Pulp Fiction director Quentin Tarantino isn’t one to shy away from sharing his often controversial opinions on cinema. He has referred to Stanley Kubrick as “fraudulent” and a “hypocrite,” as well as stating that he dislikes how Wes Craven directed the satirical horror classic Scream (1996). Although Tarantino has shared many unpopular opinions over the years, he has also made his fair share of great points.
One of these is about the Tony Scott directed action drama Top Gun (1986). In a newly resurfaced clip of Tarantino’s small cameo part in Sleep With Me (1994) the director essentially plays himself, passionately arguing his case for why he believes Top Gun is really about homosexuality. The classic film follows Tom Cruise’s Maverick as he is sent to train at an elite fighter school where he must compete with other intensely ambitious pilots, whilst also falling for his instructor Charlie.
The film was criticised for its overly patriotic and pro-war stance, with director Oliver Stone stating that Top Gun “sold the idea that war is clean, war can be won … nobody in the movie ever mentions that he just started World War Three!” Furthermore, GQ even published an article in 2016 entitled ‘Why Top Gun is the worst film ever,’ stating that Cruises’ character “is a dreadful, dreadful person: arrogant, careless and a bit sex-pesty.”
In the Sleep With Me scene, Tarantino shares his theory with a character played by Todd Fields that Top Gun is actually a full-fledged tale of homosexuality disguised as military propaganda. The overly-enthusiastic director says, “you know what one of the greatest fucking scripts ever written in the history of Hollywood is? Top Gun. […] Top Gun is fucking great.”
Moreover, Tarantino goes on to suggest: “It is a story about a man struggling with his own homosexuality. That is what Top Gun is about. You’ve got Maverick: He’s on the edge, man. He’s right on the fucking line, alright? And you’ve got Iceman and all his crew. They’re gay; they represent the gay man, alright? And they’re saying: ‘Go! Go the gay way, go the gay way.’ He could go both ways.”
Tarantino continues by suggesting that Maverick’s relationship with Charlie represents heterosexuality, and the struggle he faces in trying to do what is expected by society, versus accepting his truth as a gay man. According to Tarantino, Charlie is saying “‘No, no, no, no. Go the normal way. Play by the rules, go the normal way’ and they’re saying ‘No! Go the gay way. Be the gay way. Go for the gay way.’”
Tarantino believes that by the end of the movie, Maverick’s interaction with Iceman, his competition throughout the film, confirms his acceptance of his homosexuality. This theory does make a lot of sense, considering the highly homoerotic subtext that runs through the film, such as highly eroticised scenes of oiled muscly men flexing in the sun in front of each other, and the often palpable tension between the male characters.
Producer Jerry Bruckheimer was asked his opinion of Tarantino’s theory in a thirty-five year anniversary interview about Top Gun. He said: “When you make a movie, people can interpret it in any way they want and see something in it that the filmmakers had no idea they were tapping. […] “So we’re surprised every time we hear something talked about, or written about, the films that we make that have no real context for the filmmakers or what the filmmakers wanted to do. And yet there’s a relevance to them, because people believe it.”