My Top Gun Experience: A Review Of The Film And What It Means To Me.

It was late at night, and I was the only one in the room. A beer that had fallen to neglect sat warming on my nightstand to my right. My head hung low in weighted contemplation, thoughts dragging my posture down.

I’d been in the army for a little over a year at this point. I’d graduated basic, boarded a bus bound for a place called P.R.E.T.C., or, Post Recruit Educational Training Centre. “Privates purgatory,” as it was known by those sequestered to it. A place new graduates of boot-camp went to await further training.

Located deep in the woodlands of Ontario, where the closest town to the base was hallmarked by a defaced road sign that reads “Welcome to Anus.” It was supposed to say, “Angus.” With that in mind, you may start to get a sense of how isolated this place really is.

I was stationed awaiting my course training to become a qualified medic. Thing is, the military was in negotiations with civilian training institutions, all of them vying for that fat government contract whilst hoping to be the lowest bidder. As such, negotiations stalled and all hopeful medics were then stuck in a bureaucratic land of limbo. Day after day trapped in a perpetual loop of room inspections, push-ups, yelling, screaming, more push-ups, further room inspections, and if you were lucky, some range time — but not to shoot — to pick up spent brass from those that had.

From outside my window, I watched as seasons changed, observing as busses pulled up, bringing in a fresh crop of shaven haired boots (recruits), fresh from basic. For a time, it began to feel as though I’d spend my entire career in that place. A place where I shared a room with three other men, our beds mere feet apart from one another. Privacy was a luxury forfeited when signing those enlistment papers.

But on the evening in question, I was alone in the room once meant for four; I was alone because the three other privates had all gone onto their respective trades training, whereas I, a lowly baby doc (medic hopeful), was still without direction or course date. The days and nights had begun to meld into one another, just a long string of repetitious military decorum that had to be performed with zeal and drive. Any deviation observed by military superiors was met with punitive implementation such as, change parade; a corrective action whereby a private was to change into a directed attire at the behest of a red-faced, spit spewing sergeant within an untenable time restriction, thus resulting in further implementation of said corrective action. It was fun…

After enough piteous introspection, I reached to my right and clasped the warming beer, took a sip and put it back down.

“Christ! Even beer sucks in this place,” I thought to myself. Unable to sleep and nowhere to go, I began flipping through the collection of movies left behind by one of my bunkmates. After sifting through a colorful sea of porn, I happened across a movie I recognized — Top Gun!

I picked it up and blew the faint layer of dust from its cover. Now staring back at me was a twenty-three-year-old Tom Cruise, dressed in a traditional flight suit. With nothing better to do, I plopped it into the DVD player and sat back on my bed.

The movie began with that timeless guitar rift and 80’s acoustics. As it played on, I realized how much more of a viewing spectacle this was with my actually being in the military now. So many more nuances and relatable happenstances poured out from the screen. There was even a scene where Maverick began to doubt his own military career, something deeply relatable to me at that time. But he stuck with it, he pushed through and persevered against all odds.

I started to realize that I loved the army. I was doing something so vastly different from that of so many. As the movie played on and each iconic scene flew by (pun intended), I began to feel a renewed sense of pride and valour toward my station in life. Irrespective of being a trained medic or not, I was a soldier, and that meant something.

Over the next few days, I walked a little taller. My shoulders pressed back just a little more prideful. Tom Cruise and Top Gun rescued me from myself that night. And ironically, a mere five days later, I’d get my marching orders — medic course was to start in two weeks time!

Fast forward to last night; I’ve been out of the army for fourteen years now after having served for six. My girlfriend and I were standing in the majesty of a cinema. Two tickets held in my hand, they read: “Top Gun: Maverick.” Some thirty-six-years in the making, there was finally a new chapter in the epic cinematic masterpiece that was the original Top Gun.

I was excited. Gleeful, actually. That movie has played such a pivotal role in my life, from that darkened depressed night back on base, through to the incalculable re-viewings of said movie over the years — it’s kind of been my wingman!

When we took our seats and the movie began, I was hypnotized in an instant by that all too familiar guitar rift and its accompanying 80’s homage. Tom, “Maverick” was a little older now, as am I. He and his character have been through some stuff, as have I… tangibles of relatability spilled off that giant screen and landed all around me.

There was even a funeral scene — it made me think of the funerals I’d been to while in uniform — a tear came to my eye, as too they came to Mavericks…

The movie was spectacular! Damn near a flawless gem. Even Sheena loved it. We spent the rest of the ride home talking about it, reciting lines and recalling our favourite scenes. I didn’t tell her about this story, about how I almost quit the military when things got hard, and how it was thanks to a piece of Hollywood, a playful work of fiction that helped me stay the course.

Maverick… truly my wingman!

From Top Gun one, to Top Gun Two, last night was a top night!

Thanks, Tom “Maverick”.

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