Top Gun: Maverick and “value maximization” in interpretation
Delaying seeing Maverick for a month should have made tickets easy to get, but when I asked the agent at my local theater if I could buy a ticket he said “No you may not.” Stunned, I noticed that the entire staff were wearing masks, and I wasn’t; was I being refused service? (No mask requirement was posted.) Nope: “We’re sold out.” I dashed to another theater, and it still had seats, and thus all obstacles were cleared for the other effect of seeing Maverick so late: I would see the film after the “death dream” interpretation had shot through the tubes of the internet and hit me from several directions.
Its main source appears to be a review by Alison Willmore in Vulture. In the film’s first few minutes Maverick’s plane explodes spectacularly, and in the next scene he walks into a diner looking like he’s parachuted out. The naive viewer concludes that he has survived. Willmore asserts the contrary: from the explosion on, “the film is a death dream...taking place in the instant before Maverick blinks out of existence high above the Mojave Desert.” This is “the only way to really make sense of the movie.” Her case is rhetorical:
which is easier to believe? That Maverick makes it out of that crash untouched, skates past the consequences of another insubordination that destroyed a surely very expensive experiment aircraft, and is called back to the scene of his greatest triumph to wrap up loose ends, reunite with his youthful hookup, and prove that he’s still the best? Or that those are all hallucinatory images coming from the last synaptic firings of a past-his-prime flyboy getting smeared across the horizon alongside the pieces of his jet?
The latter, obviously.
ordered ...to report to Top Gun, where he not only, as I mentioned above, is able to make peace with all that ails his soul, but also replays the events of the greatest, and worst, moments of his life, moments we saw in the first film. Beach sports in the hazy gloaming? Check. Motorcycle rides with a beautiful woman? Check. Dangerous airplay that smashes through the hard deck and ends up getting people sent to the hospital? Check.
It’s almost like Mav, rather than miraculously surviving an ejection at 7,000 or so miles per hour, perished in that test flight and before he could head on up to fighter-pilot heaven he had to work through his own personal purgatory.
Neither author is very clear on why their interpretation is supposed to be better than the “straight” interpretation—that Maverick survives the crash, and the adventures we see really happen to him. Willmore asks “which [interpretation] is easier to believe?,” but why should ease of belief matter? Wearing a be-jeweled gauntlet confers the power to kill half of all living things: that’s quite hard to believe, but no one is tempted to interpret Infinity War as a dream Iron Man had one night.
Actually, I do think Willmore has a case. But to make that case Philosophy needs to step up, and step in, and articulate some Theory.