ten. And like most ten-year-olds, I was a cornball. Most American kids in this time period were, I’m sure. It’s weird going back to some of these things and seeing what was legit and what is, well, like this. On the one hand you have something like Robocop, which is a movie that knows what it is doing and functions as sharply written satire. On the other, you have something like Predator, which also knows what it is doing, but has no other pretentions than blowing shit up real radical.
The above two movies are linking in my mind, probably because I saw them in the same general time frame of way too young. My two distinct memories of those films are arguably the two worst bits. In Robocop, it’s where Murphy is shot to pieces by the baddies. In Predator, it’s when Jesse Ventura gets his chest blown out by the Predator’s space laser, and there’s this big, lovingly-rendered, gaping chest-hole onscreen for like a second. The former was by far more traumatic. Yes, Predator is gross, what with the skinned people and the skull-claiming and all, but its primary function is to have beefy dudes with enormous guns shoot the shit out of things. Predator succeeds in this aim extremely well. It is apex Arnold Schwarzenegger. He totes around a massive gun with a grenade launcher attached to it. He flexes out a bunch. He stabs a guy to a wall and says “stick around.” He’s a representation of a brand of Americana that absolutely never existed.
Meanwhile, there is a story of sorts. Arnie, who I suppose is playing a character named Dutch, is a special forces war man who is now making a living as a search-and-rescue mercenary. I think? He’s been called in by Carl Weathers, playing a CIA man named Dillon. They are bros. Dutch has a team of new bros and they are in an undisclosed Latin American jungle in order to extract a couple of sensitive political hostages from some baddies. They do this by being stealthy for about thirty seconds before unleashing like ten million dollars in ammunition and explosives on the bad guys. It’s real cool. The movie then turns into a weird not-quite-horror movie when the Predator shows up and starts picking off Arnie’s team one by one, in various grisly ways. The Predator is an alien who hunts dangerous game. And as we all know, the most dangerous game of all is man. Specifically, it’s a man named Arnold Schwarzenegger. So the Predator is running around, basically invisible because it has all this advanced technology which gives it a massive advantage, murdering these fools and harvesting their skulls. There’s a lady? Anyway, eventually there’s a final battle. Guess who wins.
I’m not trying to be overly dismissive of this film. I like big, dumb action movies. I was raised on them, after all. No, hold on, that’s dumb. I was not raised by Arnold Schwarzenegger movies. That’s hyperbole. I have parents. They were around. They occasionally talked to me. There were hot dogs in the fridge. Also we had a Nintendo. So I’m not giving all the credit for my upbringing to stupid action flicks. I will give credit to them for my ability to enjoy particularly silly pop culture ephemera without thinking about them too much. Sometimes, there’s no secret message. Sometimes, critics have to try too hard to make something out of nothing. Predator, in its broad, lowest-common-denominator way, is art. But it’s not important art. It’s exceedingly trivial art. The movie doesn’t want to resonate with any deeper meaning. It wants to resonate with sick kills and rad explosions. And that’s totally okay. Not every piece of media needs deeper analysis. That said, I think Predator might be responsible for Trump. Stay with me here.
First of all, I’m not trying to say that there are subliminal messages in the film which are imploring the audience to remember the name of a flamboyant New York real estate playboy so that 29 years later said audience would vote him into office. That’s just silly. No, what I’m saying is that Predator, and films like it, reinforce an already existing sense of populism that eventually coalesce around a charismatic figure who makes no rational sense but appeals to gut feelings of inferiority. How is that, you say? Take a look at the central source of conflict in the movie. No, not Arnie versus the alien big-game hunter. That’s the result of the conflict. I’m talking about the relationship between Dutch and Dillon. These two men have brought us two things. The first is the iconic shot of two absurdly beefy arms clasping hands and flexing out. Talk about inferiority! Ain’t no one watching this movie who could clasp hands with a fellow bro and have it look like that. I will certainly never be that manly. The second thing this bromance brings us is the crux of the film, and that is the reason Arnie and his gang is in the jungle in the first place.
On the one hand, you have the pure soul of Arnold Schwarzenegger (I’ve given up on trying to remember character names, because who cares). Yes, he is burly and strong and probably not all that bright, but whatever he has an enormous gun with a dope grenade launcher on it. However, the film goes to great lengths to inform us how principled he is. Obviously he could kill you and everyone you love in an instant. Sure, he has a team of lethal trained killers at his command, most of whom are not exactly well-adjusted to polite society. None of this is important because he only uses his powers for good. He’s a vet! He’s the common man, out there to help a buddy in a pinch! That’s why he only uses his propensity for violence to rescue and save innocent Americans. He represents real American values, which he learned from, uh, the American military. Ignore that for a moment, though. Because here comes Carl Weathers, who is shifty and shady and meddlesome and a filthy, stinky, disgusting liar. He’s pure garbage, because he’s in the C.I.A. now and we all know what that means. That means he hates America!
Somewhere along the line, a sizable portion of the population managed an impressive feat of cognitive dissonance. Somewhere, the decision was made that “the troops” = good and “the government” = evil. Now, this is not the time or place to really delve into that dissonance, but it’s readily apparent in the film. Carl Weathers tricks Schwarzenegger into agreeing to come to the jungle to blow shit up. Arnold thinks he is helping people, but really he’s only helping Carl to gain some vague political advantage. Schwarzenegger, a mercenary now, doesn’t need the abstract construct of a government in order to know who it’s okay to blow up versus those who it is not okay to blow up. He only needs his pure American instincts. Carl, though, has been subsumed by the governmental bureaucracy and is more machine than man. And that’s why he dies. In the mind of Trump, and in the mind of his followers, Trump is Arnie. He is allowed to do whatever is necessary to get the job done, even if means blowing everything up, because despite his methods, his soul is pure. Never mind that reality is vastly more complicated. Never mind that Trump has only ever done anything for himself and his image and is about as pure as the dumpster behind a fish cleaning station. Never mind… just never mind. It’s at this point, alas, where my Predator metaphor falls apart. I like it when they all get mad and shoot the jungle, which now that I think about it makes a pretty apt image for what this administration has accomplished.